News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Iran and the US, a Machiavellian Reading

I've always distrusted the idea that the Bush administration's means to introduce democracy in the Mideast. At times, I've almost despaired of this because I want democracy to succeed but I see that if that's what Bush wants then it simply cannot be true. This last statement is more than simply a visceral dislike for the man of few words from the Texas plains--it's a reaction to the uses and abuses that word democracy has been used to promote throughout the world. ...

My own distrust of that word reflects sentiments voiced by eminent historian JGA Pocock's comments on fundamentalism and foundationalism:

In our own time, the notion of representative government is in some measure in crisis, because it is harder and harder to believe that those we elect to govern us do in any sense represent us. Accordingly, if we identify ourselves with them, we are giving ourselves to them, and if we don’t, we are allowing them to rule us. The political class begins to look like an oligarchy of professional politicians, who from time to time oblige us to legitimate their rule by choosing between the alternatives they determine and present to us.

Politicians, regarded in this light, look less like representatives of citizens than they look like what the early modern world called courtiers—brokers of power and influence who are useful to the citizens because they know and command means of access to those who possess power, but who are part of the structure by which the citizen is governed. Some say there is no other way of governing a modern society, but the method of government is nonetheless early modern. There are moments at which the president of the United States looks like an early modern monarch; we want to know who is giving him counsel, how he chooses his counselors, who controls his household, and the means of access to his person. These are the questions one asks about the politics of courts and palaces, and they seem applicable to the politics of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Pocock is noted for his tracing through history the Machiavellian thinking on the modern republic and its influence on the American Founding Fathers.

As Pocock notes in the passage quoted, what one means by democracy depends on many things. One's use of the term cannot simply mouthe it without having some historical understanding of what democracy is. This historical understanding itself must be clarified--what you understand as an abstraction does not necessarily mean that you understand its lived, experiential actuality. In this regard, I am very skeptical of Pres. Bush's own assertions about "democracy"--what in his life or political career might lead me to believe that he knows what democracy is? Indeed, coming from one of those oligarchic families that Pocock suggests might run the US, suspicions about Mr. Bush's understanding of freedom and equality--key democratic values--become more pertinent.

Of course, Pres. Bush's own understanding of the democratic virtues of freedom and equality may not be the best criterion for determining the reality of non-reality of US democracy. When politicians bandy this term about, they often assume that their audience knows what they mean because they live it. Yet this appeal is perhaps fallacious since it could conceivably only reflect the experiences of those who have a voice to say, "yes, American democracy is great." On the other hand, there might be those whose experience of American "democracy" is not voiced and does not make its way into the discussion.

I have written several times that some in the Israeli government openly reject the notion of democratic in the Mideast. Their line of thinking seems to be democracy means opening up the Mideast to movements and political factions that will inevitably be anti-Israel. There's some evidence for the first part of this belief, especially with recent open election wins by various Islamic jihadist groups such as the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt and the more radical wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Again, however, the rest of the assertions by these same officials ignore significant changes within those very extremist groups. Both groups condemn violence. There's some evidence that the Palestinians are on the verge of recognizing Israel's right to exist, a significant break from previous platforms of the more violent groups within the Palestinian political landscape. Unfortunately, recent incursions by Israel into Gaza, its imprisonment of 25 percent of the Palestinian legislators, and bombing of Palestinian infrastructure leave little doubt that the moderates in Palestine can maintain their hold on power--an occasion that Israeli strategists no doubt are hoping to bring about.

The calls for democracy in the Mideast by western powers therefore seem hollow to many Moslem and Arab citizens. Until there's some acknowledgment of a framework that identifies the essential outlines of a "democratic" government, there's little hope for rising above the suspicions that the west, especially the US, is not simply begging the question with a definition of democracy that accords with their own self-interests.

Indeed this seems part of what Iranian dissidents themselves, for example, understand:
``The best thing the Americans can do for democracy in Iran is not to support it," Baghi, the activist, said recently in his office, next to a stack of his politically risky published books -- ``The Tragedy of Democracy in Iran," ``Clerics and Power," and a study that criticizes the government on its own terms, using Islamic teachings to indict Iran's justice system and its arbitrary arrests and executions.

Receiving US aid -- whether cash or simply public statements of support -- could destroy democracy advocates' chances of building grass-roots credibility at home, say Baghi and many other Iranians critical of their government. They prefer to steer their own course, pushing for gradual change and navigating a middle ground between accommodation and conflict with the Muslim clerics who rule Iran.
These dissidents understand what machiavelli long ago pointed out--that each republic will reflect the virtue or character of its constituent members. For Machiavelli, this meant that each socio-cultural grouping has unique characteristics that will color and determine the features of the government that they create. In this way, therefore, Machiavelli recognized that there are probably as many forms of republic as there are different peoples.

Machiavelli's reflections on politics and the republic could be gone into in detail here. Most relevant in the present context, perhaps, are his observations about the role of religion--or not--in forming the basis of a truly free and equal political framework. It would also prove helpful to explore Aristotle's "mixed government" model that Machiavelli appropriated and expanded on.

But these issues must wait for some other time to come under discussion in these pages. For the moment, I'd note the Iranian dissidents' reluctance to receive help from the US in their political efforts toward freedom. This reluctance to form relationships of dependence is uniquely Machiavellian. As he pointed out, freedom is most valuably understood as a state of non-dependence. This independence from relying on others for one's own freedom--and these dependencies can include everything from economic, to social, to cultural attachments--characterizes the capability to meet the exigencies of time and necessity on one's own terms.

According to JGA Pocock, describing the Renaissance Humanists’ understanding of Aristotle’s political philosophy as it relates to the individual and his or her dependence on others:
Particular men and the particular values they pursued met in citizenship to pursue and enjoy the universal value of acting for the common good and the pursuit of all lesser goods. ... The polity must be a perfect partnership of all citizens and all values since, if it was less, a part would be ruling in the name of the whole, subjecting particular goods to its own particular goods and moving toward despotism and the corruption of its values. The citizen must be a perfect citizen since, if he was less, he prevented the polity from attaining perfection and tempted his fellows, who did for him what he should have done for himself, to injustice and corruption. To become the dependent of another was as great a crime as to reduce another to dependence on oneself. The dereliction of one citizen, therefore, reduced the others’ chances of attaining and maintaining virtue, since virtue was now politicized; it consisted in a partnership of ruling and being ruled with others who must be as morally autonomous as oneself. ... – Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, p. 75 [my emphasis])
It seems then that the Iranian dissidents have understood one of the basic points of democracy: non-dependence. They see any attempts by the US to impose itself and its will–“in their name”–would form a dependent situation that would defeat and corrupt the democratic project from the start. Of course, my statement assumes that the US in any way intends on “helping” the Iranian dissidents. As my previous comments show, one can suspect otherwise, adding the further qualification that US interests in the region are imperial and related to commercial interests far more than they are to “spreading freedom.”

In this respect, Machiavelli’s own concerns about dependence and the corruption that follows revolve around the need for self-defense. Assuming that any vibrant republic must expand, he asserts that an army is needed to maintain the push outward–the military ethos itself helps maintain what he calls the virtu or spirit of the republic alive.

As JGA Pocock interprets Machiavelli (in the Discorsi, Machiavelli writes:
If it is the castles and retainers of the gentiluomini [gentlemen] that make them a cause of inequality and corruption, the uncorrupt republic must be a state lacking military dependencies and one characteristic of “equality” must be that all warriors are alike. There must be the political conditions which permit the arming of all citizens, the moral conditions in which all are willing to fight for the republic and the economic conditions (lacking in the case of a lord’s retainers) which give the warrior a home and occupation outside the camp and prevent his becoming a suddito, creato, or mercenary whose sword is at the command of some powerful individual. The economic independence of the warrior and the citizen are prerequisites against corruption. If these conditions are lacking, a city which eschews expansion and cuts itself off from the world may still limit its armies and its citizen body and escape corruption ... ibid, p. 210
Machiavelli’s comments here are not for a form of libertarianism. He is too much an Aristotelian, whose model of political activity assumes the interdependence of all on the proper working and virtue of a living and viable political entity. What one should hear, however, or at least suspect those areas in present-day American politics where economic dependence and the military-industrial complex play such a large part behind the scenes of US domestic and foreign policy.

You could also note the dependence of this standing army on the apparent will of “some powerful individual.” With the continuing assertion of commander-in-chief powers and “executive privilege,” it does not seem too much of a stretch to find in the Bush administration’s unprecedented use of the military-industrial complex in all its forms–operational, intelligence, and so on–lay the basis for suspicions that the US republic’s freedom and virtue are presently under attack–not by foreign powers or agents but by those commercial and political interests in the US who wish to assume unto themselves power that does not belong to them.

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Do You Have the Will (balls) to Defeat the Fascists? Or Are you Helping Them?

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a crowd of American Legionnaires that not only is there a new form of fascism afoot in the world, but that there are appeasers of these fascists among us. Without exactly defining who or what these fascists are, Sec. Rumsfeld appeared to say that those who oppose his and the President's so-called "war on terror" (WoT) are appeasing these fascists.

As some commentators have already noted, a majority of Americans are against the war in Iraq. Since that war forms the cornerstone of the WoT, then it would seem that Rumsfeld is accusing many Americans of either consciously or unconsciously appeasing incipient mini-Hitlers. ...

As I have written at this blog several times, what constitutes fascism is difficult to assess because the term is used by so many on Right and Left that it can mean almost anything or nothing. In a posting on Islamic jihadism and fascism Ibn Warraq tries to correlate the teachings of Islam with a definition of fascism proposed by Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher/novelist.

I think that Eco's definition, while accurate, is too abstract. It certainly captures the main features of the structural elements of fascism, but I wonder how useful this abstract framework is when it comes to identifying the subjective aspects of the fascist mentality. In a previous posting, I have tried to present a more "street level" exploration of fascism, which I know does not capture the more superstructure of the political aspects of the ideology but does provide a way for people to see fascism "from the inside."

In his analysis of fascism and Islam, Ibn Warraq's rhetorical strategy is to take Eco's main points and then identify incidents and Koranic verses and Hadith to show how Islam exhibits those features that Eco says are essential to fascism. Warraq starts out his essay saying the following:

Islam is the quintessentially tradition-bound religion. First, the Koran is the eternal and infallible Word of God, and contains the whole of God’s final revelation to man, and must be obeyed in all its details. "This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith." The Koran is immutable, "Say: ‘It is not for me to change [the Koran]. I only follow what is revealed to me. I cannot disobey my Lord, for I fear the punishment of a fateful day." "Proclaim what is revealed to you in the Book of your Lord. None can change His Words. You shall find no refuge besides Him." The Koran is a faithful and unalterable reproduction of the original scriptures which are preserved in heaven.
Now, I don't know about you, but it seems to me that you could replace Islam and Koran here with Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism and not fall far south of verisimilitude. Indeed, in many of the points that Eco makes, one could apply those to many religious traditions, not to mention political systems and thereby "prove" that they are fascist.

I believe that a more useful understanding of fascism has come from Richard Sennett, whose article on soft fascism I have quoted several times in these pages. After differentiating what he calls hard and soft fascism, Sennett goes on to argue that Post-911 America exhibits many of the features that characterize this latter term. Sennett writes:
We could think of fascism itself as either hard or soft. Hard fascism rams home to the citizen that he or she is held in that iron grip, as in Mussolini's theatre of force or George Orwell's nightmare Nineteen Eighty-four. Soft fascism is not so much a velvet glove as an invisible hand, the operations of control hidden from scrutiny as Patriot Act II, and more, internal repression presented to the public as merely preventive action against threats that have yet to materialise. The Bush administration acted in this preventive way, for instance, by shutting three of the larger Muslim charities in America, not for anything they had done, but for what might happen, some time, somewhere. In hard fascism the state exploits concrete fear, in soft fascism the state exploits diffuse anxiety.
Without going into the question of whether Mr. Rumsfeld is serving up several fallacious arguments here, most notably begging the question on what constitutes fascism, here is some of what he wrote:
Someone recently recalled one U.S. senator's reaction in September of 1939. Upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II he exclaimed, "Lord, if only I had talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." I recount that history, because once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism, with the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?
Numerous Left and Right pundits replied to Rumsfeld's accusations.Keith Olbermann wrote a response that has earned widespread recognition. Turning the tables on Mr. Rumsfeld, Olbermann accuses the Bush administration itself as being the Neville Chamberlain in the current face-off with terrorism:
Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.
Other, less prominent, commentators also chimed in. Summerisle, for example, notes the following:
"They are actively manipulating the media in this country" by, for example, falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

"The enemy lies constantly _ almost totally without penalty," he told the veterans group, which presented him with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award. "They portray our cause as a war on Islam when in fact the overwhelming majority of victims of their terrorism have been the thousands and thousands of innocent Muslims _ men, women and children _ that they have killed."

He added, "While some at home argue for tossing in the towel, the enemy is waiting and hoping that we will do just that." "

You either have to be a master bullshitter or totally insane to make a statement like that about Iraq and Afghanistan. This level of projection against an apparant enemy, who doesn't have the weapons to wage conventional war much less have a media bureau, is so extreme that to believe in it is to believe in conspiracy theory.

[Xposted in part at Spengler Forum Read more!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pedophiles, Innocence, Historicality

The recent media frenzy and hilarious, if shocking, denouement of the media coverage of the purported capture of JonBenet Ramsey’s killer John Mark Karr will play itself out in various accusations against the Boulder prosecutor for overplaying or mismanaging the accusations against the man.

I must admit that I was struck by the pedophile's demeanor and aloofness. In answering the media’s questions about the murder, he was very nonchalant and obviously short on details about his complicity in the crime. Even with the minimal facts during the first few days, combined with his demeanor, it seemed to me at least (as well as others) that this man was a fantasist whose grasp of reality was questionable. ...

Those on the political left have already noted how this story generated so much press that one google produced over 10 million hits--for a story that was just more than one week old! The political Right jumped on the story as another indication of moral corruption in American society. The middle-of-the-roaders tried to keep some perspective and focused on the Ramseys and the false accusations that surrounded them for many years.

It certainly does seem to be some form of irony that a story that started with false suspicions against the family of the slain girl ended in false accusations of a man who perhaps is an opportunist seeking publicity (or a free ride back from Thailand) at best, or at worst a fantasist whose world is so wound up with the death of a young innocent whom he lusted for that he appears to actually believe he did commit the crime.

Many will criticize–rightly I believe--the press for its prurient interest and its playing into the infantilized imaginations of the American TV viewer and news consumer. That's a pretty blunt way of saying something that can probably be put in a more nuanced way, but I think that the media's overblown sense of what is news has become so tabloidized that it simply leaves one almost dumbfounded by the press’ lack of moral responsibility, not to mention the unbalanced sense of priorities which the press sees that the public needs to know.

What many political leftists and liberals have noted is that the Karr story knocked coverage of important events in Iraq and Iran not only out of the headlines but to the back pages. While the policy wonks were up to date on these issues, during the last week the average American never would have known that last month was the deadliest for civilians in the Iraq civil war, not to mention that there is a civil war in Iraq.

On top of this, very few average Americans would have guessed--if they were interested--that the Bush administration is making more than farting noises towards Iran. There's a steady drumbeat of leaks and so-called back-stories about the Iranian “threat” in the media that it's hard not to believe that war with Iran is "inevitable"--inevitable, of course, because the neocons and the Pentagon have played the media game so well that by the time many people wake up to the issue, it will be a "done deal."

I will leave for another time the issue of the culpability of the media in all of this. There's plenty in the media and the counter-media that deals with this subject. The press loves to beat this phantom all the time--the phantom that arises from a public that is immersed in not only what some have called the narcissism of American culture but deeper issues that relate to how Americans understand themselves as historical beings.

I want to look at what I’ll call the historical aspect of this story and its related non-happenings, i.e., Iraq and Iran coverage. The surface aspect of what I will call the historical void in the American consciousness is that the media themselves contribute to denying the public a historical context on everyday political and cultural events. Dwelling on the immediate, up-to-the minute story, refusing to or incapable of providing historical context, they cater to a short-attention span mentality that simply denies that there is anything beyond the NOW.

But there’s more to why the American public seems to want to know about the pedophile Karr and his fantasies. This story, ostensibly about the past, pushed the present and future concerns about Iraq further out of public consciousness. A story about a lurid past event takes the place of a story of the present lurid reality of thousands of Iraqis dying as a direct result of US actions, i.e., invasion and destruction of the socio-political structures of Iraqi civil society.

The Karr-Benet story—a small-town crime with terrible and horrific details--fills the void of our recent past. The allure of the story resides perhaps in something human that relates to sin and guilt. The psychic threat that past sins (crimes) that are unresolved or unsolved come back to haunt us. The anxiety about a child killed horribly and profanely echoes in the public consciousness because it contains elements of guilt, sex, protection of one’s children, and innocence. Individual anxieties of members of the public who cannot resolve their own separate responses to these issues come into play.

The historical aspect of this crime shows how Americans relate to the past. The unsolved crime--an unresolved act of moral outrage--is repeated over and over in various forms in American culture. The presence of fictional and documentary TV shows about "cold cases" points to this phenomenon. These recent shows follow on the footsteps of shows like Unsolved Mysteries and the X-Files. They are augmented by shows that figure into the shows the added elements of the paranormal in fictional or non-fictional form.

In these stories of crimes that go unsolved and that contain these sexual depravities, the American public looks to a past crime whose character outrages the moral and ethical balance of individual and society alike. The crimes themselves point further and further into the past, echoing in the hollow chamber of a history that is either empty of sacred presence or pointing to a realm beyond this hollow sphere where the crimes will or should find final answer.

Such notions as crime and innocence resonate in the American conscience because Americans are uniquely situated to deny their history. That history is one of revolution, which as Hannah suggests in On Revolution involves an original crime, the revolutionary act. Arendt writes:

[W]hatever brotherhood human beings may be capable of has grown out of fratricide, whatever political organization men may have achieved has its origin in crime. The conviction, In the beginning was a crime–for which the phrase “state of nature” is only a theoretically purified paraphrase–has carried through the centuries no less self-evident plausibility for the state of human affairs than the first sentence of St. John, “In the beginning was the Word,” has possessed for the affairs of salvation.
We live in a society that prides itself on cutting away from history, making a new start and building our lives from zero. We pride ourselves on the notion that we need nothing but our own self-awareness and the absence of preconceptions and accretions from the past to guide us in meeting the challenges of the present and hopefully the future.

These assumptions work at the personal and social level in various guises. At the personal level, they perhaps do not work as well, since life calls forth the need to account not only for our present actions but those we have done in the past. This past is not simply our own, moreover--the things we do or have done since we were born–but they also include the actions of my parents, my family, my town, and ultimately my country. Unless and until this history is dealt with in a way that sufficiently accounts for them, the future will not be what it is but will be instead the past resurrecting itself as ghosts of past actions.

In this context of unresolved crime, we seek innocence, the innocence of our childhoods. We wish to be pure and unsullied by the past, reforming ourselves according to the present and for the future. We seek an innocence that we can never regain but only infantilize ourselves and shelter ourselves in a fantasy of reshaping the present in an ersatz innocence built from either denying the past or seeking an innocence in a time and place before history.

In his magisterial study of history and Machiavelli’s discovery and investigation of what it means for humans to live in history, in a world where humans have no recourse to supernatural realities but instead must work out their destinies and fates within time, JGA Pocock writes:
It was seen as the essence of modernity [by Rousseau, among others] that one inhabited a world of fictions in which self and other were creations of the partial encounters between humans in a world of exchanges. It may well be that we have ourselves reached a condition where the knowledge of fictiveness is unsatisfying to the point of being intolerable; in doubting whether the oligarchy of politicians who oblige us to choose between them represent us in any way worth speaking of, we doubt whether we have selves left to be represented. The global economy finds an ally in that postmodernism which informs us that self and society are alike fictitious and that our only choice is which fiction to buy next. – Pocock, p. 582
Condemned to living in history, we deny the present atrocities and crimes that occur in faraway lands by fantastically reliving and repeating the atrocity of our own innocence that is slain and profaned in the form of children whom we do not know.

We seek a solution and resolution that never comes except in further fantasy. We are captured by our inability to live in the present except by repeating the past that haunts us with these unsolved mysteries, these crimes that make us alive in their heinous violation of moral and ethical blamelessness. They seek the shock of shame because we have none and because its absence only makes us more aware of our lost innocence.

We become the spectators of our own present, hoping to watch it unfold in some apocalypse that will finally provide the key to why our innocence was lost and bring to us that purity and innocence that we lost seemingly so unfairly. So we watch--like voyeurs at the altar of history--the future come to us in the form that the past has given, atrocity on atrocity, crime on crime. We are spectators of a past that we do not want, a present we cannot accept because it is haunted by the past, and a future that will bring only more of the same haunted innocence we neither have nor will ever regain.

Helpless before the future because we have not dealt with the past, the future inevitability is left to men who have no compunction about exploiting our ghosts in the name of their own lost innocence.

It seems that at these moments, it is germane to repeat what has almost become a cliché, Santayana’s remark that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. There is , no doubt much truth to his observation. Yet, as Kierkegaard would remind us, it is not so much that we remember but how we remember the past. That is, we can remember it by seeking its source in some Platonic super-real world beyond this one or we can begin to live the past in the present as prelude to the future, seeking not so much resolution as openness to the possibility for knowing not only ourselves but also those we inhabit history with.

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The New Protocols of the Elders... [of Islam]?

The following information should be linked up with the recent report that 53 percent of British citizens think islam is a threat to civilization. ...

(via Islamophobic Watch) Johan Hari reports on a very spiteful little conspiracy theory about Moslems that is gaining acceptance in some very high quarters of the British government. Listening to Donald Rumsfled's speech to the American Legion, I wonder whether this theory is not restricted simply to the Critish hierarchy.

Hari writes:

There are intellectuals on the British right who are propagating a conspiracy theory about Muslims that teeters very close to being a 21st century Protocols of the Elders of Mecca. Meet Bat Ye'or, a "scholar" who argues that Europe is on the brink of being transformed into a conquered continent called "Eurabia".

In this new land, Christians and Jews will be reduced by the new Muslim majority to the status of "dhimmis" - second-class citizens forced to "walk in the gutter". This will not happen by accident. It is part of a deliberate and "occult" plan, concocted between the Arab League and leading European politicians like Jacques Chirac and Mary Robinson, who secretly love Islam and are deliberately flooding the continent with Muslim immigrants. As Orianna Fallacci - one of the best-selling writers in Italy - has summarised the thesis in her hymns of praise to Ye'or, "Muslims have been told to come here and breed like rats."

Rather than dismissing her preposterous assertions, high-profile writers like Melanie Phillips, Daniel Pipes and Niall Ferguson laud Ye'or as a suppressed hero, silenced by (you guessed it) "political correctness". Her name is brandished as a gold standard in right-wing Tory circles. It's interesting that writers so alert to anti-Semitism have lent their names to an ideology that is so startlingly similar. In this theory, the Star of David has simply been replaced by the Islamic crescent. If the term has any meaning, this is authentic Islamophobia, treating virtually all Muslims as verminous sharia-carriers. So why are these people still treated as serious and sane by the BBC and its editors?
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Does Ahmedinajad Want To Destroy Israel?

Contrary to the growing misinformation in the US media that Iranian President Ahmedinajad has called for a war with and eventual elimination of Israel; from the face of the earth, accurate translations of his speeches shows that he has done no such thing. While not a friend of Israel or near any short-term acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist, Ahmadinejad has not called for the destruction of 1) all Jews or 2) even Israel itself. ...

According to Counterpunch:

For months, scholars like Cole and journalists like the London Guardian's Jonathan Steele have been pointing out these mistranslations while more and more appear: for example, Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments at the Organization of Islamic Countries meeting on August 3, 2006. Radio Free Europe reported that he said "that the 'main cure' for crisis in the Middle East is the elimination of Israel." "Elimination of Israel" implies physical destruction: bombs, strafing, terror, throwing Jews into the sea. Tony Blair denounced the translated statement as ""quite shocking". But Mr. Ahmadinejad never said this. According to al-Jazeera, what he actually said was "The real cure for the conflict is the elimination of the Zionist regime, but there should be an immediate ceasefire first."

Nefarious agendas are evident in consistently translating "eliminating the occupation regime" as "destruction of Israel". "Regime" refers to governance, not populations or cities. "Zionist regime" is the government of Israel and its system of laws, which have annexed Palestinian land and hold millions of Palestinians under military occupation. Many mainstream human rights activists believe that Israel's "regime" must indeed be transformed, although they disagree how. Some hope that Israel can be redeemed by a change of philosophy and government (regime) that would allow a two-state solution. Others believe that Jewish statehood itself is inherently unjust, as it embeds racist principles into state governance, and call for its transformation into a secular democracy (change of regime). None of these ideas about regime change signifies the expulsion of Jews into the sea or the ravaging of their towns and cities. All signify profound political change, necessary to creating a just peace.
Juan Cole, Iranian expert, who's fluent in Farsi, explains some of Ahmedinajad's recent statements re Israel:
Ahmadinejad seems to be explaining what his calls for the Zionist regime to be effaced actually mean. He says he doesn't want violence against Israel, despite its own acts of enmity against Middle Eastern neighbors. I interpret his statement on Saturday to be an endorsement of the one-state solution, in which a government would be elected that all Palestinians and all Israelis would jointly vote for. The result would be a government about half made up of Israeli ministers and half of Palestinian ones. Whatever one wanted to call such an arrangement, it wouldn't exactly be a "Zionist state," which would thus have been dissolved.
Cole also explains Iran's supreme religious leader Khamenei's recent statements about nuclear weapons, statements that were twisted into a threat by weatern media:
Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei's pledge of no first strike against any country by Iran with any kind of weapon, and his condemnation of nuclear bombs as un-Islamic and impossible for Iran to possess or use, was completely ignored by the Western press and is never referred to. Indeed, after all that talk of peace and no first strike and no nukes, Khamenei at the very end said that if Iran were attacked, it would defend itself. Karl Vicks of the Washington Post at the time ignored all the rest of the speech and made the headline, 'Khamenei threatens reprisals against US." In other words, on Iran, the US public is being spoonfed agitprop, not news.
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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Strange Conversations: Resentment Redux

One of the stranger conversations I've seen on the web is the one presently underway at Spengler's Forum. The participants are discussing the eventual demographic demise of the "liberals." Basing themselves on somewhat questionable data, they appear to believe that conservative Christian families are breeding at such a level that they and their culturally indoctrinated progeny will one day take over America. I kid you not. ...

One participant, calling herself booklady, writes:

I see the same thing happening in my parents country, Spain. The Catholic folks have the families and are fighting to maintain family values; while the more liberal Spaniards are having fewer or no children. As Spengler says, they chose a pleasurable lifestyle where children are seen as a sacrifice and a burden from their distractions.
Another commenter, ciroan, states the sentiment more irenically:
I look forward to the day when the liberal tribes - the abortionites, the sodomists, the tax-promoters, the blue-state metrosexuals (blue indeed!) - snuff themselves out once and for all. When the population of the United States becomes uniformly conservative, all will agree with one another, causing political and cultural disputation to dwindle almost to zero. Harmonious peace and prosperity will become the happy lot of each and every citizen. It will be not unlike utopia.
There's a term that has gained much philosophical study, resentment. Cloesly associated with envy, resentment differs at the psychological level in that it not only envies what or who another has or is but instead resents the very existence of another person.

In the vernacular, the psychological phenomenon is stated in the following way: "S/he's a waste of skin."

In his analysis of resentment as the outcome of alienation, Merold Westphal in God, Guilt, and Death writes that resentment comes from a sense not of lack of worth as a sense of power to be worthy or to become happy" “If I had the power, if father (God) hadn’t done that, I’d be somebody or something; I’d be happy now.”

These people obviously feel extremely unhappy that they can't be what they want to be and that they live in a society where others--liberals--are the source of that inability to become who or what they believe they can be. Liberals in their views create a society that espouses views that creates great unease and moral ambivalence, undermining the sense of certainty that they understand ethics and morality to entail.

According to Westphal, repressed envy causes resentment. In a person to person context, it is not a primary feeling but feeds on hate, envy, fear. It is the repression of a primary feeling such as hate or envy. Repression here means that the original feeling cannot be discharged in some action. The impotence from this repression and inability to act (from fear or weakness) is important to note.

Resentment can come from the following being repressed: revenge, hatred, malice, impulse to detract, spite, rancor, wrath, envy, joy when another fails. Envy--the most prominent form of social emotion in the US--is self-centeredness in the face of another’s excellence or something esteemed.

Think about how hard it is to admire someone else who is better at something you are not. One thinks: “What about me? What happens to me if they are better than I am?” Envy reflects the threat I feel to my self at the center of all that I find important about and in life.

In contrast to greed, envy doesn’t just want what the other has (good looks, say), but I must have it at the other’s expense. In existential terms, this means:
“I can forgive everything but not that you are – that you are what you are – that I am not what you are – indeed that I am not you."

The object of resentment cannot simply be allowed to live away or out of sight; no, they must simply disappear. So, when the folks at Spengler Forum fantasize about the demise of the liberals, they are playing out the trotured logic of their resentment.

The resentment can even become racist. As BabeThe GlazedHam, another participant in the conversation, has it:
And, of course, the answer is exactly as I've been trying to tell everyone: We are trading high IQ white leftists for low IQ brown leftists. Furthermore, the ratio may be as bad as 2 or more brown leftists [child or adult] for every 1 white leftist baby [who was either never made, or who was made and then murdered in an abortuary].

Furthermore, if Brooks's numbers are correct [only a 2.08 TFR for conservative women], then the conservatives aren't making enough babies to offset the flood of [low IQ] hispanics entering this country, and our nation is headed for a state of Castro-ite/Chavez-ian chaos over the course of the next half century.

PS: If you want to get really, really depressed, then read some of La Griffe du Lion's work on the economic results of importing so many low IQ peoples, e.g.
Resentment at another's existence--simply for being different and opposing those most cherished things that give my existence meaning--will find any reason to rationalize the most appalling acts of despair. Read more!

Will Culture Save Us?

The notion that culturism will save us is ridiculous. Of course, the answer might depend on how you define culture. If you're talking about literature and the arts, those are usually the province of the rich and idle elites. Popular culture might serve the bill, but it's exactly this popular culture that not only the effete elite but also the religious find distinctly lacking in the types of virtues that they believe should be informing the public. It seems that what you're left with is an elite browbeating the less appreciative lower classes and the lower classes directing resentment at the elites. ...

The Founding Fathers of the US, at least, did not rely on such abstractions as culturism to promote the underlying virtue of the republic. They set up a framework in which all could go their own way, find their own selves and thereby contribute to the overall benefit of all. If that framework is proving unsuccessful reflects more on the fact that the notion of political representation has perhaps outrun its course. We are not seeing a cultural crisis so much as we are a political crisis whose origin is the constitutional frameworks and its inadequacies for the modern world.

The great Japanese philosopher, Tanabe Hajime, discusses the culturists--those who think that by reinvigorating a culture, either through art or an aesthetic form of religion--miss the point:

It must be said that the very ones now optimistically espousing the cause of culture are mere onlookers who have no sense of social responsibility to the nation. A moment's glance at some of the current social problems--the hunger and poverty of the vast majority in sharp contrast with the luxury enjoyed by a very few owing to the misdistribution of food and goods, the stagnation and paralysis of industry despite the larger number of soldiers returning to the ranks of the unemployed--shows how difficult it will be to rebuild our war-devastated nation. One step in the wrong direction, even one day's delay, may be enough to spell the total ruin of our land. Unless we all undertake the new way of zange [repentance], free ourselves from the evil institutions of the past, and collaborate in carrying out whatever changes are necessary in the social system, there is no possibility of reconstruction. The only course open to us is metanoetics, not culturism. Does not the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah show us the way? -- Hajime, p. lxi
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard puts the issue even more starkly. Writing in his journals, he notes:
We recognize the animal in the child by the way it wants to put everything into its mouth; this is a very characteristic trait of the animal. But to be animal to the extent of wanting to put truth and spirit into one's mouth, to live off truth, to live off others' having suffered for the truth, oneself pledged by an oath to that one thing to which those others have aspired--imitation--this is beastly! Curiously enough, this bestiality is found in conjunction with the finest culture and good breeding, which is so discriminating that it does not even see the garbage collector or, if such a being dared speak, would loftily let him understand that he is only an animal. Strangely enough, the relationship is the reverse, and the garbage collector is a human being, but this elegantly dressed, finely cultured, bemedalled man of distinction is an animal, an animal who animalistically puts truth into his mouth, thinking truth is something to eat, an animal more loathesome than any beast of prey, even living off the sufferings of others, something no beast of prey does, for it lives off its prey and if it causes its prey to suffer in depriving it of life, it still does not live off the sufferings of its prey. -- XI2 A 434 September 22, 1855
Read more!

Stalemate in the Mideast?

The notion that there's a terrorist behind every bush is propaganda. Its purpose is to win elections inside the US, not to confront and win the "war on terror." Unfortunately, the domestic effects of such propaganda destroys American solidarity and sets the stage for polarizing culture wars whose purpose is less than strengthening virtue.

Perhaps the only way to maintain the US empire is to instil a military ethos, hopefully returning us to virtue--but that will not occur when politicians and their cronies exploit the fear to gain power and line their pockets. ...

One of the lessons of this so-called "war" is that the US military and its civilian leaders are not very good at knowing their enemy. Not only have we had intelligence failures in this regard, but the military itself has been slow to recognize who the enemy is and to work outside the box when it comes to recognizing the enemy's tactics.

While it helps to consolidate the home front, all moralizing does is to propose easy solutions that fit outmoded preconceptions. While I don't think that the neocons are done yet in trying to impose their template of old-world hegemony on to a region whose untapped masses have yet to exhibit their true worth, it should become obvious that the new "war" is more on the political front than on the battlefield.

If someone hasn't already posted a link and selection from this article, here it is. It's one of the more cogent and realistic descriptions of what's gone wrong and what's potentially workable than anything i have seen in a while.

At the American Conservative, Andrew Bacevich writes:

So it turns out that Arabs—or more broadly Muslims—can fight after all. We may surmise that they now realize that fighting effectively requires that they do so on their own terms rather than mimicking the West. They don’t need and don’t want tanks and fighter-bombers. What many Westerners dismiss as “terrorism,” whether directed against Israelis, Americans, or others in the West, ought to be seen as a panoply of techniques employed to undercut the apparent advantages of high-tech conventional forces. The methods em-ployed do include terrorism—violence targeting civilians for purposes of intimidation—but they also incorporate propaganda, subversion, popular agitation, economic warfare, and hit-and-run attacks on regular forces, either to induce an overreaction or to wear them down. The common theme of those techniques, none of which are new, is this: avoid the enemy’s strengths; exploit enemy vulnerabilities.

What are the implications of this new Islamic Way of War? While substantial, they fall well short of being apocalyptic. As Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has correctly—if perhaps a trifle defensively—observed, “Our enemy knows they cannot defeat us in battle.” Neither the Muslim world nor certainly the Arab world poses what some like to refer to as “an existential threat” to the United States. Despite overheated claims that the so-called Islamic fascists pose a danger greater than Hitler ever did, the United States is not going to be overrun, even should the forces of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraqi insurgents, and Shi’ite militias along with Syria and Iran all combine into a unified anti-Crusader coalition. Although Israelis for historical reasons are inclined to believe otherwise, the proximate threat to Israel itself is only marginally greater. Although neither Israel nor the United States can guarantee its citizens “perfect security”—what nation can?—both enjoy ample capabilities for self-defense.
Read more!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Republic or Empire?

It seems that if there was one Founding Father who would be behind GW Bush's interpretation of the constitution it's Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believed in a strong and superior executive branch.

It appears that while he supported a republican form of government, Hamilton did so because he thought that it was the best form of government to ride to world empire. If he backed the separation of powers, it was only in the sense that the legislative and judicial would be at the behest of the executive. ...

Although I am not clear how he hoped to undermine the powers of the legislative branch, it seems that he believed that it was corruptible through monied interests, as well as favor-giving via the executive. The core of his thinking on this issue involved the potential posed by a standing army.

In The Machiavellian Moment, JGA Pocock summarizes the scholarship on Hamilton's imperial aspirations:

Hamilton's known desire to build up the republic's military strength, and the widespread suspicion that he hoped to head that strength himself, were all that was needed to confirm his critics in their inherited belief that rule by a strong executive, wielding influence and supported by a monied interest, led logically to rule, at once corruptive and dictatorial, by a standing army. -- Pocock, p. 529
Is it too much to see that GW has simply brought Hamilton's aspirations to fruition? Led by a corrupted Congress--Republican and Democrat--the presidential powers that Bush et al. are assuming exploit the very ambivalence inherent in a republic that was established to build an economic and military empire that could sustain itself and expand without crumbling.

That ambivalence is built into the constitution itself, something that all Founding Fathers recognized and which led Jefferson to call for continued vigilance, if not perpetual revolution, to obviate.

[Xposted in comments section at Unclaimed Territory] Read more!

Where's the Press When You Need Them?

I am still wondering why the mainstream media has refused to find and interview the authors at the US Army War College International Strategic Studies (ISS) group who issued a recommendation that seems to envision a nuclear-capable Iran. Their report, GETTING READY FOR A NUCLEAR-READY IRAN, suggests ways to channel this capability in responsible ways that benefit Iran and the mideast region itself, and would calm some of the US' fears. ...

Could it be bcause of the following recommendation that the report makes concerning Israel's nuclear stockpile? According to this report, the US should remedy this perecption of favoritism towards Israel by:

Encourage Israel to initiate a Middle East nuclear restraint effort that would help isolate Iran as a regional producer of fissile materials. [emphasis in original] Israel should announce that it will unilaterally mothball (but not yet dismantle) Dimona, and place the reactor’s mothballing under IAEA monitoring. At the same time, Israel should announce that it is prepared to dismantle Dimona and place the special nuclear material it has produced in “escrow” in Israel with a third trusted declared nuclear state, e.g., the United States. It should make clear, however, that Israel will only take this additional step when at least two of three Middle Eastern nations (i.e., Algeria, Egypt, or Iran) follow Israel’s lead by mothballing their own declared nuclear facilities that are capable of producing at least one bomb’s worth of plutonium or highly enriched uranium in 1 to 3 years. Israel should further announce that it will take the additional step of handing over control of its weapons usable fissile material to the IAEA when:
  • a. All states in the Middle East (i.e., the three mentioned above)dismantle their fissile producing facilities (large research and power reactors, hexafluoride, enrichment plants, and all reprocessing capabilities).
  • b. All nuclear weapons states (including Pakistan) formally agree not to redeploy nuclear weapons onto any Middle Eastern nation’s soil in time of peace. Such arms restraint by deed rather than negotiation should avoid the awkwardness of current Middle Eastern arms control proposals that would have Israel enter into nuclear arms talks with states that do not recognize it and have it admit that it has nuclear weapons―a declaration that would force Israel’s neighbors immediately to justify some security reaction including getting bombs of their own.
From an Iranian persepctive, it must seem to be the height of US hypocrisy to demand that it not have nclear weapons while the US turns a blind eye to Israel's own weapons.

The Army War College report's recommendations would not only go a long way in heading off nuclear confrontation in the Mideast but also provide goodwill with Iran that can stabilize the region.

Update 1 Dafna Linzer writes:
Officials familiar with the inspectors' summer findings said they will report that Iran has produced several kilograms of low-enriched uranium and as much as 145 tons of converted uranium in the past year. Iran's two main nuclear facilities, the IAEA's most heavily monitored in the world, are outfitted with dozens of cameras pointed at every piece of equipment and barrel that contains uranium.

Inspectors continue to visit certain sites as well, but Iran ended voluntary cooperation with the agency several months ago and has threatened to end it entirely if the Security Council imposes sanctions.

Much of what is known by U.S. intelligence about Iran's nuclear program comes from the inspectors. Current intelligence assessments predict that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within a decade if it vastly improves its capabilities.
Related Links

[Xposted at Sic Semper Tyrannais] Read more!

Israel Use of Cluster Bombs in Lebanon Investigated

In a previous posting I cited some suspicions by a reporter at Defense Tech that Israel had used cluster bombs in its invasion of Lebanon. The NYT now reports that the US State Dept is investigating exactly that. ...

According to the NYT (via War & Piece)

State Department inquiry opened into use of U.S. cluster bombs in Lebanon:

The State Department is investigating whether Israel’s use of American-made cluster bombs in southern Lebanon violated secret agreements with the United States that restrict when it can employ such weapons, two officials said.

The investigation by the department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls began this week, after reports that three types of American cluster munitions, anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area, have been found in many areas of southern Lebanon and were responsible for civilian casualties.

Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said, “We have heard the allegations that these munitions were used, and we are seeking more information.” He declined to comment further.

Several current and former officials said that they doubted the investigation would lead to sanctions against Israel but that the decision to proceed with it might be intended to help the Bush administration ease criticism from Arab governments and commentators over its support of Israel’s military operations. The investigation has not been publicly announced; the State Department confirmed it in response to questions.

In addition to investigating use of the weapons in southern Lebanon, the State Department has held up a shipment of M-26 artillery rockets, a cluster weapon, that Israel sought during the conflict, the officials said.

Update 1 According to Reuters:
Like a small black football, it lies in the dirt not far from Haitham Daaboul's front door in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil.

It looks innocuous, but a careless kick from a passing child would detonate this cluster bomb, one of thousands of unexploded devices Israel scattered over the towns, villages and hillsides of south Lebanon during its 34-day war with Hizbollah fighters.

The bomblets can maim or kill. In war time, they might hit guerrillas firing rockets. Now with a shaky truce in force, they lie where they fell, creating random minefields over wide areas.
Related Links Read more!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pedophiles, Abortifacients, (non)Terrorists on Planes, Oh My!

I've tried to miss as much of the news about the Jon Benet Ramsay murder case and the suspected killer John Mark Karr (yes, I remember the names...) as much as possible. I remember the days that this murder occurred. The face of that poor child splashed on the screen brought many fears as I watched my own girls play. ...

But the obscenity of the child's death has become obsession and addiction for many others. The signs of despair that these phenomena represent call for some commentary. Two of the best I've read include those written by jodi dean @ I Cite (here and here)

Dean writes:

There are different deaths; some that precede the lives that would have been lived; some deaths are opportunities for tabloid hauntings, imagined lives. Deaths of innocents made repugant in pagentry and tabloid pornographic desire. Deaths in advance of living that call into question the very terms within which one might live (and rightly so: Tom is a freak and poor Katie a prisoner). But these, I don't think, are superficial. Not at all. They resonate with an innocence that only appeared by being made up, sexualized, and in death or in its absence and fanticized disfigurement.
Read more!

Battlefield Earth: Back to Tehran

As you may have noticed, I've been advocating a theory on the US strategy towards the Mideast that says that the US does not intend to usurp the region as a whole since that falls is beyond military and economic resources. What can be done, however, is to create enough instability and chaos in the region that the US can simply contain the firestorm without committing the massive troops and related resources necessary for outright occupation. ...

I believe that this has already been done in Iraq. While many lament the civil war there, and while it does pose dangers to US troops if there's a logistical slip-up, the anarchy in that country serves US long-term goals not only with regard to Iraq but also with regard to the region.

I still believe that Cheney/Rumsfeld are telling Bush that the situation inside Iraq is sufficiently contained--this means that even though there's some potential danger to US troops that danger can be addressed through pinpoint use of forces to defuse potential threat to the troops and divert it to the population at large.

It's doubtful that the insurgency can destroy the US military forces in any direct attack. And while the guerilla-style attacks are a nuisance, it's doubtful that anything outside a failure of will can move the US to leave the country. The insurgents know this and they're counting on political events in the US to destroy to pressure Bush into leaving Iraq.

Bush has already said that that will not happen during his term as President. It's even doubtful that a change in regime in the US presidency would change that- The Democrats seem quite open to the notion of staying the course in Iraq but under different management methods.

Until any change in goals or methods, it seems plausible that the Pentagon will continue to divide and contain the insurgency, retreating behind the fences of the large bases in Iraq that are probably impregnable to any offensive mounted by the insurgency. That itself would be something that could only happen were the civil war to somehow abate and the different factions overcome their differences to take on the US.

The latter issue is what al-Sadr has been advocating, but it's doubtful that he can accomplish that within the short-term. The long-term chances of that happening would mean some type of rapprochement between Sunni and Shia leaders, something that's historically been impossible to bring about.

Given this situation, it's extremely important to note that the situation represents what a motivated commander in the field would see as an opportunity to exploit. Looking not just at the battlefield as restricted to Iraq but including Iraq, Iran, and Syria, the situation in Iraq looks like a fire-fight in which the main enemies have been neutralized because they're at each other's throats.

Exacerbating this factional fighting will further make the combatants innocuous to US interests. The so-called tipping point in this civil war has probably already been reached, so a second front can be opened up in the wider field of battle, ie, Iran.

I do not understand why those who oppose the war against Iraq refuse to see the conflict as part of a much wider war. Everything the neocons and hawkish conservatives from Cheney to Kristol to McCain to Gingrich have said from the beginning is that this a “worldwide” war on terror. Perhaps the Left and others think that this talk is just hyperbole or perhaps the audacity of such statements are so grandiose that they seem absurd.

They can’t really mean it, right?

I think it’s time that people start taking this talk seriously and begin to oppose it accordingly–that is, in terms that comprehend the broad parameters in which the Pentagon, along with its satellite Israel, envision this “war on terror.”

In this context, then, it should not be surprising to hear Israeli officials talking about perhaps "going it alone" in attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, especially after Iran refused to listen to UN requests that Iran stop its nuclear processing activities.

According to the Jerusalem Post:

Israel is carefully watching the world's reaction to Iran's continued refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, with some high-level officials arguing it is now clear that when it comes to stopping Iran, Israel "may have to go it alone," The Jerusalem Post has learned.
These types of statements lead you to believe that the cuase of any Israeli attacks would be Tehran's actions; yet, as even Ehud Olmert--and numerous Israeli ministers and generals echoed repeatedly--said near the start of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the war here is not over Lebanon or even Hizbullah but about Iran and "worldwide" terrorism.

Then again, if the nuclear options are indeed on the table, then all bets are off.

Related Links

My Previous Iran-Related Posts Read more!

"Sudden Jihad Syndrome"

The backlash against what's perceived as insanity can be harsher than the direct effects of the person with the disease. Taking care of those who suffer from the effects of insanity has notoriously been a difficult undertaking. The fact that modern science resorts to using powerful drugs to cure the insane testifies to the profoundly disturbing nature of insanity.

Yet, as effective as these drugs are ta making the insane more manageable--read here vegetable-like--few pyschiatrists would aver that they've actually cured their patients. They've simply made it easier to modify these people's actions and ameliorate the danger that they pose to others and themselves. ...

The case of the man who killed several Jewish women Oregon is a case in point. The deranged man, whom many conisdered deranged is now awaiting trial for murder.

Deranged? you might ask. Yes.

According to recent media accounts, he seemed like a lost man seeking some form of stabilizing element in his life:

An engineer, Mian Haq and other members of the local Pakistani American community work for the nearby Hanford Site (a nuclear reservation). The junior Haq was not known to be an observant Muslim, and a Christian evangelical organization in the Tri-Cities area claims that he was baptized last year. But Haq was clearly identifying himself as a Muslim at the time of the shooting.
His actions were extremely erratic and those close to him noticed that the recent invasion of Lebanon by Israel had affected him negatively.

One explanation for his actions is that he was suffering from a highly agitated frame of mind which the Israeli invasion sparked into destructive life. Even given the minimal details, one sees that this was a highly fragmented personality, whose roots in Islam had been undermined while he seems to have flailled about trying to find something to fill the vaccuum left by the destruction of those roots.

Some would like to use Haq's case as a model for what Moslems in general would exhibit given the right circumstances.Pipes writes:
...Mr. Haq's actions are a clear instance of "Sudden Jihad Syndrome," whereby normal-appearing Muslims unpredictably become violent. His attack confirms my oft-repeated call for special scrutiny of Muslims. Because the identity of the next homicidal jihadi cannot be anticipated, Muslims generally need to come under heightened observation. I regret writing this as much as you dislike reading it, but it needs to be said and operated upon.
Pipes' is obviously exploiting a single instance to make a political case that covers an entire population.

The psychological effects or modern nihilism are well-documented in philosophical literature. From Kierkegaard to Nietzsche to Dostoevsky, the effects that the modern milieu has on the human psyche has been a theme for great debate.

It is within this context of nihilism that Haq's actions should be seen. To politicize his deplorable, if deranged, actions reflect poorly on the moral bankruptcy of those who'd turn an individual's insanity into a political platform that would dishonestly paint all members of a religion with the same brush.

When faced with such overly generalized comments as Pipes', I always revert to Simone Weil's idea that we humans are all capable of the most heinous crimes. To her credit, Weil attempted to identify the problem and the solution. Since modern western civilization destroys social and cultural roots, replacing them with a highly unstable consumerist ethos, the model of a syndicalist/agrarian-based society that Weil provides attempts to ameliorate those conditions. Read more!

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Shape of the New Mideast?

In an article for the US Armed Forces Journal, Ralph Peters provides an argument for divying up the Mideast to reflect the realities of tribal and blood relations. The map that he provides displays a vastly different Mideast that seems more geared to reflect US economic and geopolitical interests than the purported desire to alleviate fratricidal tensions that Peters argues for. But who knows? ...

Peters writes:

Correcting borders to reflect the will of the people may be impossible. For now. But given time — and the inevitable attendant bloodshed — new and natural borders will emerge. Babylon has fallen more than once.

Meanwhile, our men and women in uniform will continue to fight for security from terrorism, for the prospect of democracy and for access to oil supplies in a region that is destined to fight itself. The current human divisions and forced unions between Ankara and Karachi, taken together with the region's self-inflicted woes, form as perfect a breeding ground for religious extremism, a culture of blame and the recruitment of terrorists as anyone could design. Where men and women look ruefully at their borders, they look enthusiastically for enemies.

From the world's oversupply of terrorists to its paucity of energy supplies, the current deformations of the Middle East promise a worsening, not an improving, situation. In a region where only the worst aspects of nationalism ever took hold and where the most debased aspects of religion threaten to dominate a disappointed faith, the U.S., its allies and, above all, our armed forces can look for crises without end. While Iraq may provide a counterexample of hope — if we do not quit its soil prematurely — the rest of this vast region offers worsening problems on almost every front.
What is somewhat strange about this map is that its publication comes on the heels of whispers from within the White House that President Bush is considering partitioning Iraq. Could Peters have some insider sources that are feeding him information that he's dressing up in ethnographic-type argumentation?

I must admit that I'm sympathetic to Peters' humanitarian interests. Yet, I think that his own sentiments might play little part in the big picture that the Cheney/Rumsfeld global plan for the Mideast envisions. Certainly, there's something compelling about the idea that the US' interests in the region is set on its own best interests and not the hegemonic pretensions of an empire. Read more!

UN Ceasefire Meant to Protect Israel During US/Israel Attack on Iran?

In a story on CNN's Situation Room on Monday, CNN's Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr said that contingecy planning for an invasion or attack of Iran by the US or Israel included using the UN to "protect" Israel from Hizbullah retaliation. ...

Starr reported:

Analysts say support for a strike against Iran would be tough. U.S. forces in Iraq would have to be protected from Iranian retaliation. U.S. military assets such as tanker aircraft and ships must be put into position. A U.N. peacekeeping force first must be deployed in Lebanon to protect Israel.. ...
These are Pentagon analysts telling her this. She's not just making it up or surmising it. The impression I get is that she's quoting verbatim what Pentagon insiders have told her.

[Xposted @ Sic Semper Tyrannis] Read more!

Too Early To Endorse But Heads Up Call on Hagel

Scott at Just World News analyzes Sen. Chuck Hagel's recent statements on Iraq, including Hagel's appearance on Fox News.

I have been watching Hagel since he lambasted Bushco on their Iran policy. His speech at Brookings also makes the most sense of anyone I have heard so far--right or left. When I posted a tirade against Democrats for lining up to kiss Israel's behind in its invasion of Lebanon, I noted that only Hagel came out with a scathing rebuke of Bush and Israel. ...

Scott writes:

This may be a useful check on our "thinking" about Hagel, perhaps. Then again, Hagel in many ways stands as one of the more credible and important political voices of dissent in Washington, especially on US foreign policy towards the Middle East. He also seems more "compelling," as of now, than anyone on the Democratic side - though I am still looking.

At least on Middle East matters, Hagel seems to me to be well "above" the Republican-Democrat fray. He has the potential to be "truly" different, even when, or especially when, the partisans mindlessly find agreement.
Hagel's war experiences give his presence and words gravitas and, no doubt, some legitimacy when it comes to foreign policy issues. He probably stands for everything I am against in terms of domestic policy, but his demeanor and speech make me believe that he really thinks in terms of real debate and the value of differences of opinion than anything Bush could ever mumble.

Having recently finished Pocock's Machiavellian Moment and revisited the republican world-view of the founding fathers and their Renaissance forebears, I think that Hagel is a republican (note small "r"), in the best possible sense of that concept.

It was then that I called for Hagel to run for President, a guy who not only has sex appeal but also seems to have something between his ears besides hair. Read more!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

American Psychological Association Waffles on Torture

It seems that American psychologists have taken up the US President's habit of bad thinking. That is, we don't toture (but we do). ...According to Stephen Soldz:

Thus, last week’s “victory” at the APA Convention is largely a figleaf used as a PR stunt to blunt criticism of psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Nothing substantive has changed, so far.
Read more!

Walzer on Iraq and Just War

Michael walzer is an eminent "just war" theorist, as well as a prominent historian and philosopher. His recent essay on Iraq and just war theory is a welcome reqorking of the fallacies behind the decision to go to war with Iraq. Walzer also offers a framework for the future, if the civil war in Iraq ever subsides. ...

On the notion of regime change as the basis for going to war, Walzer writes:

So Iraq was not similar to the German or Japanese or the (hypothetical) Rwandan case: the war was not a response to aggression or a humanitarian intervention. Its cause was not (as in 1991) an actual Iraqi attack on a neighboring state or even an imminent threat of attack; nor was it an actual, ongoing massacre. The cause was regime change, directly—which means that the U.S. government was arguing for a significant expansion of the doctrine of jus ad bellum. The existence of an aggressive and murderous regime, it claimed, was a legitimate occasion for war, even if the regime was not actually engaged in aggression or mass murder. In more familiar terms, this was an argument for preventive war, but the reason for the preventive attack wasn’t the standard perception of a dangerous shift in the balance of power that would soon leave “us” helpless against “them.” It was a radically new perception of an evil regime.
Read more!

What Makes THEM Different?

Today's news include the story of airplane passengers who refused to allow a plane to take off because two "Arab-looking" men were making them feel uncomfortable.

As is true with most over-generalizations and stereotypes, ethnic profiling misses the significant differences between people. This hardens perceptions that "they" are so evil and different, working en masse for despicable ends, that they are inherently irrational and beyond dialog or discussion. ...

According to News reports:

Mrs Schofield, 38, said: "The plane was not yet full and it became apparent that people were refusing to board. In the gate waiting area, people had been talking about these two, who looked really suspicious with their heavy clothing, scruffy, rough, appearance and long hair.

"Some of the older children, who had seen the terror alert on television, were starting to mutter things like, 'Those two look like they're bombers.'

"Then a family stood up and walked off the aircraft. They were joined by others, about eight in all. We learned later that six or seven people had refused to get on the plane.

"There was no fuss or panic. People just calmly and quietly got off the plane. There were no racist taunts or any remarks directed at the men.

"It was an eerie scene, very quiet. The children were starting to ask what was going on. We tried to play it down."
If this "mutiny" were not so insidious in its display of racism becoming normality, it might seem funny. The idea that grown-ups could allow themselves to teach their children to fear their worst fears, not even trying to inculcate the virtue of courage, says much about the hysteria whose unhealthy consequences will undermine any pretension to public virtue that neocons or others extol.

This racial profiling and its associated hysteria work on several levels, the most pernicious of which these days is that the moderates will be lumped with the extremists and the hatred that the latter express and act on will be ascribed to the former.

Eminent Islamic scholar, John Esposito, provides a sobering look at what many extremists and moderates believe. What's interesting in Espositio's view is that the extremists are indeed "rational" actors, and the sooner we understand that and critically engage their views the sooner terrorism will disappear.

Esposito writes:
Focusing on the attitudes of those with radical views and comparing them with the moderate majority results in surprising findings. When asked what they admired most about the West, both extremists and moderates had the identical top three spontaneous responses: (1) technology; (2) the West’s value system, hard work, self-responsibility, rule of law, and cooperation; and (3) its fair political systems, democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of speech, and gender equality. A significantly higher percent of potential extremists than moderates (50 percent versus 35 percent) believe that “moving towards greater governmental democracy” will foster progress in the Arab/Muslim world. Potential extremists believe even more strongly than moderates (58 percent versus 45 percent) that Arab/Muslim nations are eager to have better relations with the West. Finally, no significant difference exists between the percentage of potential extremists and moderates who said “better relations with the West concerns me a lot.”
In defining courage, Aritotle tends to agree with Plato/Socrates when they define courage as knowing what to fear and what not to fear. This knowledge is supposed to result from practical experience, theoretical understanding, as well as behavioral conditioning.

It is somewhat ironic that the neocons, who wish to teach the classical virtues by creating conditions in which a military ethos can arise, resort to such fear-mongering. Of course, having chosen to put their capital behind a president whose renown for the virtue of courage is at best shrouded in ambiguity, says much about the hollowness and deception of their programme.

[Xposted in pieces at Unclaimed Territory's comments section] Read more!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Two Contrasting Views (w. a Plea)

With the defeat of Israel by Hizbullah you'd think the neocons and Cheney would moderate their arguments for invading Iran. Indeed, some in Israel like Defense Minister Peretz are suggesting that Israel open up a dialog with Iran. With thinking like this, I imagine, Cheney and the neocons will not only not moderate their war cry for Iranian blood but will begin to litter the media with greater and greater paranoiac visions of Armageddon. ...

First, the good news from a man who sponsors and promotes dialog with extremist groups like Hizbullah. (via No Quarter) Larry Johnson reports:

Israel, it seems, has few options at the moment. However, there are reports in the Israeli press that Defense Minister Amir Peretz this week hinted at one of them: renewed dialogue with Lebanon, the Palestinians, and even Syria.

Bearden, a staunch advocate for dialogue, even sees the possibility for Israeli dialogue with Iran — although the country is a prime backer of Hezbollah and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.
On the other hand, the neocon Bill Kristol ratcheted up his call for attacking Iran, basing his logic on the idea that if Hizbullah can defeat Israel in the field, then that means they will only get stronger and we should hamstring them and their sponsors before they become much harder to defeat.

According to Kristol:
But such a military strike would take a while to organize. In the meantime, perhaps President Bush can fly from the silly G8 summit in St. Petersburg--a summit that will most likely convey a message of moral confusion and political indecision--to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies. This is our war, too.
These comments keep coming from the neocon side, even thought those whose expert voices you'd expect to make a difference keep saying otherwise, e.g. 22 diplomats and military leaders who wrote a scathing indictment of the notion that attacking Iran is prudent, much less workable.

And then there's the voice in the wilderness (via Think Progress, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who asks a very simple but perhaps over-arching question:
And now Iran.

“Some in this administration want some excuse to take military action,” Hagel says.

“That would be disastrous, catastrophic. It would enflame the Middle East in ways we can’t imagine today.”

The United States and Israel already are isolated in the region, Hagel says.

Two wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan — have strained the U.S. military, partly because of decisions made by “all these smart guys” who now talk about bombing Iran.

“The American force structure is broken,” Hagel says. “Everything’s breaking down. We’re chewing up our people.”

A war in Iran would require reinstitution of a military draft, Hagel says.
But Hagel's voice will not be heard; like many before him he'll be laughed out of court as a rustic hick without any sense of the true purpose of the American destiny.

I've wracked my head for over what it is that the neocons want. They've been good at hiding their intentions behind a facade of innuendo, suspicion, and misdirection. Their Machiavellianism carries on something of the spirit of Hamilton since it exaggerates the role of a strong executive with sole war-making powers. As such, they hope to renew the American virtu, a spirit of conquest and entrepreneurial expansionism that will weed out the decay of luxury and self-satisfaction bred by our consumer culture.

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