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

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Moral Hypocrisy in The Foley Case

The Republican Congressman from Fla. was on a committee that oversaw legislation dealing with the Internet and child predators. He solicited sex from congressional interns. The IMs that Foley sent the young man contain unsavory suggestions. In the 1990s Foley attacked Clinton for his "sex addiction."

Republican leaders hid the facts for a year.

I wonder how many other skeletons will fall out of the oh-so-pure Republican party closets? ...

According to

ABC News reported Friday that Foley also engaged in a series of sexually explicit instant messages with current and former pages, all male. In one message, ABC said, Foley wrote to one page, "Do I make you a little horny?"

In another message, Foley wrote, "You in your boxers, too? ... Well, strip down and get relaxed."

Foley, as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, had introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect.

"We track library books better than we do sexual predators," Foley has said.
The political implications of the Foley scandal have some more import than those reported in the press as of yet. These political consequences will go far beyond consensuality and age. I believe that in many a republican and religious right heart there's the suspicion that liberals and democrats actually secretly condone pedophilia. Explicated in rational terms, this innate "sense" of these people is voiced as a war against cultural values that they believe the liberal or democratic policies promote, i.e., sexual promiscuity and aberrant sexuality such as pedophilia.

The "family values" aspects of the republican and religious right political agenda are an attempt to attack this supposed liberal ideology. What this scandal is 1) espousing family values and fighting a culture war does not make you any more righteous than anyone else; 2) the hypocrisy of the rightists when it comes to policing their own when they commit these acts; and 3) the possibility that the republicans are simply mouthing family value platitudes to gain power.

I think this story is going to turn off many moderate Republicans to their party candidates. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a massive reluctance on Republican voters' part to vote, simply out of disgust at the shortcomings of the current Republican platform. Yes, the hardcore Bushistas will continue to vote for the authoritarian policies of this administration, but they may be the only ones. Even the religious right voters may find it hard to stomach the growing perception that they've been used by the neocons and Republican leadership.

There are further implications of this scandal that I don't have time to go into now. These include the notion that any attempt at cultural reform based on religious teachings is impossibility. In the first place, as Socrates used to say, you can't teach virtue, whether it's by culture or otherwise. Second, the prevalence of original sin makes any socio-cultural programme bent on inspiring or inculcating faith is impossible.

Update 1 October 4 -- Several days out, Media Matters for America documents the various dodges taken by the Bushistas and conservatives to deflect focus on the underlying scandal in this affair.

Update 2 -- Media Matters documents attempts by Republican apologists to link the Foley scandal to the supposed issue of homosexuality and pedophilia:
On October 2, Perkins issued a statement on what he claimed was "the real issue" in the Foley scandal -- the purported "link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse"; the statement was uncritically reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in an October 3 report on the scandal. Similarly, on the October 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews failed to challenge the claim by Perkins that "there's clear research that shows that homosexual men are more likely to abuse children than straight men." Perkins's claim appears to be based on an article on the Family Research Council's website by Timothy J. Dailey, a senior research fellow at the FRC's Center for Marriage and Family Studies, which asserts that there is a "disturbing connection" between homosexuality and pedophilia because "homosexual pedophiles commit about one-third of the total number of child sex offenses" whereas homosexuals make up only "1 to 3 percent of the population."
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Shake-and-Bake Christianity

I haven't been to a megachurch, so I have to take the following description at its word. Once a longtime ago, I did visit some of the prototypes for the megachurch back on the late 80s when the evangelicals were first making their move out of a long isolation. (Back then, these churches were sometimes called warehouse churches; this was before the Jimmy Swaggart/Jim Baker/Tammy Faye scandals.) I saw then what this guy's describing now is happening within Christianity. ...

Whats strikes me most about the following piece is the attempt to found a community within the secular world that is not of the secular world. I imagine that many of these folks believe that they are existing in smething like a Christianized environment--a bubble world--that will perhaps serve as the model for the rest of how America might evolve into.

Second, there's that sense of bubbleness--it's reminiscent of the artifical and ersatz reality created by the Bush administration re: the War in Iraq. That is, as Zizek notes, we are at war but it feels like we are not at war. We are isolated from the terrible sufferings of those in Iraq and those who soldiers who are fighting there, who die (no news coverage), or who end up in a corner of a VA hospital ward. The sense of irreality is what is so striking about the megachurch phenomenon--at least if this description is to be believed. It's almost like a Disneyland of the New Jerusalem, but without the rides (or are those only a few years away?).

Born at the Crest of the Empire writes:

First, they represent an effort to build cultural gated communities within the larger city of Houston. Second Baptist, the local mega with the probably most enveloping "community" has within itself itself a complete social structure carrying its members from cradle to grave. They have daycare, a school, mixers, singles functions/matchmaking, exercise facilities, job assistance, social functions, counselling, right up to senior care.

Effectively, a church member can live their life totally within that "Christian" context. It does have a lure primarily among families with children in that it allows those kids a "safe place." But, interestingly to me, that "safe place" isn't only objects in the real world; the megachurch culture also works to construct a safe virtual world, movies, TV, music etc. An entire industry has grown up to serve Christian rock, literature, and Veggie Tales to this "safe community."

The megachurch fully engaged has the effect of segregating church members in a self reinforcing belief system that extends well beyond Christian tenets. So, when you hear wacky polling or absurdist comments around the "culture war" understand that there are people who live within this self reinforcing reality.

Second: The other major shift that has taken place within the structure of the Megachurch is the actual deemphasis of traditional Christianity. The "traditional" Christian virtures, mercy, charity, humility, and love, have been replaced with a narcissistic philosophy of Christian self improvement.

The whole thing is underpinned by a Christian backbone, but if you look at the sermons and products of Joel Osteen as example (the main guy at Lakewood,) they actually have very little to do with Christianity.

This, I think, is one of the reasons for the growing popularity of the megachurch. Listening to bible verse is boring, but "Living at my Full Potential," that has zazz.

I would argue that this populist new Christianity represents a fundamental shift in values from "what would Jesus do?" to "What can Jesus do for me?"

That's not an absolute shift by any means, but I do think it's big and historic change in the interpretation of Christianity and the relationship of God to the individual. I'm not yet sure what the long term implications of this are.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

More on Privatizing Terror as a Service Sector

Harper's continues its investigation into the privatization of the counter-terrorism effort.

Harper's writes:

One former senior CIA official told me that the implications of the “enhanced revolving door” are being felt in a broad variety of ways. “There are many people inside who aspire to work for a private contractor because—overnight—they can at least double their earnings,” he said. “It undermines morale and doesn't build a competent system. But the bigger story is that this is symptomatic of a new ‘counterterrorism-industrial complex’ that's popping up and that is starting to look a lot like Eisenhower's military-industrial complex. It's a multibillion dollar industry and it's beginning to drive policy.”
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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Could This be the Problem in Iraq?

In my continuing effort to explore threats to the republic, I have mentioned the dangers posed by private security firms that provide military services to the US government. The following information shows not only the level of activity underway by these firms inside Iraq and its consequences but also has wider ramifications, which I have written about in other postings.

Specifically, the question is what danger do these military entities purely under the control of the executive branch and with minimal congressional oversight have with regard to executing the will of the people? ...

Global Guerillas reports:

PSCAI (Private Security Company Association of Iraq) estimates that there are 35,000 private military contractors (those who are using lethal force) in Iraq. Note that the vast bulk of these contractors are operating outside the realm of any counter-insurgency strategy (and by their actions, defined by their missions, typically undermine it).
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Monday, September 11, 2006

Assessing the Successes of the Neocon Putsch

We'll all remember Orwell's 1984 descriptions of Winston Smith's manipulating the news, ostensibly history. The current 911 movie that ABC is showing only extends the effort by the neocons to neutralize the massive organs of cultural reproduction that are the MSM and Hollywood. Perhaps more ominously, it is the shadow of things to come as the Pentagon's efforts to "influence" the news stream becomes more integrated with the Internet. ...

It's not news that those who control the telling of history hold the reins of power. That crudely conceived cliché has been a commonplace among deconstructionists for some time. As much as the neocons and other Rightist culture warriors have castigated the Left's attachment to this deconstructionist insight, they put its truth into practice every day. I imagine the neocons and rightists believe that because they practice a historiography that espouses absolute values--versus the relativist ones of the left--their version of history is the most correct one.

It’s been said by some that the modus operandi of the neocon propaganda machine is to take the strengths of the Left and turn them against them. I think the brilliance of this propaganda machine is to take Leftist clichés and turn them on their head by filling them with neocon content. This no doubt reflects the Trotskyist background of many of these same neocons. Concepts such as fascism and international democracy take on a seemingly new and vibrant life when they find a new enemy and a new threat. Such concepts account, no doubt, for how formerly ultra-leftists like Christopher Hitchens joined the neocon cause after 911.

Americans have never liked intellectuals. The "smart-allecky" eggheads make a nuisance of asking too many questions when there's always a healthy need to see things closer to the bone. But the intelligentsia has always played a key role in asking the hard questions, keeping the corporate memory free of errors, and formulating the big issues which then get disseminated to the masses by lesser minds.

The neocons have been very effective, I think, at decapitating the US intelligentsia. This effort began directly after 911 when teachers and professors were scared into silence by threats of losing tenure if they taught a different line or interpretation from the one espoused by the neocon white house. In effect, what the neocons have accomplished is a bloodless version of what the Soviets did in 1940at Katyn to the Polish intelligentsia after it invaded Poland.

Of course, the ivory tower types often only have themselves to blame for this, since their abstruse interests rarely intersect with the reality of the masses. Still, that they would rather engage in their vicious internecine department wars than deal with the freedoms that underpin the republic will only make them less and less relevant.

The neocons have filled the ensuing vacuum left by the decapitation of the intelligentsia with their think tank luminaries like Kristol, Brooks, Perle, et al. Backed by infusions of millions of dollars from conservative backers, they’ve taken over the cultural apparatus that has solidified the basics of the republic’s intellectual heritage for 200 years. Now we face the prospect not of free and open dialog and discussion about the republic’s fate, but an ideologically based regime with effective means of disseminating that ideology.

In a speech before the Nazi Party at Nuremberg, Hitler defined what it meant to be a Nazi. What distinguished the Nazi party from every other political party, he said, was that it was a party of ideology. It would be ruled by ideology and assessed by how well and comprehensively that ideology was put into practice. Obviously, anything or anyone that questioned, opposed, or undermined this ideology was to be exterminated.

While the atmosphere of ideological intimidation that came after 911 has seemingly dissipated, there are warning signs indicating that there’s more ideologically based efforts afoot by the neocon Bush white house. Infusing the reified term fascist with the blood and skin of Islamic jihadists is one such effort. The new 911 film is another. Just as an iceberg is unseen, it seems well to determine how much the ideologically based programme of the neocons has adapted to twist the facts of history to their advantage.

In a little noticed article on the web, sociologist Richard Sennett noted that there are two types of fascism—hard and soft. The hard type is the jack boot in the face and the iron fist. The soft type is an environment of intimidation and fear that squashes all dissent, internal or external. Orwell called it thoughtcrime. We haven’t reached that nadir in ideological austerity. As the disinformation of the Pentagon-based propaganda machine ratchets up its efforts, we will face further confusion and further displays historigraphical fascism.
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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Counterpoint: Oil Industry Bets On No War in Iran

The oil industry seems to be betting on the idea that Iran will eventually negotiate its position on nuclear power/weapons, and thereby forestall any porjected US invasion/attack. ...

It's a good point. If you accept the idea that the military invasion of Iraq by the US was in part motivated by a desire to secure Iraqi oilfields, then what the oil industry says might lead you to believe that it does not see an invasion of Iran in the same light as it saw the Iraq invasion.

According to Reuters (via Nergol @ Spengler's Forum:

Oil fell more than a dollar to less than $68 a barrel on Monday, pulled lower by expectations that any sanctions against oil producer Iran were some way off and would not necessarily disrupt export flows.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday stressed the need to avoid a confrontation with Iran.

He was speaking after a visit to the OPEC oil producer, during which he said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had reaffirmed Iran's willingness to negotiate a solution to the nuclear dispute, although he said it would not suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran failed to meet an August 31 deadline to halt its enrichment program or run the risk of U.N. sanctions.

"All along the nuclear issue has been a lengthy play of many acts. Probably, we're coming up to another act, which is sanctions, but there are likely going to be negotiations of what these sanctions are," said Mike Wittner of Calyon bank.
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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Congress Okays Cluster Bombs in Iraqi Civilian Areas

Why not? We were going to send Israel more--or did they ship anyway--cluster bombs to use against the Lebanese. ...

ThinkProgress reports:

In a 30-70 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to ban defense spending “on the purchase or use of cluster munitions near civilian areas.” Cluster bombs are “the type of weapon responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.”
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Scenario 1: Provoking Iran for US Invasion

Recent reports in the media are

* Putting Iran behind Hizbullah's attack on Israel,--who Bush says the US promised to defend if attacked--

* Accusing Iran of material and logistic support for Shiite insurgency and militias in Iraq

* Showing provocations along the border of Kurdistan with Iran by Kurdish rebels (and Israeli special ops teams?), which both Turkey and Iran have responded to by bombarding the guerilla camps (according to some reports)

At this point, I am surprised that the Pentagon has not made more these than they have so far. Perhaps they are simply waiting to tighten up supply lines in Iraq, moving US forces into positions of support for an attack/invasion of Iran, or waiting for Israel to attack as it is reported to be preparing to do.

The latter points are highly speculative.


Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv, and Sarah Baxter, New York write

THREATENED by a potentially nuclear-armed Tehran, Israel is preparing for a possible war with both Iran and Syria, according to Israeli political and military sources.

The conflict with Hezbollah has led to a strategic rethink in Israel. A key conclusion is that too much attention has been paid to Palestinian militants in Gaza and the West Bank instead of the two biggest state sponsors of terrorism in the region, who pose a far greater danger to Israel’s existence, defence insiders say.

“The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defence agenda, higher than the Palestinian one,” said an Israeli defence source. Shortly before the war in Lebanon Major-General Eliezer Shkedi, the commander of the air force, was placed in charge of the “Iranian front”, a new position in the Israeli Defence Forces. His job will be to command any future strikes on Iran and Syria.
Possible scenario for provoking an attack includes the following:

Israel attacks Iranian nuclear sites. Hizbullah launches retaliatory strikes wither in suicide attacks and/or rockets. Or: Iran launches missles into Israel.

Bush declares that Iran is behind these attacks, and that the US is committed to protecting Israel's security. He goes to Congress for an authorization to use military force. Congress supports him because: 1) the Jewish lobby 2) American sentiments supporting Israel.

The chances of the Congress not supporting an AUMF if Israel is attacked are close to nil, I believe. Read more!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In Discussion on What's Wrong w/ Us

At Glenn Greenwald's blog, inconversation I posted the following:

According to JGA Pocock, the reason that the founding fathers wanted to put brakes on commercial interests is that it promotes a form of false consciousness (yes, they were familiar with this concept long before Marx, via the English Machiavellians) that occurs by way of credit and economic speculation. They hoped to counter this with the expansion of the republic westward thereby giving the people a way of holding land, a real value as opposed to the false value created by speculation.

But once the empire reached the western shores of the Pacific and land itself became a means of speculation, the corruption of false consciousness set in among the masses. We see this in the proliferation of diverse ways to create fantasy personalities and living in false worlds that populate the "post modern" world. Much of this would be considered by the founding fathers as a corrupting influence as great as or greater than the abuses of unchecked political or commercial interests.

It is the corruption of the masses that has led the neocons, for example, to promote the military and patriotic ethos--in conjunction with the imperial expansion to overseas markets and oil fields--as a countering impulse to the corruption of the masses. What's odd here is that the liberals have no counter-argument or agenda to this corruption of the masses. In the past, it may have been the populist religious movements that provided that balance but in distancing themselves from the great liberal religious traditions, the liberal left is left swinging any which way hoping that the Right will piss the masses off so much with military and imperial missteps that the masses will simply opt for the Left as a "not-them" choice.

Iraq and perhaps some economic discomfort has disturbed the false consciousness of the masses to the point that they will opt out of the Republican game plan for the short-term. In the meantime, what sort of counter-balance to the corruption of the masses can the Left come up with? All we've had so far is Clintonian neoliberalism, which is the non-militaristic version of imperial republic.

Everyone wants to get outa here doing well and leave something for the kids. As you note, that's getting harder and harder for those without. What I dislike is the way that those in power and with the cash continue to pass on not only money but power to their progeny. It is this oligarchic principle that spells ruin for the republic.

I also understand the notion of noblesse oblige. While I find it somewhat patronising, I guess it's okay as far as it goes. However, as capital solidifies its hold on the social and cultural infrastructure of the country, those who already have continue to profit and maintain their status quo while those in the middle and at the bottom get squeezed harder and harder.

Perhaps there was a notion that the rich and those in power once thought owed something to society for their success. Even Habermas notes that the founder of IBM back in the early 60s opposed the reduction from 90 percent in income taxes to 50 percent by Kennedy. He did so because he believed that the rich should not tear the social fabric of equitability that mercenary capitalism is prone to destroy.

Perhaps it is this ovearching sense that duty is towards each other and the health of the whole rather than the individual that's been lost by the rich. The founding fathers believed that they could stem the corruption that many of them (except perhaps Hamilton) foresaw would come about by leveling the playing field to include the competition of interests. The balance would be maintained because the various interests would negate each other. I do not think they foresaw the vast influence that capital could play in buying those interests and ultimately by the power of controlling the means of communication that the commercial interests can deploy.

Walter Lippmann long ago understood that the public is a fiction. It is created by and manipulated by the press whose interests ultimately lie with the ruling oligarchy.

The historian Pocock notes--following Hannah Arendt--that the founding fathers opted for the notion of representative democracy as a kind of stop-gap to the inevitable corruption that every republic is heir to. As he has also noted in a recent essay, it is these representatives who form the oligarchy--bought and sold like so many boxes of All-Bran.

You wonder why the president has gotten away with the abuses he has? Look to our representatives and the commercial interests they represent.

I've always been struck by something that former Russian strongman Boris Yeltsin said. Commenting on his meeting with US govt. officials, he noted how free and independent they seemed in their interaction with each other and their superiors. He admired them for this and said that the Russians lacked that type of freedom but that he felt he must inculcate such an attitude in Russia.

I always thought that that attitude of freedom is what money and status bring you. I certainly don't think that most people in the US exhibit such an attitude of freedom. Tied down by financial concerns, as well as the limitations of social and cultural constraints, I always wondered how many in the US ever attain that type of freedom.

I imagine that Bush feels like those men in superior positions of power and money. My question then becomes: how much does he understand that this position is a product of his own privileged background? How much does he understand that freedom in an imperial republic requires checks and balances, rather than just the exhibition of entrepreneurial initiative and freedom afforded by class?

I personally think that Bush suffers from a case of "false consciousness" that inhibits his ability to understand those varaiables that enable to experience his expanded sense of freedom.
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Sunday, September 03, 2006

In Memoriam: Deadwood

And I didn't even know it was over, though seeing Bullock let Hearst leave town alive raised my suspicions. ...

There are so many myths about the old West, that's why this series on HBO was important in many ways. It's probably more realistic than other show about the west has ever been; on the other hand, its very surreality is instructive in showing how much our understanding of our own myths reflects more of who we want to be than what those in the past understood themselves to be.

Consider the following analysis of the American myth from JGA Pocock, writing in The Machiavellian Moment:

A romanticization of popular energies, akin to the romanticism which Wood detects in Madisonian liberalism, makes its appearance in frontier rhetoric; but, following the paradigms laid down by Machiavelli, virtue in this sense must be as dynamic as popular virtù. A dynamism of virtue was being invoked to counter and contain the dynamism of commerce, and must partake of the latter's passionate and fantastic qualities. The primitive and half-comic heroes of frontier legend, however, were insufficiently political to embody virtue in its republican form--Davy Crockett was not imaginable as the congressman he was in real life--and the myth found its personification in Andrew Jackson. Frontier warrior turned patriot statesman, successful adversary of the second attempt to charter the United States Bank, the Jackson of legend has a good claim to be considered the last of the Machiavellian Romans and the warlike, expanding, agrarian democracy he symbolized a Fourth Rome, perpetutaing republican virtus as the Third Rome of Moscow perpetuated sacred empire. -- p. 535
Scott McLamee does a pretty decent--albeit predictable--autopsy; I might take a hand at it once I get over my grief...

McLemee writes:
The final image of the series really did sum it up perfectly. It shows a man [Al Swearingen] on his knees, scrubbing a pool of blood off the wooden floor.

Another character, Johnny, has just asked for some reassuring words about the event that led to the giant stain. Johnny leaves, and the man with the brush gets back to work. “Wants me to tell him something pretty,” he says.

It’s not a rebuke, exactly — just a reminder that, as someone once put it, every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism.
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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Wildcards, "Democracy", and Neocon Game Plans

In response to the following analysis of the Pentagon's recent report to Congress on the state of the US military situation in Iraq and Pat Lang's analysis of that situation, I wrote the following:

I think that the talk about democratization etc. is merely a way of making that plan palatable to the rather idealistic sensibilities of Bush. The only form of democractization that he neocons hope to establish is the imperial republican's notion of client state in Iraq. All other concerns are simply window-dressing. ...

With a weak central government in Iraq, the US will continue to impose its will to expand further destabilization in the region. The present anarchy in Iraq allows Iran to look like it is gaining influence; but this appearance only makes the neocon call for invading/attacking Iran look stronger. Whether or not that influence is real is really beside the point.

Just as long as it looks like Iran is gaining influence--to a president whose grasp of socio-cultural or geopolitical realities is tenuous at best, to a press that relies on the think-tankers who mouthe neocon platitudes--is all that counts.

On a more macroscopic level, the pieces continue to fall into place for an eventual invasion/attack of Iran. The Israelis have a forward operating base in Kurdistan. While in a more precarious situation, the US troops can simply reinforce its rear and swivel toward Iran and either feign an attack on Iran's western border or actually use it as a base for special ops tactics.

The wildcard in this scenario is Turkey and its continuing concern about Kurdish guerilla groups based in Kurdsitan. They've already made incursions into Kurdish terrotory to attack these groupos and they've bombarded the guerilla camps. Interestingly, they've done this in seeming coordination with Iran, which has also bombarded these guerilla positions.

No doubt, the State Department is taking strong measures to assess Turkey's intentions here, perhaps promising more economic aid. We must remember that it was Turkey's refusal to allow US troops to use it as a base for invading northern Iraq that caused Rumsfeld conniptions.

MSNBC writes, quoting a US Pentagon report:

"Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife,'' the report said. The Sunni-led insurgency remained "potent and viable", it said.

"Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months,'' the report said. "Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward a civil war can be prevented," it added.
Commenting on this report, former Defense Intelligence ret. Col. Pat Lang writes:
What lies within the psyches of the peoples of Iraq is a belief that their communities are not "Iraq" as President Bush imagines it. He believes that these peoples see themselves as individuals, acting as individuals within the polity of Iraq, but most of them see themselves in far older and more deeply rooted categories.

These categories are now engaged in combat on the dusty plains of Mesopotamia. They are like lions fighting over the "kill" that our intervention has left for them.
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Friday, September 01, 2006

Who Should Muslims Blame for Their Malaise?

The notion that Muslims worldwide are looking for someone or something to blame for their problems is perhaps a dangerous over-simplification. I don't think it's too much to imagine that many if not most Muslims rely on their innate talents and common-sense to get through life, like many people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. I can imagine that most--faced with the complexities of the modern world--also try to answer numerous questions with the same quizzicalness that inhabitants of a modern, post-secular world do.

So why ask the question about what Muslims have to blame for their malaise? This question is directed mostly at answering why some Muslims resort to terrorism or support the terrorist mentality. At a deeper, more empathetic level, it attempts to answer questions asked by those in the Arab world who are not faring well in the neo-liberal world economy. To answer this question might go some way in addressing the sources of discontent, to use a cliche. ...

My own answer to a question like this is perhaps confined by my experiences as an American who has befitted from the freedoms--economic and political--that living in this country affords. At the same time, no doubt, my views are limited by that very experience. While I have dealt with hardships, some worse, some not as worse, as others, I have striven to expand the boundaries of that experiential prison as much as possible.

I have lived on the streets--by choice and by circumstances. I have dealt with fallout from family issues--again, some worse than, some not as bad as, what I know of others' lives. Through various religious, behavioral, aesthetic, and intellectual experiments I have tried to both flee from, struggle with, and resolve my relationship to the past, personal and communal.

In this way, I have tried to see the world as others might see it. Indeed, I have done so sometimes I think to the point where I think that I have completely lost myself, if that's possible without going insane. Or perhaps that insanity is the edge over which we must indeed go and at which many simply refuse to either draw near or acknowledge.

I am not saying that this is the answer to the questions asked by those who face hunger, poverty, want and so on every day. The questions they face are much more material, much more urgent. The types of questions that I have faced are actually a luxury afforded by my environment.

Having described my anxieties about my ability to truly understand others in their own existential circumstances, however, does not leave me weaker, as some who lampoon and parody such a view as pathetically liberal. Indeed, I think such anxieties make whatever it is that's me stronger in a way.

Without trying to push this on anyone or even identifying myself with the author, I have found that Paul's words on weakness in 1&2 Corinthians somewhat resonant. Of course, my own experiences are simply pale shadows of anything the Apostle experienced but it does show something I have found to be worth striving for in some way.

Paul writes:

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. (2 Cor. 9-11)
Be that as it may, it is this weakness, these anxieties and questions that bring me to the boundary where I and others disappear but remain, perhaps transformed; where weakness turns to strength that seeks meaning not in power but in something above power; where loss and pain are seen as gifts.

I imagine that some will see this little confessional posting as an attempt to oppose one religion to another. Not at all. If anything, I hope that it will show that those questions that make us human are not confined to one religion versus another. I don't think this means, either, that all religions are one and indistinct.

Perhaps it does show that there's some level respect for the unknowability of the Transcendent that all such differences--while important for knowing who and what I am or you are--ultimately mean more when they are seen through that transcendent without wishing to profane it by knowing what it expects other than the demand to love others as they are through it.

According to Haroon Siddiqui:
He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have me as his accuser on the Day of Judgment. — Prophet Muhammad
Muslims do not have much to be proud of in the contemporary world. So they take comfort in their burgeoning numbers. At the turn of the millennium in 2000, there were many learned papers projecting the rise in Muslim population. But if Muslims have not achieved much at 1.3 billion, they are not likely to at 1.5 billion, either.

To escape the present, many Muslims hark back to their glorious past: how Islam was a reform movement; how Muslims led the world in knowledge, in astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, philosophy and physics; and how the Islamic empires were successful primarily because, with some egregious exceptions, they nurtured the local cultures and respected the religions of their non-Muslim majority populations. This is why Egypt and Syria remained non-Muslim under Muslim rule for 300 years and 600 years, respectively, and India always remained majority Hindu.

As true as all that history is, it is not very helpful today unless Muslims learn something from it — to value human life; accept each other's religious differences; respect other faiths; return to their historic culture of academic excellence, scientific inquiry and economic self-reliance; and learn to live with differences of opinion and the periodic rancorous debates that mark democracies.

It may be unfair to berate ordinary Muslims, given that too many are struggling to survive, that nearly half live under authoritarian regimes where they can speak up only on pain of being incarcerated, tortured or killed, and that they are helpless spectators to the sufferings of fellow Muslims in an unjust world order. Yet Muslims have no choice but to confront their challenges, for Allah never changes a people's state unless they change what's in themselves (13:11).
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SlowMo Coup?

With Bush and Rumsfeld's present attack on those who disagree with their Iraq policies in the air, it seems time to assess the state of the military-industrial complex. The militancy of the military has never been so great.

The military takes an oath to uphold the constitution, but if they buy in to the unitary executive theory, they think that the Pres. has ultimate authority--and that he has the right to declare what is and is not constituional. While I do not think a military coup--as in direct confrontations, etc.--is in the works, I am concerned that the framework is in place for a coup behind the scenes (also see here). ...

I floated this idea a few months ago, when Harper's held a round table of defense brass and intellectuals. They noted that, while they thought the military part of the equation might remain loyal, the civilian part might indeed carry such a coup out.

I quote from Harper's:

The question that arises is whether, in fact, we're not already experiencing what is in essence a creeping coup d'etat. But it's not people in uniform who are seizing power. It's militarized civilians, who conceive of the world as such a dangerous place that military power had to predominate, that constitutional constraints on the military need to be loosened.

Someone left a comment to that posting, writing:
Blackwater USA , friend of C/B and contract defender of the Green Zone has announced the evolution to full combat operational services. A "turnkey service" for those nastiest of ops that might prove reportable, accountable and embarrassing. (opposition assassination anyone?) A heavily armed, special ops trained by our elite US commando forces, now retired to six figure income, private corporate army right here in the Tar Heel State.
I think that many are concerned--as I myslef am--with the seeming flowing of power to the executive branch. As Machiavelli pointed out, when one person or branch of government takes unto itself more power, or most of it, and creates a situation where all others depend on that person or entity that is by definition a tyranny.

Pres. Bush has shown himself immune to congressional oversight, makes end runs around the judiciary, and pays no heed to laws and legislation passed by congress. These issues are not making their way into the so-called "liberal" press nor, obviously, in the conservative side of the media. I don't know how much you follow the military-idustrial complex. I used to work in that industry, and I know something about how they operate. The number of sole-source contracts has risen, as has the influence of this industry in congress via campaign donations. That's a sign of tyranny and corrupton in a republic.

Update 1 Global Guerillas writes:
The war in Iraq has catalyzed the growth of the mercenary industry (populated with a wild array of private military/security companies), and serves as yet another sign of the return of the pre-Westphalian warfare documented here. A good way to get up to speed on the topic is to watch the documentary "Shadow Company" by Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque.
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