Hip-Gnosis: September 2006: Archives

September 29, 2006

Crossroads: America's Moral Dilemma genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation


The concept of morality is a complex topic that elicits passion and consternation as people of differing beliefs attempt to validate their own particular versions. I've always found it a little odd that God would only provide us with Ten Commandments when it should have been obvious that we would need an abundance of guidance and far more detail if we were to ever be able to reach some mutual consensus. Perhaps that is a factor in my skepticism regarding the Bible as the actual word of God.

I've long wondered what would motivate a God to speak definitively to a select number of people at only one defined period in history...and never have returned to do it again. Further, if someone were to assert that God had spoken directly to them in this day and age, they would likely be determined mentally incompetent...yet we cling to beliefs that cannot be verified and that were reinterpreted time and again over centuries of time. Unfortunately, we cannot definitely resolve any of these conundrums so we struggle to define our morality each day through the decisions and the actions we exhibit.

When I attempt to discern morality, I usually look for consistency...an issue I've previously discussed here at Thought Theater. The premise of my argument is that the application of morality should remain consistent across all elements of an individual’s life in order for it to be considered more than the rhetoric of what I might characterize as politics...the means by which we negotiate to impose the "truths" we hold upon others within society. All too often I find the morality ("truths") of many whom I encounter to be inconsistent and that leads me to doubt the sincerity of their beliefs. While none of us holds a monopoly on “truth", we can nonetheless consistently live the “truths" we embrace. Perhaps that is the best we humans can achieve?

Michael Kinsley has an interesting article in the Washington Post that touches on this means of evaluating morality in the context of our President and his politics. Let me begin with an important caveat...we all have inconsistencies in our beliefs ("truths") and that doesn't necessarily invalidate them or our sincerity. Nonetheless, it does raise questions about the degree to which we have vetted those beliefs as well as the propensity we may have to ignore our own contradictions. Kinsley's article opens the discussion of inconsistencies found within the President's "truths" that merits further analysis and expansion.

It was, I believe, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who first made the excellent, bitter and terribly unfair joke about conservatives who believe in a right to life that begins at conception and ends at birth.

This joke has been adapted for use against various Republican politicians ever since. In the case of President Bush, though, it appears to be literally true.

Bush, as we know, believes deeply and earnestly that human life begins at conception. Even tiny embryos composed of a half-dozen microscopic cells, he thinks, have the same right to life as you and I do. That is why he cannot bring himself to allow federal funding for research on new lines of embryonic stem cells or even for other projects in labs where stem cell research is going on. Even though these embryos are obtained from fertility clinics, where they would otherwise be destroyed anyway, and even though he appears to have no objection to the fertility clinics themselves, where these same embryos are manufactured and destroyed by the thousands -- nevertheless, the much smaller number of embryos needed and destroyed in the process of developing cures for diseases such as Parkinson's are, in effect, tiny little children whose use in this way constitutes killing a human being and therefore is intolerable.

But President Bush does not believe that the deaths of all little children as a result of U.S. policy are, in effect, murder. He thinks that some, while very unfortunate, are also inevitable and essential.

You know who I mean. Close to 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far as a direct result of our invasion and occupation of their country, in order to liberate them. The numbers are increasing as the country slides into chaos: more than 6,500 in July and August alone.

Bush is right, of course, that the inevitable loss of innocent life in wartime cannot be a reason not to go to war or a reason not to fight that war in a way intended to win. Eggs, omelets and all that. "Collateral damage" should be a consideration weighed in the balance. But there is no formula to determine when you have the balance right. It does seem to me that both our wars in Iraq were started and conducted with insufficient consideration for the cost in innocent blood. Callousness, naivete and isolation -- isolation of the decision makers from democratic accountability and isolation of citizens from the consequences, or even the awareness, of what is being done in their name -- all have played a role. I don't see anything coming out of this war that is worth 50,000 innocent lives, although a case can be made, I guess.

But it is hard -- indeed, I would say it is impossible -- to reconcile Bush's absolutism over allegedly human life when it is a clump of unknowing, unfeeling cells with his sophisticated, if not cavalier, attitude toward the loss of innocent human life when it is children and adults in Iraq.

Kinsley’s point is well taken (and one that I am inclined to agree with) and while I could elaborate at length on his particular focus, I want to use the premise he raises to pivot to another important issue. In light of the passage of legislation related to the treatment of detainees, both in terms of their physical and psychological well being and in terms of the legal rights they will be afforded, I can't help but expand upon Kinsley's argument. More importantly, the argument must be moved beyond the President and those who voted to enact this new legislation...we must look at the consistency and the morality of the society that elected those who hold these positions of power.

This is a difficult topic...one that kindles intense passion. Recently, the dialogue has deteriorated into an evaluation of the patriotism of those opposed to the new legislation; specifically aimed at the Democratic Party. Frankly, anyone that doubts the patriotism of a fellow American is actually engaging in the dismantling of the social contract that makes us Americans. Are there individuals who reside in the U.S. who are unpatriotic? Of course they exist. Can they be identified by the political party with which they affiliate? Absolutely not. Is the issue of Iraq and fighting the war on terrorism simply a matter of patriotism? That may well depend upon one's interpretation of what it is that we are actually defending as patriots.

Here's the problem. The United States was attacked on 9/11 and since that time there is no doubt that a number of individuals and organizations and even countries would like to inflict more harm on America. The President stridently asserts that these combatants seek to destroy our way of life and that they view freedom and liberty as obstacles to their goal of imposing their own extremist religious and political views. Generally speaking, I agree that they view our way of life as a threat to their beliefs. I also agree that their election to randomly kill the innocent is inexcusable.

The dilemma we face today is how to best confront the threat these people present. It is my impression that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe we have the right to pursue those who have harmed us as well as those who may desire to harm us. I also believe that most Americans viewed the invasion of Afghanistan, at the time it occurred, as justified and that they continue to do so today. I conclude that position remains constant because it is also consistent with the morals ("truths") we possess.
Regarding Iraq, it is my assumption that a majority of American's favored the invasion...but that they did so upon the information that was provided to them at the time...that being that Sadaam Hussein had WMD's and, given his dislike of the United States, he may well be open to providing weaponry to those who sought to harm us. Again, while perhaps not as clear in terms of our values, most American's felt our decision to invade Iraq met a necessary threshold. If we stop the analysis here, there is little doubt as to the basis of our morality and how most Americans believe it should be reasonably and consistently applied. However, the events subsequent to this juncture require a far different analysis...and a much less favorable conclusion.

Let me begin with an observation and follow with some relevant explanation. The consistent opposition to the war in Iraq, coupled with the belief that it is being mishandled, is a function of the prevailing moral integrity of the average American. Additionally, most Americans feel we have some obligation to achieve an outcome that serves the interests of the U.S. and the people of Iraq...even if we have angered the Iraqi population by our actions. That too is demonstrative of our moral compass.

Where Americans begin to diverge is in determining what actions we should employ to both protect us from harm and in how to treat those who may be guilty of intending or inflicting harm. I'll offer the observation of my uncle, who served on the front lines in WWII, to introduce the dilemma we face. He spoke about the decisions made by desperate people in desperate situations and he argued that only a select few will honor their values when confronted with the decision to be a saint or a sinner. He went on to say that the problem with humanity is that we have failed to acknowledge that we are unable or unwilling to make the moral decision when confronted with the fear of danger or death...and therefore we should avoid the circumstances that lead us to that dangerous precipice. His theory was simply the result of observing the inconsistency of humanity at its worst in times of war.

As I attempt to bring his theory forward to our current situation, it is necessary to draw an important distinction between our actions then and our actions and intentions now. Out of the carnage and devastation of WWII arose the Geneva Conventions...a reaction to the very construct my uncle elucidated...that we humans are prone to inhumanity and that it was essential to define the humanity we would honor even during the times we were unable to find common resolve. It was a call for some application of civility even in our darkest moments of conflict.

In our acceptance of the Geneva Conventions, we not only demonstrated our commitment to humanity, we honored the principles and values upon which our nation was founded...and in so doing we led the world towards civility by example...at a time when we could have sought retribution and retaliation. In so doing, we led the world out of darkness and we became a beacon for freedom and for justice and provided us with more might than all of the weapons we possessed. By applying our morality with consistency, we provided hope to the oppressed as well as the oppressors that freedom and justice served by all is freedom and justice received by all.

We stand again at a crossroads. We can succumb to fear and choose a path that not only violates our moral construct but serves to destroy the very foundations upon which this nation was built. If we make the wrong decisions, we will also no longer be defending the values that we purport to honor…we will no longer be patriots because a patriot only exists if the nation he supports still exists. If we give up our values in order to preserve our way of life, we have chosen self-defeat. One can never suspend one’s values in order to defend them. To do so is to have no values.

Lastly, should we continue our inclinations to erode our moral fabric, we can no longer act with morality…and should that happen, we will not only have met our enemies…we have joined them in fostering our demise. In choosing to honor the efforts of my uncle and the many others who have sacrificed so that we could continue this way of life, I am staking a claim to patriotism and I unequivocally reject the actions of those who are blinded by fear such that they would exchange our values for a false sense of security…thereby enabling the very defeat our adversaries seek to inflict.

Today America is being called upon to lead by example. Should we fail to do so with the courage of our convictions and the commitment to honor those convictions in the face of adversity; we will have ceded our country and our right to lead…at which time the choice to be a patriot will have been precluded. Democracy grows when democracy’s practiced. Dying for democracy can only happen if democracy lives. To deny democracy in order to preserve it is to dishonor those brave enough to defend it.

Mr. President, will you be a patriot and lead this country or will you abrogate the efforts of the countless patriots that served her well? The fate of America hangs in the balance.

Daniel DiRito | September 29, 2006 | 10:59 AM | link | Comments (4)
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September 26, 2006

Portions Of NIE Report Declassified & Released genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Classified report

In what many consider an effort at damage control, the Bush administration has quickly assembled and released declassified excerpts of the National Intelligence Estimate that has garnered the lion's share of media attention this week. While the released portions offer a broader perspective on the already leaked information, they fail to refute the general conclusion that the war in Iraq has in fact created more terrorists and accelerated extremist affiliations. The New York Times reports on the newly released data as well as provides a link to the full document that is less than four pages in length.

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — The war in Iraq has become a “cause célèbre" for Islamic militants, “breeding a deep resentment" of the United States in the Muslim world, according to declassified excerpts from a major intelligence report that were released late this afternoon.

“The Iraqi jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere," the excerpts said.

The excerpts from the intelligence report pointed to a spread of terrorist activity globally for at least the next five years and said terrorists were adapting to the tactics used against them. “If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide," they said.

The report cites four factors fueling the spread of Islamic militancy: entrenched grievances and a sense of powerlessness; the Iraq “jihad"; the slow pace of reform in Muslim nations; and “pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims."

I think it is critical to point out that despite the fact that the war in Iraq has led to an expansion of extremist affiliations, the problem will not be alleviated by simply withdrawing from Iraq. One can make the argument that a withdrawal, whereby the Iraqi's are given the opportunity to construct the government they prefer, might quell some of the animosity amongst those inclined to moderate and more secular views. However, the damage done, coupled with those predisposed to resenting Western Civilization, will leave the world with more extremists which will require the Western world to remain in a state of heightened security.

As we approach the midterm election, it is safe to conclude that little focus will be given to these realities and their eventual resolution...other than the GOP arguing that we cannot cut and run and the Democrats contending that the existing course of action is an unmitigated failure. I understand the partisan nature of politics but I can't help but look for reasonable alternatives that might succeed. Before delving into that discussion, I think there are some excerpts from the released document that are needed to frame the available solutions.

From The NIE Report:

The jihadists' greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution - an ultra-conservative interpretation of Shari’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world - is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists' propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.

Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

What is evident from the above analysis is that there are methods available to counter the growing extremism. Further, there is little evidence to suggest that the current approach can succeed. Instead of creating a wedge between extremist leaders and their predominantly moderate populations, our efforts are pushing the populations into the extremist camp. The general skepticism towards U.S. motivations coupled with the rhetoric of religious leaders battling for influence and power creates a nearly impossible obstacle. So the question is how we create the necessary wedge.

I recently posted a video clip of portions of an interview in which Bill Clinton suggested that the best advice he could give our current President would be to move forward with the creation of a Palestinian state. That advice follows on my own contention that the key to solving the radical extremism, as well as the prevailing mistrust and anti-American sentiment, is to build a Palestinian state and reestablish the U.S. as a legitimate broker for peace within the region.

In this equation, the U.S. is able to create the wedge that will be necessary to embolden the populations within the Middle East to join the effort to extinguish extremism and terrorism. At the moment, they have no reason to believe that the U.S. and Israel are ever going to establish a Palestinian state...a belief that overwhelms what might otherwise be moderate leanings and leaves many within the region vulnerable to assertions by extremists that they are in fact engaged in a clash of civilizations whereby the U.S. is intent upon exporting Western values and culture at the expense of traditional Islamic doctrine.

I contend that the Iraqi conflict, as well as the prevailing Middle East tensions, will be lessened in equal proportion to the success we achieve in providing for a Palestinian state. Given that the NIE assessment posits that, "If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives", then it would be reasonable to conclude that any progress with the Palestinian issue will greatly enhance the speculative potentiality of the NIE report. Absent the Palestinian effort, I'm of the opinion that the NIE timeframe is overly optimistic and dependent upon a relatively static progression without the prevalence of unforeseen events and escalations...which seems unlikely at best.

Frankly, I doubt that the existing Republican approach or the alternative of withdrawal supported by a number Democrats will serve to alleviate the existing conditions and bring relative stability to the troubled region. Neither approach has the wherewithal to alter the prevailing sentiment. Conversely, a voluntary effort that would demonstrate our ability to discern the profound importance of a successful Palestinian state would, in my opinion, yield exponential goodwill. Given the current conditions, such an effort has little risk.

Daniel DiRito | September 26, 2006 | 6:05 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Bill Maher's Guests Discuss Religious Extremism genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

The following video clip contains a good debate on religious extremism amongst Bill Maher, Reza Aslan, Bradley Whitford, and Sandy Rios. At about two minutes into the clip, Maher and Rios engage in an exchange regarding the two Fox News journalists who were recently kidnapped and then subsequently released by their captors. In that exchange, Rios, a Fox News contributor as well as the president of Culture Campaign, makes the point that Christians are called upon to lay down their lives for their faith. Her remarks infer that the kidnapped journalists were failing their faith when they agreed to say they were Muslims in order to spare their lives.

Rios goes on to argue that those Christians, who subsequently said they would do the same thing, were not allowed to do so because their Christian faith doesn't allow that freedom...they have to profess their loyalty to Christ no matter what...even if it means they would lose their lives.

I think that Rios, through her words and her beliefs, makes clear the problem we face in this growing atmosphere of religious extremism. Each side, Christians and Muslims, are convinced that they must defend their faith...even to the point of death. Granted, Rios didn't advocate suicide bombings, but she holds the same absolutist beliefs that make our battle with terrorism so difficult. Those Muslims that oppose Western Civilization believe they too are following the tenets of their faith. They see the presence of Christians in the Muslim world as a threat to their faith and to their way of life...just as we see the possibility of a terrorist attack as a threat to our way of life.

From an historical perspective, Osama bin Laden views the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia as a breech of Islamic principles. As much as I don't condone any of bin Laden's actions, I understand the premise of his beliefs...and it isn’t difficult to understand why many Muslims conclude that the basis of their faith is no less worthy than our Christian beliefs. Let me be clear. I am not attempting to provide any justification whatsoever for al Qaeda's terrorist activities...they are abhorrent and they are an example of the dangers of religious extremism.

Regardless, the resulting dilemma is that the dogmatism of both sides makes it virtually impossible to find a point of compromise. Additionally, it isn't difficult to see how this same type of religious extremism is being played out in U.S. politics as many evangelicals believe they are obliged to proselytize such that they seek to rewrite our laws to reflect the "truths" they believe are contained in the Bible...even if that means that the constitution is damaged in the process. Many Muslims also seek to impose their Islamic beliefs on their cultures and they view Westernization as a threat to that effort. The emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan was, to those who oppose Western Civilization, a return to the fundamental beliefs of their particular interpretation of Islam.

What we Westerners frequently misunderstand is that many within the Muslim world view capitalism as an adjunct to our Christian leanings. With that belief, they see our economic activities within the Muslim world as an interjection of our culture and they view it similar to the aggression we call terrorism. Again, even if they were correct in these types of conclusions, it would never justify the violent acts they have undertaken against innocent people around the world. Nonetheless, they believe we are using our wealth as a weapon to destroy their culture and their way of life. Until we can diffuse the polarization that is accelerating on both sides of the divide, there is little hope that a peaceful resolution can be achieved.

I've included the following transcription for the portion of the video clip that covers the above mentioned exchange because it is difficult to follow the entire conversation as it plays out in the actual dialogue. The video clip follows the transcript.


RIOS: I watched parts of this today. Yeah, I know that’ll shock you. But it’s just – the thing of it is, I have a son who is in graduate school, divinity school, in Canada. And he was raised in a Christian home, but – and certainly we are to teach our children. And implicit in the teaching of Christ is the fact that, yes, you have to be willing to lay down your life. You know, it’s this kind of an example that Jesus sets. But we don’t send them to camp to rally to do that. [Voices overlap]

MAHER: Right. You criticized the Fox News guys, right, who were kidnapped by Muslim extremists—

RIOS: [overlapping] No, I didn’t criticize them.

MAHER: [overlapping]—I read that you did.

RIOS: No, you misread it then.

MAHER: Okay.

ASLAN: Sandy, there is a huge difference—

RIOS: [overlapping] I was not criticizing them.

ASLAN: There’s a huge—

RIOS: [overlapping] My point was that Christians have to – I don’t know what their faith is, but I’m talking about Christians that responded to that story, said that they would have done the same thing. That was my concern.

MAHER: Okay.

RIOS: Was that Christ followers would say that they would—

MAHER: Well, if you don’t know the story, two journalists for Fox News—

WHITFORD: To save their lives.

RIOS: Yeah, yeah.

MAHER: [overlapping]—to save their lives, they said, “Okay, we’re Muslims."

RIOS: Right.


MAHER: And you’re – what I read is that you said they shouldn’t have done that.

RIOS: No, I didn’t say that. No, Bill, that’s a misreading. I said that Christians who saw that and said, “I would have done the same thing," Christ followers can’t do that. We don’t have that freedom. We have to profess Christ no matter what. [Scattered applause]

ASLAN: Look, there is a difference – there is huge difference between—

MAHER: [overlapping] But then they would have killed you.

RIOS: [overlapping] That’s right.

ASLAN: [overlapping] Listen – between laying down – between laying down your life for Jesus, which is a perfectly fine thing to do, and becoming a soldier for Christ, which is what this is about. We have to understand that we’re fighting a war against people who think that they are engaged in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. They believe that this is not an earthly battle. This is a war between the forces of Christianity and the forces of Islam. We cannot legitimize that viewpoint by saying the exact same thing. We’re not going to out-fanaticize these fanatics.

RIOS: I agree with you. I agree with you. [Applause]

ASLAN: I mean, there’s no – there’s no way.

RIOS: But, see, the thing of it is, Christianity is, by its very nature, radical. And by that, I mean, it is uncommon. It is not normal or natural to lay down your life, literally, for a friend. It’s not natural or normal to say, “I will not deny my faith, no matter if you do cut my head off. I will not do that." Even if you just say, “Just sign this. Just do this." And you say, “I can’t. Jesus is Lord." That’s not normal. That’s radical.

ASLAN: [overlapping] Sandy, you’re talking about martyrdom. These – these kids are not being martyrs. They’re being given, you know, toy swords and told to go into battle, you know, against—

RIOS: [overlapping] You mean, the kids in the camp?

ASLAN: [overlapping]—against the forces of – against the forces of evil.

Daniel DiRito | September 26, 2006 | 3:26 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 24, 2006

Ali G: Bruno Discusses Music With A Christian genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

Daniel DiRito | September 24, 2006 | 1:54 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Bill Clinton On Need For Palestinian State genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

In a recent interview with Bill Clinton, Keith Olbermann asked the former president an interesting hypothetical. He asked Clinton what he would say if the current President, George Bush, if Bush were to call him and ask him for advice. The following clip is Clinton's answer to that question and his primary suggestion was that the President should figure out some means to restart talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state. I recently wrote a post here at Thought Theater titled, Palestinian State: If We Build It, Answers Will Come.

In that posting, I suggested that establishing a Palestinian state should be our primary objective if we want to bring stability to the Middle East. In light of the new intelligence report discussed in this posting here at Thought Theater and reported in The New York Times and The Washington Post, I decided to repost my prior remarks here after the Clinton clip. I did so because I want to be clear that in addition to my criticism and opposition to the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq and the war on terror, I have offered my own suggestion to resolving the escalation of extremism in the region and diminishing the prevalence of terrorism.

Sadly, I hesitate to conclude that this President will take the advice of the former President...let alone mine. Nonetheless, I've also criticized the Democratic Party for failing to offer more than opposition to this administration's mismanagement of the Iraq war and the war on terror. I believe Democrats need to speak up and take the lead in proposing new solutions and alternate directions for resolving these issues. Americans are looking for answers and should they be given reasoned and rational solutions, I am convinced they would overwhelmingly support that candidate and that Party. It is time to set aside partisan goals and begin to act with the courage and conviction this country desperately needs in order to once again assume our role as a stabilizing and steady force in world diplomacy.

Palestinian State: If We Build It, Answers Will Come

The prevailing opinion is that the Middle East is a very complex and complicated region rife with centuries of sectarian, tribal, cultural, and religious differences. I agree with that characterization with regards to attempting to summarize the area historically. As to the current problems that have spiraled into a near full scale regional war, I’m convinced that the solution to the many issues rests solely upon one defining problem…from which all others emanate and from which all others can be resolved. In fact, in what some may call my fanciful Hollywood formulaic prescription, one particular movie quotation seems to capture the essence of my proposed story line…“If you build it, they will come". The “it" is none other than a Palestinian state.

Dissect the situation any way you choose but you will always come back to the need to provide for an autonomous Palestinian state. Should there be any doubt; one need merely follow the underlying sentiment that has led to the formation of the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, and numerous other anti-Israeli / pro-Palestinian organizations. Further, if one were to attempt to understand the dynamics at play in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion as well as the failure of the Iraqi people to view the American troops as liberators (that glorious scenario envisioned by Dick Cheney and his band of neoconservatives who metaphorically run around shooting others in the face with reckless abandon), one must only realize that the United States is seen as an obstacle to freedom in the Middle Eastern mindset.

As with those who doubt Israel will ever allow for a Palestinian state, so too do the Iraqi’s doubt that the United States will ever fully implement an autonomous Iraq. They make that conclusion by extrapolation…one that says if the United States is fully supportive of Israel and Israel has yet to provide for a Palestinian state, then why would the U.S. ever provide for an Iraqi state since they, like the Israeli’s, will always be able to identify the potential for an independent Iraq to threaten the security of the region and ultimately the United States.

Believe it or not, the United States has played kingmaker in the region for decades…arranging for those seen as acceptable or malleable to U.S. interests to gain or retain power…and even to remove them from power at such time as the alliance is no longer strategically satisfying. I don’t offer that observation in order to summarily condemn U.S. actions…some were necessary and prudent…however, they are also open to interpretation by those within the region and others as acts of imperialist intervention solely motivated by the prevailing interests of the United States.

The point is that if “A" plus “B" leads to “C", and even if such calculation is necessary though harsh, one can’t expect those who may be observing to simply ignore the math…we must be realistic that our actions have consequences…even if we deemed our actions advisable.

The neoconservative mindset is such that they expect consequences but they intend to deal with them through power or force. They believe that if we remain the biggest kid on the block, we can dictate to the block. The rationale says that because they hold power, they can dictate reality…and when perceptions don’t match reality, they simply and methodically apply force to achieve the reality they desire. Missing from that analysis is the formula that always evolves once a group of individuals coalesce around the perception that they have a bully in their midst…they realize they cannot confront the bully one on one or directly since they acknowledge they cannot defeat the bully in that manner…so they adopt other tactics. The Middle East is a textbook example of this eventuality.

Also missing from the equation is the benevolence / malevolence consideration. I try to keep my assertions simple so let me offer an example that most people can relate to. In virtually every work environment there is some hierarchy whereby some individuals are established as authorities with the power to affect the lives of those they supervise or manage. It doesn’t take long for those who are subject to the authoritarian figure to determine if that individual is a benevolent supervisor or one they feel operates out of malevolence.

Frequently this supervisory dynamic is acted out without any real reasoned analysis since that person may be the owner of the company or may be so well connected to those within the ownership that malevolent actions can be carried out with little consequence to the person in authority. At the same time, those individuals who answer to the person in authority will likely be negatively impacted (perhaps overworked, mistreated or fired). Often absent from the analysis is the impact such situations have on the morale of the employees and ultimately the success of the company…which has to compete with other similar companies.

We’ve all seen trigger happy employers who believe termination is the preferred tool to resolve problems. However, with each termination, the remaining employees make a determination as to the legitimacy of the termination. Over time, a belief may be created amongst the employee base that those in authority are malevolent and so begins a process to undermine or sabotage the supervisor or the company. As the belief grows, the ability to root out the dissenters becomes more difficult…as one employee is terminated and another arrives, they are frequently greeted with negative information from coworkers about the propensity of those in authority to be malevolent and they are therefore likely won over before ever having the opportunity to make their own objective evaluations.

Over time, the impressions and beliefs held by present and past employees’ travels beyond the confines of the company. Other companies employees may become aware of the malevolence and refuse to apply for work with the negatively identified company or the entire industry may adopt the same beliefs and seek to isolate the company or facilitate its demise.

The bottom line is that the perceptions of people will have impact at some point regardless of one’s proximity to power. Typically, such entities eventually fail because they are unable to maintain the favor of enough individuals to perpetuate the power they hold…whether that be from losing the support of those within or from the actions of those who are operating in the surrounding environment.

Goodwill is not a commodity that can be turned off and on at one’s discretion like a spigot. It is ultimately driven by perceptions and once perceptions have deteriorated, the benevolence needed to reverse the perceptions unfortunately grows disproportionately. Despite notions to the contrary, the masses are for the most part adept at evaluating core sincerity and integrity. Additionally, they are far quicker to attribute actions negatively than they are to give the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, they are also reticent to reverse their conclusions once they have been adopted. That’s simply human nature.

I think the example does a reasonable job of describing the dilemma in the Middle East. It is further complicated by the amount of time that the situation has been allowed to fester and the fact that terminations in this theater are actually fatalities. Sadly that has made it vulnerable to succumbing to arguments that are predicated on debating the “chicken or the egg" or “who did what to whom and when"…none of which serve to move the situation towards resolution.

Nonetheless, it is time for tangible actions that can change perceptions. At the same time, this will require acknowledging some unpleasant realities as well as demonstrating untold patience and restraint. What I mean to say is that even if Israel moves forward with the establishment of a Palestinian state, there will be individuals on both sides that seek to undermine the effort and that will remain consumed with hatred and ill-intentions. Those individuals will carry out acts of violence regardless…but they can only be defeated by changing the hearts and minds of those who surround them. The power of perception must become the transforming fuel of persuasion thereby reversing the very process that created and now stokes the current conflict.

Over the course of the last few days, I have read and listened to numerous individuals that have argued that now is the time to proceed to extinguish all those who are identified as Islamic extremists or terrorists in addition to Al Qaeda (sometimes specifically defined as Hamas and Hezbollah…sometimes with Iran and Syria included). Much like the actions of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the insurgency, some are calling for similar efforts by Israel and the United States in the rest of the Middle East. Anyone who witnessed 9/11 surely has some appreciation for this sentiment and may well be inclined to support such suggestions.

As I’ve thought about this possibility, I keep coming back to the same prevailing questions…who are these people and how do we identify them if we in fact want to destroy them all? How do we kill them without impacting their friends and relatives who may not fully support them now but may well decide to take up the cause once those they care about have been eliminated? When will we be able to say the job is done and move forward with a plan to provide for a Palestinian state? How do we extinguish the perceptions that are fomenting these individuals and organizations such that they have no further appeal or ability to recruit others?

I also keep coming back to the same answers. We simply cannot succeed in killing all the individuals and organizations that oppose Israel or the United States. We have to eliminate the perceptions that exist and that are being fueled by our further actions. I recall George Bush stating that we would eventually win the war on terror but that it was going to be a long endeavor. Looking back, I’m not sure I understood what he may have been saying and I’m not convinced he did either.

Frankly, today I see the terminology as part of the problem…we simply cannot achieve the peace we seek by prosecuting the kind of war we have chosen. Perhaps we can lessen the chances of another 9/11 but the eventual reality of this type of “war" may well be an existence akin to that of the people of Israel…where the perpetual reality is such that so long as the impetus for the hatred exists we will live with the inevitability that every once in a while a suicide bomber will walk into a busy restaurant and detonate a bomb.

It is time to jump ahead to the core problem. Every effort should be employed to immediately establish an independent Palestinian state. If we were to invest a portion of the funds we anticipate spending in Iraq over the next few years on building a functional Palestinian state we could demonstrate to those who distrust or despise the United States that we understand the underlying regional dynamics that have led to perpetual instability and conflict in the Middle East. It may also provide the backdrop for the resolution of other festering problems within the region.

The risks of such an endeavor are far outweighed by the potential benefits. Further, as the most powerful nation in the world, we would still retain the ability to use force where required. However, we would be doing so after having done the right thing which would elevate our moral standing in the world and have the likelihood to change the perceptions of the people that inhabit the region. We could then act from a position of justifiable strength and integrity.

If we continue down the current path, we may well not be able to sustain the costs in currency and conflict. As the region and perhaps the world stands on the precipice of an escalating period of instability and expanding wars we have very little to lose. If we build a Palestinian state, answers will come.

Daniel DiRito | September 24, 2006 | 9:51 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 23, 2006

Analysis Says Iraq War Accelerted Terrorist Threats genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Ticking time bomb

There is growing evidence that George Bush and his fellow neocons may soon be alone in asserting that the war in Iraq has served to make America safer from the threat of terrorism. The New York Times reports that a new assessment produced by some 16 surveillance agencies within the government suggests that the invasion of Iraq has accelerated radicalism and resentment towards the United States.

In my opinion, the Bush administration, in order to enhance their political prospects, has simply added to anti-American sentiment through the partisan rhetoric they have employed to portray the mismanaged effort as the primary front in the war on terror. By characterizing the conflict in broad ideological terms like a battle against Islamo-fascism, a clash of civilizations, and a war of good versus evil in order to enhance their political prospects, they have pushed more moderate Muslims into extremism. Frankly, it would be difficult to project any alternate potentiality.

From The New York Times:

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement," cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," said one American intelligence official.

In a related analysis of note, former Senator Gary Hart offers further insight into the neocon mindset in a new posting at Huffington Post in which he expresses concern that the Bush administration may be preparing to launch an attack on Iran predicated upon fears that Iran is intent upon obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities.

The problem, as I view it, is that virtually all the actions of this President in the region are fomenting instability and hostility that may soon reach a point of no return. Even worse, the efforts of this administration are failing to create a wedge between extremist leaders and their populations. On the contrary, the language used by this administration, coupled with the perception that the U.S. is engaged in unwarranted and ideological aggression, has served to push otherwise moderate populations into alignment with radical governments and extremist organizations.

From The Huffington Post:

It should come as no surprise if the Bush Administration undertakes a preemptive war against Iran sometime before the November election.

Were these more normal times, this would be a stunning possibility, quickly dismissed by thoughtful people as dangerous, unprovoked, and out of keeping with our national character. But we do not live in normal times.

And we do not have a government much concerned with our national character. If anything, our current Administration is out to remake our national character into something it has never been.

The consequences? The sunny neoconservatives whose goal has been to become the neo-imperial Middle Eastern power all along will forecast few. But prudent leaders calculate all the risks, and they are historic.

These include: violent reaction throughout the Islamic world; a dramatic increase in jihadist attacks in European capitals and the U.S.; radicalization of Islamic youth behind a new generation of jihadist leaders; consolidation of support for Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and a rapidly spreading malignant network; escalating expansion of anti-American sentiment throughout the world, including the democratic world; and the formation of WWIII battle lines between the U.S. and the Arab and Islamic worlds.

In more rational times, including at the height of the Cold War, bizarre actions such as unilateral, unprovoked, preventive war are dismissed by thoughtful, seasoned, experienced men and women as mad. But those qualities do not characterize our current leadership.

For a divinely guided president who imagines himself to be a latter day Winston Churchill (albeit lacking the ability to formulate intelligent sentences), and who professedly does not care about public opinion at home or abroad, anything is possible, and dwindling days in power may be seen as making the most apocalyptic actions necessary.

While it is impossible to know if the Bush administration will actually undertake a preemptive attack, each time they ratchet up the rhetoric, while at the same time refusing to engage in any form of direct dialogue with our Iranian adversary, we move closer to that eventuality in what one could characterize as a deadly game of chicken. From a strictly logical perspective, there is little evidence to suggest that this President and his neocon associates will moderate their ever escalating ideology and when that is coupled with the fact that the balance of power is at hand in less than two months, rational minds might well conclude an escalation is reasonably predictable.

From The New York Times:

The report mentions the possibility that Islamic militants who fought in Iraq could return to their home countries, “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies."

“New jihadist networks and cells, sometimes united by little more than their anti-Western agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge," said Gen. Michael V. Hayden, during a speech in San Antonio in April, the month that the new estimate was completed. “If this trend continues threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide," said the general, who was then Mr. Negroponte’s top deputy and is now director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In light of the remarks made by Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez at the United Nations this past week, it is difficult to imagine that a preemptive assault on Iran would do little more than fuel an exponential radicalization of those nations as well as numerous other anti-American and Muslim countries. As I attempt to grasp the magnitude of allowing this President unfettered authority between now and the end of his second term, I can't help but wonder what it would take to dissuade a man with his level of certainty and conviction from undertaking the actions that will facilitate the ideations he seems convinced have been presented to him through a mix of fate and faith.

History may well record this chapter as a period of unparalleled extremism. Worse yet, the United States may well be viewed as the primary force in facilitating that eventuality. George Bush, when asked about his legacy, seems content to respond that while he can't predict the future he believes his actions will prove to be pivotal. He may well be correct but, in this instance, I would suggest he recall the expression, "Be careful what you wish for".

Daniel DiRito | September 23, 2006 | 8:06 PM | link | Comments (0)
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WIll Conservatives Turn Out? Ask Karl Rove genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Puppets on a string

Thought Theater has written extensively about Karl Rove and his efforts to craft and manage the mechanism to establish GOP political dominance. I've called his approach counterintuitive because it is frequently difficult to identify a Rove strategy until it is well on the way to achieving its intended objective. That fact points to the degree of discipline he demonstrates as well as the amount of cooperation he is able to command. Lastly, his efforts require precise execution and an uncanny sense of timing.

I'm particularly drawn to his masterful ability to motivate the conservative evangelical base and a new CBS News article offers an opportunity to describe and deconstruct his tactical acumen. It follows on the heels of an article earlier this week detailing remarks made by James Dobson of Focus on the Family in Pennsylvania and an article in the Kansas City Star.

From The Kansas City Star:

PITTSBURGH - To the daunting challenges facing Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections, add another: angry "values voters" who feel used and abandoned.

"We put these people in power in 2004," said Sue Means, a home-school activist from suburban Pittsburgh. "I really expected more. I'm disappointed."

The failed federal marriage amendment, waffling on stem cell research, no new limits on abortion - Means sees little but broken promises from the Republican Congress. And she's far from alone among like-minded people whom many credited in 2004 with helping pass same-sex marriage bans in 11 states and being key to President Bush's re-election.

Remarks of this nature that appear in print and make the nightly news get Democratic strategists salivating. Unfortunately, instead of meaning that a victory feast is just around the corner, these reports are actually an integral part of the Rove agenda. Stay with me...I know on its surface this doesn't make any sense. First let me provide another excerpt from the article.

From The Kansas City Star:

"There are a lot of people that are somewhat disillusioned and have a feeling of betrayal for having worked so hard and have Republicans be so unresponsive," Dr. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, said after speaking at a rally here this week. "How that will play out, I really don't know."

Such discouragement is just one of several obstacles facing Republicans in mobilizing Christian conservatives this year.

Midterm elections excite fewer people anyway. A signature issue, such as a ban on same-sex marriage, is on the ballot in fewer states this year. And the federal government has promised to crack down on church-based partisan politicking after complaints about such behavior in 2004, which could suppress religious leaders' involvement and dampen turnout.

Dobson and others are working hard to counter that possibility, even as they acknowledge their disappointment.

Most strategists would cringe if their Party was the focus of this type of reporting. However, I'm convinced that it is actually orchestrated by Karl Rove and key allies like James Dobson and other influential conservative evangelical leaders. What many fail to recognize is the mindset of those most receptive and most responsive to this type of news report. Democrats and liberals get a false sense of confidence from these stories and it leads to some measure of complacency. On the other hand, when evangelicals and conservatives read such articles, they are actually motivated because if the reported disenchantment were to actually hamper voter turnout, the absolute ideology that they seek to instill into the government and therefore future legislation could be jeopardized.

In fact, I would describe the reaction to articles of this nature as a call to faith...a construct that permeates the vast majority of the evangelical psyche. Not unlike with a fellow believer that has strayed and sinned, the fellow soldiers are compelled to rally around the fallen in order to renew and reinvigorate their spiritual compass. Essentially, through the strength of the group, those who may have lost resolve must be reminded of what is at stake...which is exactly what these articles are orchestrated to achieve. Keep in mind that you would be hard pressed to cite such an article that didn't have a key evangelical or conservative figure cited. That is not an accident...it is, in my opinion, the orchestration of Karl Rove in concert with his fully committed disciples.

From CBS News:

"We're disgusted somewhat with some of the Republicans, but we'd be in a whole lot worse shape with the Democrats," said the Rev. Don Wildmon of Tupelo, Mississippi, chairman of the conservative American Family Association. "So, if you can't get the whole loaf, take a half a loaf."

Together, fiscal and social conservatives make up a significant segment of the Republican faithful, and the Republican Party always needs them to vote in droves. That's especially important this year for November elections because turnout typically is low in a non-presidential election years and polls show the public favoring Democrats to control Congress.

"If they don't come to the polls, we're in trouble," said Bishop Harry Jackson of College Park, Maryland, an evangelical Christian who leads the High-Impact Leadership Coalition, which promotes "moral issues" in urban communities.

With seven weeks left in the campaign, there's some concern among Republicans that conservatives — evangelicals included — might not vote in Nov. 7 elections because of their unhappiness with Congress and President George W. Bush.

I'm always baffled when Democrats jump to the conclusion that the GOP coalition is finally crumbling. That assumption is akin to the Bush administrations misjudgment that through the imposition of force in Iraq and Afghanistan we will extinguish the extremist beliefs of those who oppose our efforts in the region and Western Civilization in general. Fanatical ideology is actually fueled when it perceives that its agenda is threatened.

Therefore, in what I describe as Karl Rove's counterintuitive approach, fear and the threat of defeat serve as the best means to achieve his goal...a huge turnout by the evangelical conservative base. The more discussion about the demise of the assembled majority, the more the group congeals to preserve the power which they see as critical to the ability to advance their ideology. Frankly, the simplicity is both amazing and frightening...especially when one realizes how closely the actions and evolution of one fanatic ideology mirrors all others.

From The Pittsburg Post-Gazette:

Standing before an enormous American flag in Mellon Arena, conservative evangelical activist James Dobson told thousands of supporters he was deeply disappointed in the nation's Republican leadership, but that the nation's future depended on re-electing them.

"I have flat-out been ticked at Republicans for the past two years," he said, to some applause from a crowd that arena security estimated at around 3,000.

However, he said, "This country is at a crisis point. Whether or not the Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening."

He accused the Republican House and Senate of "sitting on their hands" on key conservative social issues. He said they had squandered a growing public sentiment that abortion should be limited or banned.

But, he asked his audience to consider what would happen if Republicans lost control of key committees on education, the judiciary, and especially, the armed forces.

"We are at war in this country with an enemy who wants to destroy us," he said. He stressed that only a small minority of Muslims believe that their faith justifies violence, "but let's say 4 percent of Muslims want to kill us ... . That's 48 million people who want to bring us to our knees."

He compared those who want to negotiate their way out of crises in the Middle East to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who sought to appease Adolph Hitler prior to World War II.

But in a news conference, he said his call for "strength" against America's enemies was comparable to President Reagan's strategy against the former Soviet Union.

Note the fact that Dobson uses the very same rhetoric as the President and other Republican operatives in describing America's battle with terrorism. Many have argued that the characterizations by the President and the GOP of the conflict as a clash of civilizations...as a battle of good versus evil...with references to the enemy as Islamo-Fascists, will simply force otherwise reasonable Muslims to join with the terrorists. Those making such accusations may be correct in their analysis, nonetheless they may also be overlooking the fact that the President and the GOP are actually speaking to their constituents more so than to the enemy.

I would argue that this is not accidental, but more likely the carefully crafted campaign strategy of Karl Rove. Sad as it may be, Rove realizes that those best able to understand the rhetoric he employs to describe the enemy are those who have the same extremist ideological predisposition. No one recognizes fanaticism better than a fanatic...and nothing motivates a fanatic more than being threatened by an alternate fanaticism.

One additional point warrants discussion. The goals of people of power in the GOP and the goals of men like James Dobson have parallel objectives. Each time the GOP enlists evangelical conservative leaders to assist them in their efforts to retain power, to expand fundraising, and to turn out voters, they also enhance the ability of these individuals to expand their base of power, to collect more money, and to gain more followers. The relationship is symbiotic and therefore self-perpetuation and self-sustaining. Loyalty is a given because the goals are identical. Unfortunately, because of the heinous nature of extremist ideology, their actions to manipulate their followers in order to further their own objectives are a fully parasitic construct.

I'll close with an excerpt from a prior posting that summarizes my theory on the Rove approach.

The fact that many observers view this presidency to be a string of contradictions further supports my conjecture. One needs look no further than some of the programs that this administration has promoted. The Medicare prescription drug program is seen to be one of the largest expansions of entitlements in decades…but it courts the elderly voter. The tax reductions and the waiver of the capital gains tax, while argued to have stimulated the economy, have been extended while budget deficits and spending continue to swell…but they court other constituencies. There are other examples including controversial issues like Social Security and immigration reform. Collectively, the efforts and objectives of this administration don't make ideological sense...except when looking at assembling a majority voting block.

I believe Rove’s approach is anything but conventional. Many strategists gauge what a candidate needs to give each constituency in order to maintain their support. I’m convinced that Karl Rove calculates the tolerance thresholds of each constituency to determine the amount of disappointment each group can withstand and still remain a part of the patchwork coalition. To provide an analogy, I would equate it with the principle of ascertaining the least common denominator. It is a bare minimum equation. At the same time, he evaluates the amount of vitriol that may need to be directed at the opposition in order to augment the disappointment delivered across the board. This is done to keep the coalition voters engaged and motivated so they will turn out to protect the establishment's chosen vision for America.

Recently, President Bush indicated that the best moment of his presidency was catching a large fish from his manmade lake. It was subsequently pointed out that the weight of that fish would have significantly exceeded the prior record catch for that particular fish. As with many of the statements made by this President and his administration, an attempt was subsequently made to modify the information. Nonetheless, as with catching fish, Karl Rove and this President have routinely been able to extract enough voters from the muddied waters of a well crafted constituency to win the ultimate prize…the retention of power.

If Democrats are to win, they will first need to figure out what lurks below the surface. If they can do that, they will finally have a chance to catch the big one.

Daniel DiRito | September 23, 2006 | 9:08 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 20, 2006

Bernard Lewis On Democracy In The Middle East genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Middle East

In our daily political banter, we hear plenty of opinions...and spin...on both the objective and the prospect of bringing democracy to the Middle East. The President argues that the solution to extremism, and therefore terrorism, is freedom...the essence of what has been coined the "Bush Doctrine". At the same time, we witness rampant sectarian violence in Iraq, a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and madrasahs teaching the evils of Western Civilization in much of the Muslim world. The apparent disconnect should be of interest to all Americans and an article by Bernard Lewis at Real Clear Politics attempts to connect some of the dots. The article is lengthy and though I have included some key excerpts below, I recommend reading the entire piece.

By common consent among historians, the modern history of the Middle East begins in the year 1798, when the French Revolution arrived in Egypt in the form of a small expeditionary force led by a young general called Napoleon Bonaparte--who conquered and then ruled it for a while with appalling ease. [...]

Equality is very basic in Islamic belief: All true believers are equal. Of course, that still leaves three "inferior" categories of people--slaves, unbelievers and women. But in general, the concept of equality was understood. Islam never developed anything like the caste system of India to the east or the privileged aristocracies of Christian Europe to the west. Equality was something they knew, respected, and in large measure practiced. But liberty was something else.

As used in Arabic at that time, liberty was not a political but a legal term: You were free if you were not a slave. The word liberty was not used as we use it in the Western world, as a metaphor for good government. So the idea of a republic founded on principles of freedom caused some puzzlement.

The simplicity of the Lewis observation with regard to the distinctions between equality and liberty is important to the U.S. dialogue concerning our efforts in the Middle East. Clearly, our own understandings of exporting democracy are not consistent with basic Islamic understandings...a crucial factor in determining the potential for democracy...as we define it...to be incorporated into the Islamic world. Unfortunately, in the debate leading up to the invasion of Iraq, that reality was absent from the dialogue and had it been better understood, perhaps our willingness to undertake the task we now struggle to conclude may have been appropriately tempered. Sadly, politics often has little use for nuance and complexity.

That there has been a break with the past is a fact of which Arabs and Muslims themselves are keenly and painfully aware, and they have tried to do something about it. It is in this context that we observe a series of movements that could be described as an Islamic revival or reawakening. The first of these--founded by a theologian called Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who lived in a remote area of Najd in desert Arabia--is known as Wahhabi. Its argument is that the root of Arab-Islamic troubles lies in following the ways of the infidel. The Islamic world, it holds, has abandoned the true faith that God gave it through His prophet and His holy book, and the remedy is a return to pure, original Islam. This pure, original Islam is, of course--as is usual in such situations--a new invention with little connection to Islam as it existed in its earlier stages.

The other important thing that happened--also in the mid-20s--was the discovery of oil. With that, this extremist sect found itself not only in possession of Mecca and Medina, but also of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. As a result, what would otherwise have been a lunatic fringe in a marginal country became a major force in the world of Islam. And it has continued as a major force to the present day, operating through the Saudi government and through a whole series of non-governmental organizations. What is worse, its influence spreads far beyond the region.

As I consider the inference of an awakening in the Lewis piece, I can't help but recall the recent musings by President Bush that the United States seemed to be in the midst of a religious awakening. Add to the equation, the fact that the carefully chosen historical (yet apt to be seen as derogatory) view of Muhammad offered by the Pope has been interpreted as an affront to Islam, the blurring of the lines between church and state in the U.S. that has formed the basis of a dominant Republican political coalition...one that now includes the Catholic Church and many of its followers, and it isn't difficult to explain the growing polarized tensions.

These tensions are only fomented when the President uses terms like Islamic Fascists and when the war on terror is framed as a clash of civilizations. In reality, what now exists is a growing ideological divide that is accelerated by the absolutist beliefs (fueled by the connotations of an awakening) of the combatants. Instead of moving towards acceptance and tolerance, both sides are actually moving towards the dangerous construct of "good vs. evil".

In addition to the rising spread of Wahhabism, I would draw your attention to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. [...] It was a massive change in the country, a massive shift of power--socially, economically, and ideologically. And like the French and Russian revolutions in their prime, it also had a tremendous impact in the world with which the Iranians shared a common universe of discourse--the world of Islam. [...] I would say that the Iranian Revolution is now entering the Stalinist phase, and its impact all over the Islamic world has been enormous.

The third and most recent phase of the Islamic revival is that associated with the name Al-Qaeda--the organization headed by Osama bin Laden. Here I would remind you of the events toward the end of the 20th century: the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of the defeated armies into Russia, the collapse and breakdown of the Soviet Union. We are accustomed to regard that as a Western, or more specifically, an American, victory in the Cold War. In the Islamic world, it was nothing of the kind. It was Muslim victory in a Jihad.

As he sees it, and as his followers see it, there has been an ongoing struggle between the two world religions--Christianity and Islam--which began with the advent of Islam in the 7th century and has been going on ever since. The Crusades were one aspect, but there were many others. It is an ongoing struggle of attack and counter-attack, conquest and reconquest, Jihad and Crusade, ending so it seems in a final victory of the West with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire--the last of the great Muslim states--and the partition of most of the Muslim world between the Western powers.

With the above analysis, Lewis has completed an explanation of the ideological terrain and the difficult environment in which we are now conducting our efforts to export democracy. Not only are our efforts viewed as a further partitioning of the Muslim world, they are perceived to be premised upon extinguishing Islamic beliefs...despite the efforts of the President to assure peaceful Muslims of the contrary. Beliefs of an awakening by both sides exacerbate the mutual skepticism. Our mere presence in Iraq and Afghanistan provides the proof for those who argue that the conflict is, in fact, a holy war. Additionally, the assertion that we want to bring freedom and liberty is seen as the Trojan horse within which lurk those sent to bring Islam to its end.

What happened on 9/11 was seen by its perpetrators and sponsors as the culmination of the previous phase and the inauguration of the next phase--taking the war into the enemy camp to achieve final victory. The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise. They were expecting more of the same--bleating and apologies--instead of which they got a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. And as they used to say in Moscow: It is no accident, comrades, that there has been no successful attack in the United States since then. But if one follows the discourse, one can see that the debate in this country since then has caused many of the perpetrators and sponsors to return to their previous diagnosis. Because remember, they have no experience, and therefore no understanding, of the free debate of an open society. What we see as free debate, they see as weakness, fear and division. Thus they prepare for the final victory, the final triumph and the final Jihad.

What Lewis is arguing is that there remains a fundamental divide in communication and comprehension. Much of the Middle East, guided by the precepts of Islam, remains convinced that our liberty (viewed as the open and allowed dissention and debate that exists in Western Civilizations...perhaps viewed by many Muslims as the failings of secularism) is evidence of our flawed culture because it fails to provide the absolutist structure upon which Islam is predicated. This mindset might best be captured in the notion of the infidel...whereby all those who subscribe to Western Civilization have chosen the very flawed existence that many in the Middle East oppose. Further, that perceived act of free choice likely provides some of the justification for indiscriminate killing.

Lewis then offers his summations, which I am less inclined to accept. Essentially, his conclusion is that "Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us". He points to the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan as hopeful signs that the region can adopt some semblance of democracy. He also suggests that pro-American sentiment among the citizenry of Iran is indicative of their acceptance of, and desire for, democracy. His conclusion is somewhat ambiguous as to the methods by which we should bring them the freedom he advocates. Given his more positive assessment of the Iraq effort, it appears he may believe that our current approach is the correct way to achieve that goal. I’m not convinced he’s right.

The outlook at the moment is, I would say, very mixed. I think that the cause of developing free institutions--along their lines, not ours--is possible. One can see signs of its beginning in some countries. At the same time, the forces working against it are very powerful and well entrenched. And one of the greatest dangers is that on their side, they are firm and convinced and resolute. Whereas on our side, we are weak and undecided and irresolute. And in such a combat, it is not difficult to see which side will prevail.

I think that the effort is difficult and the outcome uncertain, but I think the effort must be made. Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us.

I concur that the outlook is mixed and I accept that we have some responsibility for leaving both Iraq and Afghanistan functional. Nonetheless, I struggle to imagine the scenario that allows democracy to flourish in the Middle East…in our likeness. Sectarian and religious beliefs continue to prevail and if democracy is to succeed, those groups would need to abandon some of their absolute ideology in order to craft a social contract that allows their diverse sectarian beliefs to mutually exist.

The fact that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan acted out the democratic process of voting does not necessarily predict that they can coexist or that that desire was the motivation behind the casting of their votes. The fact that an ineffective government exists in the midst of rampant sectarian violence suggests that, while they were willing to vote, they may have done so with nothing more than the motivation of winning the election in order to have the authority to impose their beliefs on those defeated…and because it was the framework we imposed.

I don't see the presence of the fundamental impetus needed for democracy to take hold at the moment. Perhaps with years of guided incubation it could emerge but given the historical background provided by Lewis, any expectation that can happen under the watch of American soldiers (infidels) seems doubtful. In fact, it seems more likely that our presence heightens religious ideologies and foments holy war ideations far more than it serves to instill democracy. The expectation that these people will set aside an ideology that sees Western Civilization as the antithesis of Islam is tantamount to pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Lastly, I see no evidence that this conflict can be won militarily. I also accept that there may be instances where military intervention could be required. However, it is my opinion that our ultimate objective can only be achieved politically over a lengthy period of time. Further, I'm not convinced that our efforts in Iraq have done anything more than to undermine our ability to achieve the end result we espouse. In the end, democracy must be a groundswell that is cultivated and allowed to germinate before it can take hold. Our efforts to turn the soil and impose the crop are, in my opinion, likely to yield little more than retrenchment and further ideological extremism. I wish it were otherwise...but I just don't think George Bush is actually the magician he may fashion himself to be.

Daniel DiRito | September 20, 2006 | 12:00 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 18, 2006

Sam Harris On Liberalism & Religious Extremism genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

War on terror

Sometimes in the heat of our American political system, we not only fail to rationally debate the issues, we often miss some of the substance that may actually underlie the topics that receive our partisan attention. The war on terror has been characterized in numerous ways in order to achieve political advantage despite the fact that it remains a threat to all Americans. In our attempts to discredit our political adversaries, we look for the phraseology that best serves our partisan interests as well as motivates the voters each Party sees as essential to victory.

Nonetheless, outside the confines of our political landscape, the realities of those who seek to inflict terror upon all Americans see our polarization as a symptom of a failed culture that simply supports their extreme beliefs. While I would argue that we have yet to fully understand the complexities that are fomenting this extremist animosity towards Western Civilization, there can be no doubt that it would behoove us to set aside some of our partisanship in order to conduct the honest discussion that is necessary to address this growing clash of cultures. No doubt one Party will be declared the victor in November, but the basis of that victory may fully ignore the dangerous realities that stir just over the horizon.

In an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times, Sam Harris offers a glimpse into the growing extremist ideology that exists in much of the Middle East regardless of our sometimes myopic political calculations. I can't say that I concur with some of the assertions or conclusions offered by Harris, but he makes a compelling argument for a comprehensive analysis of our extremist adversaries as well as a reasoned dialogue about how to best confront what appears to be a growing conflict that will only accelerate if we continue to ignore the realities in favor of pursuing political partisanship.

TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

I'm not sure that Harris can make the conclusion he offers without falling victim to the vulnerabilities of generalization. However, from the perspective of attempting to offer an argument that we Americans are prone to adopting polarized positions on countless issues, I am willing to overlook the license he seems to have taken. Certainly there is a mindset that would prefer that we annihilate our Islamic adversaries and there are also those who suffer the belief that a civil dialogue can solve every conflict. Often those opposing positions are adopted without a full understanding of the people we identify as the enemy which is a dangerous oversight.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

Again, the conclusion Harris seems to offer when he asserts that many of the most radicalized Muslims have had the benefit of better education and economic success than many of their fellow Muslims lacks ample analysis. It appears that Harris is attempting to conclude that their radicalization is not a product of inadequate education and a lack of economic opportunity...an assertion that ignores the fact that often those who take the lead in societies or cultures that lack economic opportunity or sufficient education are frequently those who have been able to rise above the standard. Their education and economic success does not necessarily make them more threatening or more extreme.

The individuals whom he refers to often become those who champion the cause of the less fortunate and they frequently do so while maintaining the basic religious ideologies that exist within their culture. They often see their achievements as good fortune achieved in an otherwise oppressive world order and their education and economic success simply becomes the vehicle they employ to advance their cultural and religious beliefs.

In other words, better education and economic success does not necessarily predict or preclude a rejection of radical ideology or religious doctrine. Extremist beliefs may wane when these individuals are less isolated and able to dialogue with powerful people in other cultures…people that they can perceive to have integrity and who are not believed to be intent on perpetuating the mechanisms that support the poverty and despair that they may believe is inflicted upon their societies.

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially it’s mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.

While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren't.

The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.

I understand the point Harris is attempting to make but even his Western European example fails to address the underlying factors that make these disaffected immigrants adhere to the extremist ideologies that they embrace. He also fails to address the issues that are creating the fascist reaction that he points out is taking place in Europe. The religious differences are merely the point of contention much like the basis of all prejudice…they provide an obvious difference much like skin color. That is not to minimize the realities of the divide but I don’t believe one can conclude that the problem is simply one of religious ideology or extremism.

One can look at the issue of Mexican immigration in the United States for the purposes of comparison. There are many within the U.S. who oppose immigration and who assert that those who are entering the country continue to hold allegiance to their country and culture of origin...they do not want to assimilate. People like Pat Buchanan routinely make such arguments whereby they reject any attempt to allow illegal’s a path to citizenship on the basis that these individuals don't want to embrace American culture...they want to maintain and import their own culture.

If Mexicans were also Muslims, the problem would be exacerbated because of the underlying religious doctrines. However, there is no doubt that the Muslim immigrants in Western Europe and the Mexican immigrants in the United States are all seeking the same thing...economic opportunity. Many Americans on the lower end of the wage scale view the immigrants as a threat to their economic well being. The same is true of those Harris identifies as fascists in Europe. Nonetheless, the focus of this animosity often becomes skin color and language.

The European problem is simply complicated by the addition of religious differences. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to determine whether to attribute Muslim animosity in Europe and the Middle East solely to religious ideology or to what degree it originates from their perception that they are an economic underclass. The latter is likely to exacerbate the former despite the fact that it may be difficult to cite ample and definitive substantiation.

Harris is correct to identify the threat posed by religious extremism. He did so with his book and he does so again in this article. The outstanding question is how to address these threats. Racial prejudice may not be perfectly analogous, but I think it offers some insight into the perils of unbridled extremist ideologies on both sides of a conflict. Our own Civil War points out the potential for ideology to lead to violent conflict. How we address religious extremism may well demonstrate what we did or didn’t learn from our own experience.

However, identifying the threat and crafting the solution are two distinct endeavors. Harris clearly identifies the threat but seems more inclined to then pivot and blame liberalism for our inability to confront the issue rather that offer any reasoned solutions. By acknowledging that liberalism is "generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity" and at the same time blaming it for not combating religious literalism is incongruent logic. In reality, liberalism clearly understands the dangers of religious literalism which is exactly why it promotes reasonability and tolerance. Further, that understanding is why liberals believe that the war in Iraq and the war on terror will ultimately require political solutions rather than an ever expanding military strategy.

As world population and a world economy continue to expand, our abilities to prevent the inherent racial, cultural, and religious clashes that come with proximity will become more challenging. Succumbing to the absolutism that accompanies any us/them equation is certain to trigger accelerated conflict. It is essential we refrain from adopting a broad brush strokes mentality. A reactionary strategy is nothing more than the fuel for escalation. In the end, it is individuals who define the differences upon which conflict is predicated…whether they be Islamist, Liberal, or otherwise. It will be the politics of leadership that will eventually bridge the divide.

It is only our common humanity and the resulting social contract that can overcome these obstacles. Each individual must endeavor to acknowledge and demand that primary reality well before we allow those in positions of power to invoke the sword. Those who choose violence and do so premised upon a belief that God is guiding them offer the best evidence that religion is nothing more that a human construct to oppress others and impose the will of one ideology upon all others…an unequivocal bastardization of the very essence of the principles and values upon which religion is predicated. It also corrupts the construct upon which this country was established and from which we have been able to command the moral high ground in order to defeat extremism.

Until we humans can successfully manage this complex worldly existence, I rather doubt “God" believes or expects that we can or should prosecute his fully unknown agenda. Those who assert otherwise have no standing in this reality and will likely find that the reality they seek to impose will leave them standing on the outside looking in…here and wherever they so fervently expect to travel.

Daniel DiRito | September 18, 2006 | 8:16 AM | link | Comments (2)
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September 17, 2006

Eggs Benedict Anyone? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Snapshot Thoughts & Tongue-In-Cheek


Daniel DiRito | September 17, 2006 | 4:19 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 14, 2006

Conservatives: Gay Marriage Debate Hurts Religion genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

Supporting gay marriage

In an effort to ratchet up the rhetoric for the November midterm election, religious conservatives are making the assertion that the debate over same-sex marriage has resulted in attacks on religious freedom. Clearly, the goal is to once again focus evangelical and other religiously inclined voters on the divisive wedge issue in order to promote a strong conservative voter turnout. Fox News has the full Associated Press article here.

By expanding the discussion from marriage to religious expression, social conservatives say they will reconnect with religious voters and religious leaders who don't necessarily view same-sex unions as a threat.

"There are a number of pastors that said,'Look, we don't get involved in politics, I'm not going to get involved in this issue, I just want to preach the gospel,'"said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council."When they realize their ability to preach the gospel may very well be at stake, they may reconsider their involvement."

Perkins and others are building a case file of anecdotes where they say religious people have spoken out against gay marriage only to be punished. Perkins specifically cited the decision by Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich in June to fire his appointee to the Washington area transit board after the board member referred to homosexuals as"persons of sexual deviancy."

Apparently, firing a public employee for making judgmental and unfounded divisive remarks is unacceptable behavior to religious conservatives. On the other hand, they assert that those who support equal rights for gays are fomenting religious oppression...a fully illogical, upside down equation. Nonetheless, they seem to believe that they are anointed with the righteousness that comes from their biblical interpretations and are therefore merely doing Gods work in promoting the victimization of gays.

Eight states have ballot initiatives in November to prohibit gay marriage, including some states with closely contested congressional races. Perkins said religious conservative groups planned to use direct mail and the Internet to alert voters about the stands candidates have taken on the marriage issue.

I would expect the Bush administration to increasingly invoke the issue as the midterm election approaches. The alliance between evangelicals and the Bush administration remains strong despite occasional reports to the contrary. Clearly, religious conservatives are focused on an additional conservative appointment to the Supreme Court...something that could be in jeopardy should Democrats gain control in November. I have no doubt that same-sex marriage and the next Supreme Court nomination will be the primary topics of church driven get out the vote efforts.

Daniel DiRito | September 14, 2006 | 9:32 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Terror Bills & "Awakening": A Flawed Bush Ideology genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad

Flawed ideology

There is little doubt George Bush believes what he says and that his ideology is sincere. There is also little doubt that so long as he is allowed to act upon his beliefs and his ideology, the fundamental principles and therefore the structure of our democracy is in danger. He is a man incapable of valuing the tenets of our founding fathers because he suffers the ailment of absolute intransigence whereby he concludes that the end result of preserving our way of life fully justify the means he employs. In that construct, he is the singular largest threat to U.S. credibility and the primary obstacle to our ability to extol or export our American democratic system to other nations and regions.

Two recent items clearly demonstrate the problem with this President's ideology and they point out that there is little hope that he will moderate his beliefs. In fact, they may indicate that he is simply moving further towards the extremes.

First, the bills the President seeks to pass, in which the Geneva Conventions are redefined to allow some of the illegal "interrogation methods" that have been exposed and vehemently criticized by many Americans and countless others, indicate that the President is convinced that America is entitled to use any and all methods it deems necessary to oppose terrorism...including the abandonment of our fundamental judicial system and the long established principles of decency adopted by the world community.

Secondly, his remarks that the United States is in the midst of the third "awakening" illuminate the degree to which this President has defined his Presidency as fundamental to defining the future of civilization in an image of his liking...actions that might be characterized in psychology as the delusional ideations of an individual fully enveloped in visions of grandiosity such that they are allowed to justify otherwise myopic, unilateral, and illegal actions and activities.

His plan would narrow the U.S. legal interpretation of the Geneva Conventions treaty in a bid to allow tougher interrogations and shield U.S. personnel from being prosecuted for war crimes.

Bush was expected to ask for support for two key pieces of legislation he says are crucial to preventing terrorist attacks. One would meet CIA demands that Congress reinterpret the nation's treaty obligations to allow tougher interrogations of detainees, but it's snagged in the Senate between the leadership and a trio of powerful Republicans.

At nearly the same time Bush met with House Republicans, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Thursday was asking his panel to finish an alternative to the White House plan to prosecute terror suspects and redefine acts that constitute war crimes.

The White House on Thursday said the alternate approach was unacceptable because it would force the CIA to end a program of using forceful interrogation methods with suspected terrorists.

The other bill Bush is pushing would give legal status to the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. It was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but is stalled in the House amid staunch opposition from Democrats and some Republicans concerned that the program violates civil liberties.

I accept that it may be unfair to question the President's intellect yet at the same time I find it necessary to do so. At the risk of angering my religious friends and readers by association, I have to conclude that this President is prone to adopting beliefs that are fully devoid of substantive evidence or reasoned analysis. The religious dogma that allows some to conclude that the scientific data supporting the theory of evolution is flawed and unconvincing is similar to the approach this President takes with regard to the execution of his duties and the administration of our laws and our constitution.

When the President responded that he consulted a "higher father" when asked if he discussed policy issues with his father, he clearly defined how he conducts himself and how easily he can discount the rational observations of credible others in favor of religious ideology and inferred divine inspiration. Sadly, this rhetoric is identical to that espoused by terrorists like Osama bin Laden or fanatical leaders like Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran...rhetoric that purports to be guided by God or Allah and that is not subject to opposition because it is presumed to be cloaked in the absolute righteousness of its origin.

When men of this ilk are allowed to hold power, they are compelled to characterize all opposition as evil and therefore feel they are not only fully justified to extinguish the enemy...they believe it is their duty and their calling...a premise that I would assert closely approximates insanity. The difference between leaders of this persuasion and other notorious lunatics like Jim Jones or David Koresh or Warren Jeffs is simply the degree and the size of the sphere of influence that they have been able to obtain. Nonetheless, they are not the sacred vessels of "truth" they purport to be.

Granted, such comparisons are dangerous because it is difficult to weigh one man's actions with those of another without comparative measurements...the raping a young girl is not the equivalent of torturing terrorists who seek to harm Americans. My goal is not to draw such value judgments but to provide examples and evidence of a way of thinking that is frequently dangerous and misguided. Further, this type of thinking isn't consistent with the values this country is premised upon and that runs the risk of undermining the "truths" that are fundamental to our system of governance and the legitimacy that has afforded.

Baker writes: "President Bush said yesterday that he senses a 'Third Awakening' of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as 'a confrontation between good and evil.'

"Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people 'who saw life in terms of good and evil' and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms. . . .

Unfortunately, the Bush comparison to Lincoln and the Civil War era may be the ultimate misjudgment on the part of this President. History may prove me wrong, but I feel safe in asserting that the Bush legacy may well be compared to the Lincoln legacy...but I believe that comparison will be drawn to illustrate the differences between the proper way to confront grave threats to our democracy and the woefully misguided Bush doctrine that served to undermine our democracy and bring the world to the precipice of unbridled chaos.

Regardless, the President's words show the depth of conviction that guides him and they explain his apparent willingness to adopt methods, procedures, and laws that allow him to prosecute what he views as his righteous role in a newly defined "awakening" that is serving witness to what he believes is the penultimate battle between good and evil. It is clear that the country is in desperate need of an altered course and that the absence of a Democratic victory in November may be the impetus for this President to further execute what he believes to be his calling in a cataclysmic clash of civilizations. That eventuality must be contained.

Daniel DiRito | September 14, 2006 | 9:27 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 11, 2006

Dobson & FOF Back Anti-Gay Effort In Wisconsin genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

Opposing anti-gay measures

James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, are getting behind an amendment in Wisconsin that would ban same-sex marriage. The organization has been a vocal supporter of such measures...leading a similar effort in Colorado. The latest efforts are reported at 365Gay.com.

(Madison, Wisconsin) With polls showing that Wisconsin could become the first state in the nation where voters reject a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage Focus on the Family, one of the country's most anti-gay organizations, has entered that battleground.

The Colorado Springs-based FOF has filed papers with the state Elections Board last week to create a referendum committee. The filing will allow it to use the millions of dollars it collects nationally in the fight in Wisconsin.

FOF, founded by conservative James Dobson, also has been at the forefront of same-sex marriage bans in other states. In Colorado, where a proposed amendment also is on the ballot this November, the group has given half a million dollars to groups promoting the amendment - $500,000 of that - $250,000 directly from FOF and another $250,000 through its lobbying arm Focus on the Family Action.

Fair Wisconsin, which is leading the fight against the amendment, said it is not surprised that national groups like FOF are targeting the state. A public poll taken in July showed that voters were about equally divided on the amendment with 49 percent supporting it and 48 percent opposed.

Measures like the ones in Wisconsin and Colorado have assisted the GOP in boosting the turnout of conservative evangelical voters...a situation they hope will once again help them hold control of the House and the Senate. Amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman are believed to have been an important factor in the 2004 election results. I would expect to see the President and other high level Republicans invoke the issue as we approach the November election.

Last week seventeen former presidents of the Wisconsin Bar Association on Wednesday announced their opposition.

"Our founding fathers drafted our Constitution to embrace rights and freedoms which were to stand firm through all time and through all political changes. Wisconsin’s Constitution, like the United States Constitution, is a document which grants rights to citizens. It is not, has not been, and should not be used as a political means to restrict the rights of any citizens," the lawyers said.

Despite the fact that constitutional amendments have rarely been used to deny rights to citizens, the benefit the GOP receives from such bills has nonetheless made them a favorite tool. Whether the issue can turn the tide of negative sentiment directed at the Republican dominated government in the midterm election has yet to be seen. If it doesn't prove to be successful, 2006 could be pivotal in limiting the future appeal of such divisive measures.

Daniel DiRito | September 11, 2006 | 4:06 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 8, 2006

Pope-A-Dope On Gay Marriage & Abortion Again genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Pope Benedict

Wearing his flashy red hat and Prada slippers, the Pope has once again spoken out on his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. He continues to assert that politicians who do not oppose same-sex marriage and abortion in the execution of their elected positions are failing to act according to their faith. The remarks are a clear reminder of how ideologues cannot be content living the life they choose; they are all too often driven to impose their beliefs on other people. Is it any wonder we have conflict in the Middle East, sectarian violence in Iraq, ethnic and religious cleansing, and political polarization? Reuters has the full article here.

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Friday Catholic politicians could not be swayed by opinion polls and social trends into supporting practices such as abortion and the "folly" of gay marriage.

The Pope repeated his opposition to abortion and gay marriage in a toughly worded address to visiting bishops from Canada.

"In the name of ‘tolerance' your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse, and in the name of ‘freedom of choice' it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children," the Pope said.

Since his election last year, the Pope has often condemned gay marriage and last June a Vatican document called it one sign of "the eclipse of God" in modern times.

In his address to the bishops, the Pope also touched on the highly sensitive issue of whether Catholic politicians can back legislation allowing practices such as gay marriage and abortion even if they are personally opposed to them.

The Pope condemned such behavior by politicians as "false dichotomies".

It seems a bit ironic to me that at the time John Kennedy was running for President, he had to make clear that as a Catholic, he would not allow his beliefs to dictate his policies and that he would not capitulate power to the Pope. Today, we have an Evangelical president and numerous politicians and organizations that seek to make theological beliefs the guiding principles of our government and they are now aligned with the Pope and many Catholics in these objectives. Such is the "folly" of ideology...it morphs into whatever serves its goal of defining its "truth" as absolute "Truth"...often exposing the utter hypocrisy that makes it so repulsive to the many people who are content to allow differing beliefs.

The Pope went further in his chastising of politicians.

"They are particularly damaging when Christian civic leaders sacrifice the unity of faith and sanction the disintegration of reason and the principles of natural ethics, by yielding to ephemeral social trends and the spurious demands of opinion polls," he said.

"Democracy succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle...," he said.

Unfortunately, the Pope and so many others are convinced that they hold a monopoly on "truth". That is not to say their beliefs are without any merit or that they aren't entitled to their beliefs...they are...but they are also intransigent with regard to any further exploration of the truth and they create institutions in order to defend the dogma they deem to be infallible. The problem that creates is witnessed in the current wave of extremist conflict.

Osama and many others also feel that they are awash in "truth" and that it is their right and their duty to impose that upon others...regardless of their methods. Don't get me wrong, the actions of al-Qaeda are far worse than those of the Catholic Church...at this point in history. However, if one were to look back, the Catholic Church has committed its share of atrocities...in the name of "truth".

In the end, government needs to be the arbiter of equality and provide each citizen with the opportunity to embrace the beliefs they choose so long as those beliefs accept or accommodate the established social contract. When government seeks to define values or allows religious groups to usurp established governmental constructs, it is no longer impartial and it can no longer objectively execute its obligations. The more those lines become blurred, the more likely the social contract will fail.

Daniel DiRito | September 8, 2006 | 9:35 AM | link | Comments (0)
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September 4, 2006

Bill Maher: New Rules - America Converts To Islam genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

Daniel DiRito | September 4, 2006 | 10:00 PM | link | Comments (1)
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September 3, 2006

"Ex-Gay" Leaders Misconstrue APA Statement genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

In an attempt to garner credibility, leaders of the practice of treating homosexuality in order to change their sexual orientation, have asserted that statements made by the head of the American Psychological Association (APA) were an acknowledgment to the...

Daniel DiRito | September 3, 2006 | 9:58 AM | link | Comments (1)
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