Saturday, June 30, 2007

“I know of no Muslim who would argue that we today exemplify — by any stretch of the imagination — the principles and ideals of Islam.”

— Jeremiah McAuliffe, Jr., from a 1997 essay, writing of the lack of understanding of self-criticism within the Islamic ‘world’; no less true these days, apparently, considering soberly whatever horror may befall the United Kingdom in the coming days because of the deeply irrational radicalization of the British Muslim community

ADDENDUM: Christopher Hitchens, in Slate, notes, “The fascistic subculture that has taken root in Britain and that lives by violence and hatred is composed of two main elements. One is a refugee phenomenon, made up of shady exiles from the Middle East and Asia who are exploiting London’s traditional hospitality, and one is the projection of an immigrant group that has its origins in a particularly backward and reactionary part of Pakistan.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Scott Horton at Harper’s is disturbing in his clear-eyed analysis of the coming US-Iran war. “Iraq redux,” as Vanity Fair quoted one high-end foreign policy specialist, regarding the build-up, planning and rhetoric. Pundits are already placing their bets on another “summertime war” between Israel and some combo of Lebanese militants, Gazan Hamas-heads or whoever. The situation is thoroughly disgusting. Back in May, for the last issue of the campus paper in which my editorials appear off-and-on, it looked like Iran was heading up to be the new enemy to destroy. “Iran is clearly a menace to [American] hegemonic interests in the Mideast,” went my words, concluding on the point about the horrid danger of “lending credibility to the Tehran regime, ramping up the threat of regional war and tying the fates of the Iranian and American people alike to the will of lunatics.”

Horton looks at the logistics, all within “striking range”: “Four aircraft carriers, 12-16 destroyers, 4-8 submarines, 4-8 AEGIS cruisers, and over 200 strike aircraft,” giving reason to why “an admiral [is] in charge of CENTCOM.” It is obvious that we’re preparing some kind of air assault; ground invasion is totally out of the question. As for the Iranian/American hostages (how symbolic), Horton thinks “the mullahs in Tehran” and their counterparts in “the Cheney clique … will demonize their respective hostages as spies and a threat to their national security.” It didn’t happen with the UK embroglio with the captured sailors, though it could just as easily happen this time; we can only pray. It is awful when people are used as pawns for wargames. To wit, Horton adds, our government is going to “portray Iran as a force for evil throughout the Middle East and beyond.” Destablizing, evil, threatening, gathering storm. Take it out. Surgical strikes. Preemption. Our force for good. Theirs for evil. Let’s hope history doesn’t unfurl redux at our expense, needless to say the world’s as well.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Speaking of military matters, former Army Major General Antonio Taguba, quoted in the latest issue of the New Yorker by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, has a few words for the higher-ups who threw him out after he contributed to the investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, surrounded by the evasions and deceit of the former Secretary of Defense, a man unworthy of the title from the beginning.

Quoting from Taguba at length, because it’s important: “From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service. And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

Agreed. Somewhere, sooner than later, Rumsfeld and all other parties to the scandal who knew full well and tried to dissemble their way out of it must be tried and thrown into prison for the rest of their natural lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

As two years have passed since my registration in the Selective Service System without (yet) being called up, maybe it’s a good time to deliver this excerpt from I’m Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down (1968), Nat Hentoff’s “breakthrough novel” (Sunday Denver Post) whose “provocative timeliness” (Horn Book) explores “the conscience of the free individual versus the demands of state” (The Daily News [Whittier, CA]). Here’s such an exchange, if you will, between those forces as expressed in the mind of the book’s protagonist, Jeremy Wolf. (Words of the military bureaucrats in italics, Wolf’s in bold.)

Please, sirs, can’t you find it in the national interest not to make me a killer? Don’t be ridiculous, young man, do you want them Communists swarming up the street, raping your sister? I don’t have a sister. Your girl friend, then? But that’s not the point, sirs, they’re not attacking this country. Young man, we can’t take the time to argue with every Tom, Dick and Jeremy. You’ve got to have confidence that your President, on the basis of all the information, and only he knows all the information, has made the right decision in the national interest. You just sign up, and in four years, after you get out of college, we’ll see where you fit in best. I’ll think about it, sirs. Ain’t nothing to think about. You’ve got seven months and three days. You all come in and register or we are all going to come and get you. See, ain’t nothing to think about. You got no choice, boy. Yes, I do, I don’t have to register at all. Symbolic action, boy, that’s all it is, symbolic action. Waste of time. Face up, face up. Be a man!

But I don’t choose to be that kind of man. Hear that, Joe? He doesn’t choose to be that kind of man. Well, with that hair, I can see where he has a problem. But that’ll be all fixed up. Son, the Army’s the best thing that could happen to you. If I was your father, I’d say you ought to go right straight in, and go to college after. You’ll get a lot more out of that higher schooling, being a man. Sirs, I think you’re crazy. Boy, what kind of qualifications you got to make that kind of judgment? Trouble with you is, you don’t appreciate being an American. You’ve had it too soft, boy. That’s the trouble with kids like you. But sirs, why do I have to kill? For peace, damn it! Can’t you see that? How can we have peace if we don’t stop those people who are always aggressing against it? But aren’t we aggressing, sirs? Boy, I tell you, education has just gone to hell. Don’t you know the difference between aggressing and defending freedom?” (pp. 85-6, from the sixth printing, July 1973)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

“You aren’t going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of ‘live and let live.’ Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it’s going to be a better world to live in for all of us.”

A Short Guide to Iraq, U.S. War and Naval Depts., 1943 (p. 5)

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan. (The link to the whole thing.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Stanley Fish, a professor of worldly repute, likes to throw some bombs. His latest piece for the Times looks at the collage of “atheist books” for which Richard Dawkins, the neuroscientist; philosopher Daniel Dennett; Sam Harris, asshole; and smart-alecky iconoclast (and fellow bomb-thrower) Christopher Hitchens have received notoriety and much hubbub. Thought to reprint my comments, along with a sampling of other ideas the readers had in mind for the whole chestnut of religion, faith, God.

There are three components to religion, as I see it. One involves the institutions of religious faith, the second the religious community and, third, the deity to which the faith is professed.

The authors, with very different agenda notwithstanding, seem to be focusing on religion as the organized, institutional force through human history that has, by their outlook, engendered terrible violence and intolerance, irrationalism and everything inspired by a zealous factionalism toward a particular protecting and vengeful god. That, if I am understanding their theses correctly, sets up religious (or even spiritual) faith as the embodiment of ancient prejudice with the usage of ‘religion’ as its vehicle; this is unfair.

Harris is the worst offender at conflating a fundamentalist approach to religion with belief in a Supreme Being (or Force) itself. I agree with Prof. Fish regarding Hitchens, who, according to a recent review of this spate of God-bashing books by The Nation, is the only one to treat the subject of God as an adult, and approaches the texts therein with a better understanding of religion’s abuses than the others.

As for my own opinion, I suppose I’m alternately agnostic on the question of God, whatever it may be, and my best hopes go with the communities of believers who derive their strength from simply believing in something beyond our human power of logic and reason, which are obviously important enough.

Atheism seems awfully empty of something very important, I think, whatever it is. The point of ‘religious’ mystery, maybe, is not knowing; when atheism as Harris-Dawkins-Hitchens (hyphenating while being aware of their divergences) deconstruct with such certainty, there is a richness lost, with full appreciation (not approval) of the terrors history has seen in the name of God.”

Someone going by the handle “jlangill” had this to say:

To look at atheists in any light one needs to define faith. Atheists that write about it are people of faith, true to their own dogma one of logic and absolute truths. If one looks at faith in the perspective of reason and absolute truths it falls apart every time because the points of religious faith are ‘Trust’, ‘Love’, and ‘Justice’. These three items are where all of the argument arises because there is no ‘logical” or ‘reasonable’ point to any of them. Many a thousand tomes of law and we are little closer to true justice.

…The pundits of atheist beliefs would have you think that these things are ruined by religious faith because of the actions of people that have lost the objectivity of an all powerful god… ‘We must rid the world of the infidels’ is what the zealots cry in the world of the all powerful god. Why should I raise a hand against anyone where God is the issuer of all judgment. So if the rationalists and the logical thinkers think that zealots are the beginning and the end of religious faith than they have missed the point.

In the book of Mica there is the shortest statement of faith. Being a youth group leader I teach this to all the youth I come in contact with whether they are of faith or not it goes, ‘And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?’(New American standard translation Mica 6:8) Even if I remove god from the statement I could live in a world where we ‘Do justice’ ‘Love kindness’ and ‘Walk Humbly’ couldn’t you? But it is that elusive something more, of having a light to guide me, the path already walked, even to my death that binds me to my religious faith.…”

And this, from one Paul Tuttle, quoting Ann Druyan, the widow of the late Carl Sagan:

His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science’s permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed. The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism of keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline.

…Ann quotes Bertrand Russell that ‘what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to find out, which is the exact opposite.’ [Tuttle adds:] To argue in the support of science requires education and discipline, to argue in support of a religion only requires a vocabulary. But the real problem with belief without evidence is its ability create and maintain privilege. Carried to its extreme privilege justified through religion is capable of subjugating entire populations.”

Humanity and its abuse of faith in a higher spirit, or a higher authority, seems to define religion generically considered by the authors, in their own way. Another commenter, Colin Nicholas, has the perceptive sense to draw from Einstein’s God (quoted below), maybe as old as Aristotle’s, which exists as some intelligent force that somehow created everything but does not take part in human matters:

About God, I cannot accept any concept based on the authority of the Church. As long as I can remember, I have resented mass indocrination [sic]. I do not believe in the fear of life, in the fear of death, in blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him, I would be a liar. I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.” [Nicholas cites William Hermanns’ Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man]

All for now.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

‘Huh? What do you think? You like it?’ Apparently not. (Photo courtesy Tom Hevezi/AP)
Speaking of Vermont, some trouble seems to be brewing there; very small group of people there are actually serious about — no joke — seceding from the United States. Their manifesto (from the Vermont Commons) reads, quoting Newsday’s excerpts from the declaration of one Thomas Naylor, formerly a professor at Duke: “Thoughtful Vermonters, opposed to the tyranny of the United States government, corporate America and globalization, believe that Vermont should once again become an independent republic, as it was between 1777 and 1791, and that the United States of America should begin to peacefully dissolve.

“Ultimately, as was the case with the American revolution, whether or not a state is allowed to secede is neither a legal question nor a constitutional question, but rather a matter of political will. The ultimate test of sovereignty lies with the people themselves: How strong is the will of the people of the departing state to be free and independent of the control of the larger nation it was a part of?

“My own favorite fantasy would be for Vermont to join Maine, New Hampshire and the four Atlantic provinces of Canada to create a new nation I would call New Acadia.” Ok, the last line is where it gets completely ridiculous. Naylor does have a point about constitutionality; there is no prohibition against succession, although history may show its futility.

The leader of the group, one Rob Williams, has this (sophomoric) thing to say: “If bloodshed were required to take back our country from the corporations, from big government and from the heavy hand of the law, then shed mine first. Our constitution was born out of revolution and a revolution will be required to restore it. We must re-establish the vision that is lost in the greed, the corruption and the oppression of the present establishment.

“We must re-stoke the forge of liberty and as a nation, pick up the hammer of freedom and strike America upon the anvil of justice and make it strong again.” Fairly frightening, and maybe a bit extreme. The ideals appear to be (at least sourced) in the right place. Hopefully.