richardf8: (Ensign_Katz)
The Israeli Palestinian Conflict: Not a Civil Rights Issue.

I want to get a few thoughts down here. American liberals tend to view the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a Civil Rights issue. It's a narrative we are comfortable with, that we understand well, and that we know how to pick sides in. The basic assumption is that the Palestinians are fighting for a right to self determination that is a threat to Israeli hegemony, and if Israel would only give them this freedom, there would be peace. If this were true, the Oslo accords would have resolved the conflict. But there are larger goals in play here.

It is important to understanding the current condition of the conflict to read Hamas' charter. It is a thick read, written in lovely regal language. But its thesis is clear. I will distill a few things here that I think are pertinent.

1. What does Hamas mean by liberation and resisatance? We liberals love these words. We hear them and our sympathies are immediately awakened to poor, hungry masses yearning to be free. But it is not people that Hamas is looking to liberate. It is land. (Article 6 and Article 15). The land is "every inch of Palestine." And that would be Palestine as it looked at the time of the British Mandate. Liberation of the land entails bringing the land under Islamic rule, as Hamas understands it (ibid).

2. Where does Hamas fit among Islamic movements? Hamas is a unit of the Muslim Brotherhood, specializing in the Liberatioan of Palestine (article 2). What this means is that the goals of Hamas are in service to the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. What about the two state solution? Article 13 of the charter should be read in its entirety to understand why this will not work so long as Hamas holds poltical power, but here is a brief quote."There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are a waste of time and a farce."

So, what we should be noticing here is that what Hamas wants for the land it calls Palestine (which is to say the 1947 borders) is the same Islamic rule that, over the past few years was selected and rejected in Egypt, the Egyptians ultimately preferring the political oppression of a military government to the religious oppression of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The next question is what do the Palestinians want? I can't answer that. The Palestinians, if offered an election, will find themselves in the unenviable position of choosing between Hamas and Fatah. I am convinced that the election of Hamas a decade or so ago was less about alignment with Hamas' goals than it was about throwing the Fatah bums out. I think that during a period of calm, throwing the Hamas bums out would be a real possibility, but that during a time of live fire, there is a tendency to cleave to the more belligerent party which would work in Hamas' favor.

Eliminating Hamas is essential to being able to give the Palestinians the freedom to explore their desires. Achieving this would mean reoccupying Gaza without settling it, and subjecting it to the political oppression now found in Egypt, while working assiduously to improve prosperity. When there is a strong, moderate Gazan majority, it should fight, and win, a war for indepedence that would culminate in its having its current borders with, depending on Egypt's goodwill some additional land in the Sinai. The West Bank could be part and parcel with this or not depending how West Bank and Gaza Arabs feel about each other.

Current liberal attempts to influence the peace process or to coerce Israel into yielding too much too soon do not ultimately support core liberal values like equality or self-determination, because they enable Hamas, for which these values are best relegated to the dustbin.
richardf8: (Default)
The first time [ profile] morgan1 and I ever set foot in Temple Israel was to see a talk by John Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword. After the presentation, which took place in the run-up to the Easter/Passover season, Morgan was buttonholed by an elderly man who had fled Poland in the wake of pogroms. Good Friday, for him, was the day the Christians would come out of the churches looking for Jews to beat up. And he had absorbed his share of beatings.

And so.

It is now 9/11.

I skim [ profile] chipuni's friends list, because it is a rich and diverse bouquet, where so many viewpoints can be found, and I notice that someone has goatsed the [ profile] muslimscommunity. There moderators act swiftly, but no sooner do they delete it than the same user posts an anti-Islamic Chick Tract rife with misinformation and fabrication regarding Islam. This is as close as you can get to mosque desecration on line. I wonder what we will see in the physical world as the day dawns.

The analogy is obvious. And it was the provincial and religious hatred that the Poles had for the Jews that built Auschwitz. A provincial and religious hatred not dissimilar than that which is growing bolder and bolder in the US.

If we allow such seeds to sprout, what vile fruit can we expect to harvest?
richardf8: (Default)
I am a person of faith. So are many people, Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Buddhist who read my journal. And I feel that there is a war being raised against some of the fundamental tenets of my faith, from people like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. (I don't know who the speaker of the House is these days, so upstaged has he been by DeLay).

These people have been seeking to put into law very specific elements of the very specific splinter of Christianity in which they engaged. And every time Liberals talk about "the separation of Church and State," these wingnuts have a cow about how evil secularists and atheists are on a crusade to destroy Christianity in America. Their perception seems to be that they are being oppressed if their beliefs, and their beliefs alone are not being legislated, are not forming the basis for jurisprudence, and are not being enforced at home and on the world stage.

As many conservatives will point out, there is no "separation of Church and State" in the constitution. And they are right - this concept is the result of judicial interpretation. The Constitution gives us the "establishment clause" in its first Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ."

Let's take a good hard look at this, leaving behind for the moment the notion of "separation of Church and State" and asking ourselves why it is there at all. First and foremost it codifies an important religious sentiment that we find in the Concessions and Agreements establishing the colony of New Jersey, written by William Penn, namely that "that no man, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters" (Joseph Story). This is an important notion to understand: the establishment clause is there not to prohibit prayer in schools, necessarily, nor to prohibit display of the Ten Commandments, necessarily, but to guarantee the the state does nothing to compromise the individual's relationship with God. Now this remains true regardless of whether that relationship is one of disavowal, a belief in an abstract "creator," or a belief in a personal God or gods.

Justice Thomas Black, writing in EVERSON v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF EWING TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947) illuminates for us the historical milieu from which the establishment clause arose:
A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws which compelled them to support and attend government favored churches. The centuries immediately before and contemporaneous with the colonization of America had been filled with turmoil, civil strife, and persecutions, generated in large part by established sects determined to [330 U.S. 1, 9] maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy. With the power of government supporting them, at various times and places, Catholics had persecuted Protestants, Protestants had persecuted Catholics, Protestant sects had persecuted other Protestant sects, Catholics of one shade of belief had persecuted Catholics of another shade of belief, and all of these had from time to time persecuted Jews. In efforts to force loyalty to whatever religious group happened to be on top and in league with the government of a particular time and place, men and women had been fined, cast in jail, cruelly tortured, and killed. Among the offenses for which these punishments had been inflicted were such things as speaking disrespectfully of the views of ministers of government-established churches, nonattendance at those churches, expressions of non-belief in their doctrines, and failure to pay taxes and tithes to support them.

What we are witnessing today is precisely this scenario: a particular flavor of Christianity is seeking to forge an alliance with the government, though which it can force loyalty to its notion of "family values" or "morals" or whatever the buzzword of the day happens to be. The first amendment is intended to safeguard the relationship between man and God, such that it cannot be hijacked by any single religious persuasion.

So this, then is the right wing War on Faith: If you are Presbyterian, Quaker, United Church of Christ, Reformed Jewish, any kind of Jewish really, Muslim, Buddhist, etc, then according to these people YOUR FAITH IS NOT VALID. And here comes the sticky part: because we are not so prideful as to say "You're wrong because God said so," we do not appear to speak with the moral authority that they do.

So what can we do? For starters, we need to invoke God. Seriously. Even in a war of prooftexting, we can win this thing if we so choose. We tend to be afraid to do this, because we can't know that God is on our side. However, I don't think that's true - I think God IS on our side, and that it can be demonstrated from any holy text we care to cite. I was once asked by a fellow learner in Torah Study "How can we know?"

It's a valid question. The answer is a matter of history and projection - if we examine the pattern that has given us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and look at what it parallels in the past what do we see? I see a Holocaust survivor in my congregation describing how, upon being seen with a scrap of Army blanket she had found to keep herself warm, she was made to kneel with her arms over her head for five hours, during which she fainted three times. Her treatment was virtually identical to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as described in a report by the ICRC:

The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with loud music blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time. . . .

It's not difficult to see where the policy leads. And as for the notion that it is hyperbole or hysteria to draw on the Holocaust for comparison the only thing I can say is that the notion that the Holocaust was somehow a unique or aberrant evil is the greatest assurance that it WILL happen again. All of us have within us not only a spark of divine goodness, but an evil inclination as well, and when that inclination is appealed to on a national stage, it scales up better that a Linux Beowulf cluster. We insist on believing that the holocaust was perpetrated by inhuman monsters, when in fact is was perpetrated by people JUST LIKE US, to whose worst instincts a simple megalomaniac appealed. When we see a nation being encouraged to vote against granting a right to a particular population, when we see a nation that looks the other way when it's citizens are denied justice and due process, we see a nation that has not God, but the evil inclination perched on it's shoulder.

We need to understand that as people of faith we have the RESPONSIBILITY to invoke God. Because if we do not, then we sell Him into slavery to the false prophets who invoke the divine crown for the sole purpose of increasing their power and wealth.

Works Cited

richardf8: (Default)
It's been a while since I've written about Iraq, so I'm going to do a bit of that now. The pacifists say we should pull out now and cut our losses, because the longer we stay the more life will be lost without us ever achieving our objective. They are absolutely right.

On the other hand, the hawks say to us that we have to stay and finish the job because to do otherwise would demonstrate that we are weak and vulnerable, and another group says we have to stay because we broke it and have an obligation to fix it. They, too, are absolutely right.

How can they both be right? Aren't those positions contradictory and mutually exclusive? Well, yes. And that's the point. We have placed our selves in an impossible situation. There would have been no negative consequences from refraining from invading Iraq. Saddam would still be in power, yes, but he was, in many ways, a lesser evil than the bind we find ourselves in now. Because right now we're damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Ultimately, I think I'm with the doves now. Although I have argued in this space that we should stay and rebuild what we broke, I don't know that it's really possible. Because while repairing broken infrastructure seems the moral thing to do, the thing we really broke was the regime of fear that kept Iraq from breaking down into civil-war and revolution during Saddam's rule. The tensions from all those years are being released right now, and they really want us out of their way so they can kill each other with impunity. And we don't want to go because we know that at the end of it all, there will be another Islamic Republic run by Shiites, and we really don't want that.

But these intramural hostilities simmered under Saddam, and they will simmer until our inevitable leave taking. That being the case, we might as well pull out and let them have done with it, knowing that the blood they spill will be on our hands, and that the atrocities that they will perpetrate upon each other will almost certainly exceed what Saddam perpetrated upon them.

Saddam was the pin in this grenade. And we pulled it.
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As the EU wrangles over its constitution, many members want to acknowledge Europe's Christian Heritage in its preamble. Now, I am not going to put too fine a point on this. Europe's "Christian Heritage" is nothing to be proud of. Europe's "Christian Heritage," from the moment of Constantine's conversion, is nothing more than the complete and utter perversion of the teachings of Jesus from a religion of life, peace and compassion into a culture of death, war, and hatred.

From the moment Europe took up the reins of Christianity it has added to the "Christian Heritage" a string of atrocities ranging from the Crusades through the Inquisition and culminating, at last in the Pogroms and the Holocaust. Jews, Muslims, and Christians who actually followed Jesus' teachings alike suffered forced conversion, torture, death by the sword, and death by immolation at the hands of these "Christian" Europeans.

Quite frankly, I find this all a wee bit frightening. I cannot help but notice, in France's prohibition of worn religious symbolism in government spaces, only Christianity warrants an exception, for a "discreet" cross. However, no sect of Christianity that I know of demands that its members wear a cross. The chauvinism is absolutely clear, and an indicator that the Holocaust may not long remain the capstone of religious persecution in Europe. A great wariness should therefore be held of any attempt by the EU to appropriate a "Christian" identity.
richardf8: (Default)
France wishes to ban the wearing of headscarves by muslim women, the wearing of yarmulkes by Jews and the wearing of "Large" crosses by Christians. Small crosses will, however, be permitted.

The Article can be found here
richardf8: (Default)
I was living in Rego Park, Queens, in New York City when news of a shadow called the Ayatollah Khomeini passing over Iran reached my ears. It was a confusing time, as the news recounted how this force of darkness was unseating that agent of sweetness and light, the Shah of Iran. Things got a little blurry though, when more news reports revealed that the Shah peeled the fingernails out of the fingers of his prisoners. Iranian immigrants flocked to Queens and many of their children were my classmates. Then the American Embassy was taken and its occupants held hostage. Graffiti covered the walls at school that said things like "Fuck Iran." We had become angry. I couldn't help wonder what my Iranian schoolmates thought of all that, what they had gone through to get here, and what they had been through before they left. But somehow, one didn't want to ask; it seemed risky somehow, like it might dredge up painful memories, remind them of things better left forgotten. Now, Marjane Satrapi has invited us into the erudite Iranian home of her youth to explain it all to us.

She tells the story of the revolution, its causes, and its consequences unflinchingly through the eyes of her 11 - 14 year old self. From this point of view, the adult world seems surreal even in the healthiest of cultures and in the best of times. So revolutionary Iran seems doubly so even as it seems frighteningly real. The home she invites us into is led by her very politically astute father, and a cunningly resourceful mother. The Satrapis are no sheep, but a family that has suffered the consequences of changes in the political wind for generations. The result is that we get a very nuanced view of the politics of the revolution, of what different people were envisioning would come of it, and the disappointment at what did come of it.

Satrapi begins her story by discussing the veil. As I laid my eyes on the first chapter title, "The Veil," I braced myself for it being about the oppressiveness of wearing the veil. But what actually followed was what happens when you make a bunch of eleven year old girls adopt a garment they see no reason for. They were playing the usual array of school yard games with them. As the revolution proceede we are invited to share her puzzlement as the the teacher who had, only weeks earlier, told them that the Shah had been appointed by God, instructed her class to rip all pictures of the Shah from their books.

The revolution itself, we learn, wasn't Islamist. The Shah was the common enemy of a wide range of political factions, from secular democrats to communists to the islamists. In the end the Islamists won out because, as Satrapi tells us through the voice of her father, it is impossible to rally an illiterate populace around anything but religion and nationalism. In some ways, as political debate in the U.S. seems to be coalescing around issues of religion and nationalism, it seems almost as if Satrapi is putting us on notice that if we do not use our intellects to choose our government, we will end up no better off than Iran.

Satrapi's art is the perfect vehicle for her story. It is stark and simple: black and white, with no mid-tones, ever. It has the feel of linoleum-printing, and yet it ranges from light hearted and humorous (I am apparently not the only cartoonist in the world who thinks that striking phenomenologists in the head with hard, heavy objects makes a great sight-gag, as she shows Marx pelting Descartes with rocks.) to the dark and moody as she shows the ravages of war. One sees in her settings and backgrounds the richness and beauty of Iranian decor. She renders the full range of emotions very well, and has created characters that have that all important quality of being fun to look at.

Marjane Satrapi is definitely on of the folks who is, to borrow a phrase from Scott McCloud "reinventing comics." She has created a graphic novel with a poignancy that would have been impossible in text alone. I would call this a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what happened then and there, and what is happening now.
richardf8: (Default)
Johnny Jihad is a graphic novel that speculates on the Radical Islamization of a typical American boy from a typical American town. It is, of course, inspired by the discovery of John Walker Lindh, but it should be noted that it is not an attempt to recount Lindh's experiences. It is a speculation on what might lead an American teenager down the path that Lindh followed, and what might be the outcome. It is a complex work, a multilayered article of propaganda with apparently confused allegiances, and therefore somewhat difficult to parse. I will tease that bit out a little later, but first I want to talk about the art.

Johnny Jihad is executed primarily in scratchboard, and Inzana does an excellent job with it, maintaining a moody darkness throughout the work. He exploits the tendency toward angularity intrinsic to scratchboard to create a very tense, conflicted look, but he does not became enslaved to it -- when curves and circles are called for, they are rendered smoothly and cleanly. Essential to a work like this is a solid use of shading, and values are rendered stunningly. Johnny Jihad is an ambitious story, and Inzana's art fully lives up to that ambition.

The premise of the story is simple enough. Looking at John Walker Lindh, the author asks himself "how could this happen?" The narrative he develops in answer to this question is, of course, very different from the Lindh narrative. It is Inzana's own answer to this question, his own hypothetical scenario which he weaves into a dark tale of treason and treachery, of multiple betrayals. But, it is obvious that Inzana believes what he is supposed to when it comes to Islamic terrorist networks. The result of Inzana's acceptance of these assumptions, combined with his skeptical cynicism regarding the U.S.'s role in creating the Taliban is a tale in which no heroes emerge.

This book is not, for example, going to win any prizes for creating a balanced portrayal of Islam. By choosing to portray only terrorists, and giving short shrift to those voices within Islam that the terrorists oppose, Inzana fans the flames of anti-Islamic prejudice. He indulges the notion that reading the Koran is the gateway to becoming a terrorist. The first Muslim he portrays works at a supermarket so that he can skim the registers and steal food which he then sells at his own store. And yet, when the protagonist is shown the terrorist group's indoctrination video, Inzana seems to be urging us to look at how we have brought the terrorism upon ourselves.

And so, this book is not likely to win the George W. Bush award for patriotic inspiration, either. It does not show Americans behaving significantly better than their enemies. Once Johnny falls into American custody, we see justice subverted, utterly, as CIA men give him a choice between becoming an operative in Afghanistan or being summarily executed, along with his mother. We also learn at this point that the U.S. is selling Russian weaponry to the Taliban, and that the U.S. put them in place. And yet, Inzana seems ultimately to validate things like the USA PATRIOT act and Military Tribunals by assuring us that these things are for other people.

By creating a protagonist who was basically a sociopath prior to the events narrated in the story, the child of an abusive father and a mother driven mad by said father's suicide, Inzana further advances the myth that one must be desperate and crazed to be vulnerable to recruitment. We know from the John Walker Lindh story that this is not the case. By working as hard as he does to create a protagonist most readers would have little empathy with, he gives us the assurance that this fate awaits other people, unlike ourselves. By defining the protagonist as so thoroughly Other, he contributes to the mythology that allows us to define American citizens as "enemy combatants," and deprive them of due process. The message is clear: unless you're a depraved, glue-sniffing sociopath who builds bombs for fun, you have no worries.

By the time this book reaches its inevitable conclusion, we find very little except a protagonist who has become the thing he hates most. In the end we are left with a son who can only say to his father, in the fashion of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle," "I grew up just like you, dad."
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It is generally well known that yesterday Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem. Sharon is considering how to respond. I think it best if he doesn't, because to do so relieves Abbas of responsibility for dealing with his terrorism problem. After all, if Sharon is willing to look the part of the bad guy, why shouldn't Abbas let him?

What is not so generally well known, however, is something I learned from Pacifica Networks "Free Speech Radio News" yesterday. It seems the US deported a bunch of Middle Eastern men, most of whom committed the crime of not having their papers in order while being Middle Eastern men. Among these were a number of Palestinian men. One was a father of nine, happy, i'm sure to be away from the fighting, arbitrarily separated from his family to be returned to the war-zone he fled. Another was a middle aged diabetic who went untreated while in our custody and is now blind as a result.

Now while the "Free Speech Radio" agenda of portraying Palestinian Terrorists as noble freedom fighters fighting evil Jews offends me (I prefer to couch this conflict as a war among intransigent idiots all around), I found this tidbit to be an interesting reflection on our so called "war on terrorism." We have basically held people without due process, cared for them so badly that one went blind, and then sent them back to the very place they fled.

Now not only is such cruelty inhumane, but, as is always the case with cruelty, it is bad strategy as well. These deportees will be very well received by terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah. Their stories will be canonized in their terrorist curricula and they will themselves be living proof of every anti-American sentiment. It is almost as if the administration wants to foster terrorism rather than fight it. If we do these things in the green wood, what will happen in the dry?

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