Saturday, July 28, 2007

TED Videos

I have been very disappointed with the offering on the most popular video web sites, such as YouTube, Google Video, and the like. I have attempted to browse through the "Most Popular" or "Most Discussed" offerings, and usually come away extremely disappointed. Well, I have recently discovered TED an awesome video site with many fascinating talks by some very thoughtful people. I cannot say that I agree with all the ideas of the various speakers - but that is a good thing. They make you think, they challenge your preconceived notions, and they are usually very entertaining. I highly recommend this site.

Here is one TED video that is very germane to my recent posts on Islam. The speaker discusses globalization from the perspective of memes. People often embrace memes so strongly that they are willing to die for them.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bayh, Lugar split over troop withdrawal deadline

The Indianapolis Star reported yesterday the voting record of the Indiana Congressional delegation on the failed Levin Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that would have required troop withdrawals to begin 120 days after enactment, with most troops out of Iraq by April 30. The Senate failed to come up with the two-thirds majority required to invoke cloture, hence the bill is dead.

Here is how the Hoosiers voted, according to the Star:

Evan Bayh: Yes (in support of troop withdrawl)

Richard Lugar: No

Four House Republicans: No

Brad Ellsworth (Democrat): No

Four other House Democrats: Yes

The paper reported that although Lugar opposed deadlines, he is pushing his own proposal that would require President Bush to come up with a plan to narrow the mission of U.S. troops. The paper provided the following quote from Evan Bayh on the subject of troop withdrawl...
"It is time to begin the process of extricating ourselves from Iraq," Bayh, a Democrat, said in a statement. "We need to do it in a way that leaves their country as stable as we can. We did not send our brave soldiers overseas to participate in another country's civil war."

No, we didn't. We sent them into harms way to defeat Islamic militants, and we need to keep them there until that job is done. We have in Afghanastan and Iraq dealt them a serious blow, but there is much that still needs to be done, and it will be a long time before we can bring the boys home. We still have to deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, just to name a few.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ethics Committee Whitewashes Evan Bayh Violations

Back in March we reported on the ethics complaint filed against Evan Bayh by Judicial Watch, a nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government. Judicial Watch revealed that Bayh failed to disclose his role as a director of the Evan and Susan Bayh Foundation from 2002, the year he was first named a director, until 2005, the most recent year for which this information is available. Well, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch reports today in The National Ledger
that the Senate Ethics Committee has determined that no ethics violations had occured because the omissions were an innocent oversight. From the article...

Well, Judicial Watch finally received responses from the Senate Ethics Committee as to whether or not there will be any punishments doled out for the violations. Want to take a guess at their response? If you guessed “no,” you were right. Here’s the committee’s reasoning: In both cases, the committee concluded that the omissions were “inadvertent.”

Do any of you seriously believe Clinton and Bayh simply “forgot” they served on family foundations? Highly unlikely. In the case of the Clinton Family Foundation, for example, the Clintons have been able to write off more than $5 million from their taxable personal income since its founding in 2001. That’s a hard number to ignore. Does anyone think Clinton and Bayh misunderstood the question or didn’t know they were supposed to report? I don’t think so. Here’s how the question is phrased on the forms: “Do you hold any reportable positions on or before the date of filing of the current calendar year?'" Seems pretty clear to me.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Is Islam the Enemy?

I was struck by news reports of “brainwashed” children being held by terrorists during the recent siege of the Red Mosque in Pakistan. Apparently, the mosque houses a private school where parents who desire a traditional Islamic education can send their children. All seemed well until the mosque became a hold out for Islamic militants. Then, parents and the public at large expressed shocked at the strident rhetoric of some these children (as young as 10 years old according to the report I read), who were being “held hostage” by the terrorists. The children’s statements were not only supportive of the terrorists, but they stated that were actually looking forward to the Paradise that Allah has promised for those who die while fighting for his cause.

The popular consensus was that the children had been brainwashed by the terrorists. While this may be an example of the Stockholm Syndrome (whereby captives often begin to identify with their captors) I believe that it is equally likely that the children, who by their very presence at the school indicates that they were already being indoctrinated into traditional Islam, were genuinely sympathetic to the jihad. And, as we have seen, traditional Islam is synonymous with militant Islam. Therefore, I believe that the children were predisposed to supporting both the motives and the methods of the terrorists. Indeed, many terrorist organizations establish and run schools (known as madrasahs) for the very purpose of recruiting children.

This begs the question: “Is Islam the enemy?” Are our combatants in the global war on terror just a few fringe extremists, or are we up against the world’s second largest religion? Thomas PM Barnett (TED video), the author of the highly influential book “The Pentagon’s New Map” said the following in a C-SPAN interview (C-SPAN video) that aired on October 20, 2005:

I really stress not making Islam the enemy. What I argue is there are parts of every religion that are fundamentalist, meaning they believe to be a true believer is to separate oneself from the rest of society. In the United States we have the Amish, for example. They do this peacefully. What we see in the global Salafi-jihadist movement are fundamentalists who seek separation through violent means.

This view (which I believe is the prevailing view in Washington) suggests that it is only the fundamentalist – or as Barnett sees it “separatist” – elements of Islam that mean to do us harm. In the current era of globalization there is nowhere left on the planet for a separatist to escape Western culture. So Islamic fundamentalists believe they need to defeat the West, or at the very least, halt it’s spread into their regions of the globe. Is it possible to combat fundamentalist Islam without defeating Islam as a whole? If the fundamentalists are the true Muslims - they certainly see themselves in this way, and their position seems to be supported by the Qur’an - then the enemy of the West is true Islam. To my knowledge there is no particular sect of Islam that is distinctly “separatist” (as are the Amish) and is the source for all the violence against the West. Indeed, jihad is one of the central pillars of Islam. Far from being seperatists, many Islamic fundamentalists seek to restore a global caliphate uniting all Muslims. Jihadists come from every corner of the globe, and every walk of life. This fact was vividly illustrated by the recent episode involving British medical doctors turned terrorists.

Frances Fukuyama published his classic essay "The End of History?" (PDF version) in 1989, the same year as the fall of the Soviet empire, and long before the 9/11 terror attacks. In it he contemplates whether Western liberalism had finally won out over all other competing ideologies (such as communism and fascism), and would ultimately reign supreme over all peoples of the world. In the essay, he dismissed Islam thusly:

In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance.

As Fukuyama sees it, human history is essentially the story of mankind’s ideological evolution. A variety of ideologies have been taken up and discarded by humans over the millennia. Conflicts (ie. World War II, the Cold War) have arisen amongst the various competing ideologies, and ultimately, one may defeat all competing ideologies to achieve what Fukuyama envisions as the ultimate victory -- a universal homogeneous state where all the peoples of the world embrace a single ideology. This point Fukuyama defines as the “end of history”.

As the Soviet Union imploded, Fukuyama did not see any competing ideology standing in the way of Western liberalism achieving global dominance. Indeed, the process we today call globalization is liberalism fulfilling Fukuyama’s vision of a “universal homogeneous state”. But a competing ideology has arisen. Islamic theocracies, richly funded with Persian Gulf oil money, have become a force to reckon with. They are just as incompatible with Western liberalism as the fascists and communists of yesteryear. If the Islamists choose to violently oppose globalization, then Islam is indeed the enemy.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam

I just finished reading “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades” by Robert Spencer (link). I had originally learned about Spencer when he was interviewed on C-SPAN a while back. I have checked out his Jihad Watch web site a few times, but have not followed him very closely. A friend passed the book along to me and I decided to give it a read. Like other books in the “Politically Incorrect” series, it is a relatively brief (270 pages) and easy read.

I found the book to be extremely informative. While I have not researched Islam very extensively, I have since 9/11 made an honest effort to become better informed. I have read other books, watched movies, seen TV specials, and visited web sites on the subject. The problem is that there is a great deal of conflicting information out there regarding Islam, and it’s hard to put everything together into coherent picture that helps to explain the world we live in today. After reading this book I felt I had a much stronger handle on Islam and how it relates to the “War on Terror” that we face today.

I believe the key take-home message of the book is that Islam is not just a religion, it is also a political movement. It is the fusion of religion and politics that makes Islam so volatile, and fundamentally incompatible with modern pluralistic societies. Islamic states are governed by Sharia law, a legal system based upon Muslim principles of jurisprudence that covers all aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, business, family life, and social issues. It is sharia law that gives religious leaders their political power, since they are the ultimate authority on every aspect of law. Many Muslins today seek to unite all Islam under a single global ruler, known as the caliphate. This may be thought of as the Islamic equivalent of the Catholic pope. The caliphate was abolished in 1924, and many Muslims trace their political downfall to this event. Restoration of a global Islamic leader is viewed by some as a means of regaining lost glory. The goals of jihadists is to restore the caliphate and establish supremacy of Islam in the world.

There is no “separation of church and state” in Islamic countries, the church is the state. Consequently, the modern notion of universal human rights, such as the freedom of religious expression, is nonexistent. Indeed, purely religious acts such as blasphemy, apostasy, or conversion from Islam to another religion is a capital offence under sharia law, punishable by death. Furthermore, Islamic law officially classifies non-Muslims as second-class citizens, under what is known as the dhimma. The dhimma are essentially those conditions under which non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religion. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable by death. Within Islamic states non-muslims are offered a triple choice: voluntarily convert to Islam, accept dhimmitude, or death.

Another central theme of the book is that historically, Islam has been spread by warfare. Indeed, Muhammad himself was a warrior, and he lead the charge militarily to spread his new religion as far and wide as he could. The Qur'an is unique among the sacred writings of the world in counseling its adherents to make war against unbelievers. The violence that we see today from Islamic militants is just the latest expression of this warfare. The killing of innocent non-combatants (as occurred in the World Trade Centers) is acceptable because to fight against the persecution of Muslims by any means necessary is the highest good. Other Islamic principles that help to shed light on the current conflict include:

  • Allah will grant victory to his people against foes that are superior in numbers or firepower, so long as they remain faithful to his commands. Islamic terrorists have no fear going up against seemingly insurmountable odds because they believe Allah will grant them victory. Likewise, when things go wrong, it is punishment for not being faithful to Islam. It also doesn’t hurt that Paradise is guaranteed to those who "slay and are slain" for Allah.

  • Prisoners taken in battle may be put to death at the discretion of Muslim leaders. Those who reject Islam are "the vilest of creatures" (Qur'an 98:6) and thus deserve no mercy.

  • Anyone who insults or opposes Muhammad or his people deserves a humiliating death — by beheading if possible. This is in accordance with Allah's command to "smite the necks" of the unbelievers (Qur'an 47:4).

While there are verses within the Qur’an that are more tolerant of nonbelievers, they are subject to the Islamic doctrine of abrogation (naskh). This is the idea that Allah can change or cancel what he tells Muslims. According to this idea, the violent verses of the ninth sura, including the Verse of the Sword (9:5), abrogate the peaceful verses, because they were revealed later in Muhammad's prophetic career.

While all of this may seem rather extreme, the point that Mr Spencer makes is that Islam is extreme. Because the Qur’an is believed to be the literal word of Allah as revealed to Muhammad. It is perfect, immutable, and not subject to the sort of nonliteral interpretation that has mellowed some other religions. Those Muslims that are moderate and do not follow the literal teachings of the Qur’an are not “true Muslims” in the eyes of Islam. In other words, “there are moderate Muslims but Islam itself is not moderate”, as author Ibn Warraq is quoted as saying. Mr Spencer points out that while we are told that it is only the "bad Muslims", the Wahhabis and other extremists, who are responsible for all the violence, it is these very same bad Muslims who most fervently accept, in every area of life, the actual teachings of Islam, while the more relaxed, unobservant, and above all non-literal minded Muslims who are committed to pluralism and peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims.