Thursday, January 22, 2015

Obama finds his voice

After watching the State of the Union address a couple of days ago, I conclude that it looks like Obama has finally found a sense of voice.  What I mean by that is that when some people speak, their words carry a certain weight, have an impact.  I think it comes from the person’s own sense of their substance, their gravitas.  For a long time, Obama seemed to have lost his voice, and seemed to be speaking as just another guy with an opinion, and all he could do was pretend to be significant but was really just hoping that others would agree.

But, now, he seems to have been freed of some self-imposed restriction, and seems to have found his voice, indeed perhaps has found himself.  I think by losing big in the 2014 elections, he has decided it was important to let people know that he was still important, still president, still a power to be reckoned with.  Plus, I think he finally has decided that he might as well be who he really is rather than try to find ways to twist himself into a pretzel trying to appease Republicans in order to get things done.  I believe he has used the veto pen remarkably seldom compared to other presidents. If he follows through on his new authenticity I expect that to change.

Very little of his proposals from the speech have any chance, but his proposals wasn’t what the speech was about. 

His speech was about presenting his vision of the future of the Democratic Party and liberalism – empower the middle class - which creates demand and grows the economy, help the poor, and stop bowing to the demands of the Oligarchy.  Pretty clear message.  Very different from the Republican vision of empower the wealthy and they will create jobs and prosperity.

This should be an interesting couple of years in D.C. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why do they do it?

Why do they do it?  The Islamic terrorists?

Is it religion?  Does their religion tell them to kill infidels, so that’s what they do?

Is it poverty and lack of opportunity?  Are there simply a bunch of young Muslim men that feel beaten down and hopeless, so they strike out at their perceived oppressors? 

Is it the brainwashing of the constant drumbeat of propaganda demonizing the West? and Jews? and Sunnis/Shia (depending on whether the young man in question is Shia/Sunni)?

Is it refusal to integrate into the new world?

I think all of the above play very important roles in creating young Muslim terrorists. But, I think there is a reason that makes more sense to me – they see themselves as defending their "countries."  This is the underlying reason, I believe, for all soldiers to fight wars. The ideologies, religions, and propagandas all add to the fervor and the justifications, but I think at the heart of battle is the love of country, or of community, or of tribe - the desire to protect what is perceived to be the homeland.  That’s why the Americans volunteer to fight, why the Europeans fought in their terrible wars, why the Vietnamese fought, ad infinitum.  And to the Muslims, the only kind of fighting that can have any effect is asymmetrical warfare, i.e. terrorism.

This reason dropped into place for me when reading an article by David Ignatius, whom I pay attention to when it comes to the Middle East.  He cites author Mark Sageman:

"The core question for Sageman is why people become radicalized in the first place. In a forthcoming book, “The Turn to Political Violence,” he argues that it’s partly because militants see themselves as soldiers defending their communities. That’s why brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi wore military outfits when they attacked the Charlie Hebdo weekly, according to Sageman. “They self-identified as soldiers and tried to play the part as they imagine soldiers act.”

The Charlie Hedbo killers thought of themselves as soldiers and carried out what they considered to be a professional, military type strike at the heart of those they saw as out to destroy their “country” – i.e. their culture, their Home.

All of the other influences create a situation of young men, and some women unfortunately, who feel alienated, shunned, outcast, adrift – people without a Home, people who don’t belong.  When they join a cause, the cause of fighting back against the terrors of change and Westernization of their cultures, lands, countries, religions, they finally find meaning for their lives, they belong to something grand and noble and larger than themselves.  They join what they believe to be a worldwide movement to spread their idea of the future across all the world.  They fight for their “country.”

This is something that I can understand. They are not so different from all soldiers across all of time.  Although they attract psychopathic brutes to join them, it makes sense to me that they are like soldiers everywhere, they are defending their "country" from invasion.

That is why I think that John McCain couldn't be more wrong when he wants to fight this with military troops in the Middle East.  Most Muslim terror strikes have been in retaliation to what the terrorists see as Western assault on their homeland.  Even Osama bin Laden said his complaint with America was the presence of America and the West in what he saw as the sacred Muslim lands - Saudi Arabia, Mecca, etc.  He wrote:

"The deployment throughout the Gulf states of U.S. forces, particularly in Saudi Arabia, he argued, is “the greatest of … aggressions incurred by the Muslims since the death of the prophet.”

So, if we don't go to the Middle East and fight there, what do we do?  We defend ourselves, of course, using our Intelligence Services, special forces, limited military support in assisting roles, but I think our main objective is to support the non-terrorist Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. I hope that Obama can resist the drumbeat of the hawks to commit troops overseas.  All we do is create more terrorists than we can possibly kill.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Islamic Inquisition

Last week's barbaric attack on a satirical magazine was a shock to France and all of the Western world - make that a shock to all of the civilized world.

It is easy to see the violent jihadist wings of Islam as evil and crazy, and to conclude that we must expand our commitment to bloody war in the middle east. But I think a little deeper thinking is required.

Very shortly after the 9/11 2001 attacks a dear friend of mine pointed out that the mighty Roman Empire was unable to stop Christianity. Even they were unable to suppress a religious movement. Indeed the slaughter of Christians only created martyrs, which strengthened the growth of the religion.

At the time I was totally in favor of our invasion of Afghanistan, and later, Iraq. Over time, however, I reluctantly grew to realize that our military effort in Iraq was only creating more terrorists than we were killing. So, I concluded that our invasion of Iraq had been a terrible mistake. I do not want to see us repeat that mistake against ISIL.

ISIL has been desperately trying to bait the United States and Europe into legitimizing and expanding their violent mission to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. We must defend ourselves of course, but I believe the tools we should use should not include being drawn into their civil wars militarily.

Islam is not the only religion that kills infidels and blasphemers. Christians did the same thing for centuries not that long ago. Unfortunately, Islam is just a few centuries behind the rest of the world.

The Spanish Inquisition lasted over 300 years, I believe. It took a lot of time for competing Christian philosophies to learn to live in peace. I wish I knew what ended the Spanish Inquisition, because that is what is needed now in Islam. (Maybe God managed to sneak in the idea that God was love, not vengeance or righteous punishment and dogma. After all, the religious at least pretend to pray to God, and maybe some of them listen in return?  That is my vision.)

If seems to me that today's bloodshed is the result of a violent war between The Sunnis and the Shia. The West is essentially collateral damage in that war as each side targets us for as part of its war against the other.  It seems to me that the west cannot settle that conflict, we can't even pick sides. We have no dog in that hunt. Our demand to both parties is that they stop killing us and that they find a way to live with tolerance for each other and for everybody else.

The main tool we have to defend ourselves is not military might, but rather modern philosophy. This is a war of ideas, not of savagery.The real war is the war of ideologies, and the West's best strategy is a powerful message of economic success coupled with emotional and spiritual fulfillment possible in the modern world.

How do we teach the intolerant to be tolerant? Demonstration is perhaps our strongest argument. We do manage to live with many religions in the West without endless bloodshed.  And we need to vigorously protect ourselves against their crazies out to slaughter infidels and blasphemers - us.