28 November 2008

Mumbai: Change of Tactics

So, the siege of Mumbai is winding down. Coordinated teams have shot up a town instead of hijacking planes or planting improvised explosive devices. Instead of a quick bang, they managed to disrupt Mumbai for 60 hours (not quite 3 days). They came by sea, bypassing border guards. A new tactic to watch for.

The shooters were the same types we have seen before. Young males questing for their own identity, trying to prove to themselves and their God that they are worth something. Another atrocity carried out by boys who felt themselves to be second-class.

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving and Screw the Islamofacists

O give thanks to the Lord for the Lord is good!

In this epoch of globalization it is hard to keep focussed on all the good around you when you are able to know about every nasty thing done in every far away place. The self-appointed soldiers for Islam have been at it again, shooting up hotels in Mumbai, India, and staging anti-Christian (Coptic Orthodox) riots in Cairo.

Well, screw all you who believe that you must dominate all others in the name of your religion.

I give thanks that I live in America, where I can be any kind of Christian I want, worship God as I see fit, and join in prayer and thanksgiving with American and visiting Jews, Muslims, Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., who feel so inclined.

You whose vision of God is too small to accomodate that don't know what you're missing.

17 November 2008

Style in Doctrine and Covenants

Doctrine and Covenants is one of three sacred texts unique to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The other two are the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.

One of the first things that strikes me about Doctrine and Covenants is that each entry is dated and located. If Joseph Smith were alive today, he would have posted those revelations in his blog. This sort of dynamic medium would have been in keeping with a Church that believes in ongoing revelation and an open canon.

Of course, an open canon can be pointed back at the believers, and indeed it is, as we read revelations that admonish Joseph Smith and his companions. Muslims can understand what this must have felt like, since the Qur'an contains passages that admonish the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions. In both cases the parties concerned had to deal with uncomfortable revelations that came upon them in real time.

The other thing that jumps out at me from D&C is that the language is the same as that of the Book of Mormon. That is to say, the same style of English rendering is used for revelations both ancient and modern. But then the translator of the BOM and the transcriber of D&C are the same person, Joseph Smith, Junior. Perhaps he received both the translation and the revelations as pure thought, and rendered them into the English that seemed most fitting to him. Apparently this is something like the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible, rather than the American vernacular of his day.

16 November 2008

Imported Posts

It may be hard for you to remember what it was like before the world was changed, but back in 2001 there weren't nearly as many blogs as there are today. In particular, I didn't have one. I began journaling my reactions to what eventually grew into the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) and posting them as essays in VCBC's Scriptorium.

Since they have the character of blog entries, I have now imported them into this blog with their (approximately) correct dates.

My actual first blog post here is dated 3 March 2005 and entitled, "Does God Have a Religion?"

15 November 2008

What not to do if you are a Republican

Here is a list of some things not to do if you are a Republican:

1. Speak platitudes about controlling spending and limiting government. You clowns didn't deliver when you had the chance, so why should we give you another? If you give a specific proposal or two, I'll listen. Otherwise, I may heckle.

2. Make Sarah Palin your next Presidential candidate just because she's an engaging speaker and a "Caribou Barbie." I'm fed-up with imagery. Four of the last five presidents have been long on image. I'd rate one as good and another as fair. Can we have substance, too?

3. Talk about values. I'm tired of values-talk. I want to hear concrete, achievable proposals that will implement those values. If I like a given proposal I'll support it. But you double-talking borrow-and-spenders don't get any more passes because you say you have values. In the last eight years much of your values have been negative, as measured say, by my portfolio.

4. Keep trying to take over the Federal judiciary in order to stop abortion. Abortion is only one sub-heading under a main topic called "Justice." All you have achieved is the longest backlog ever in the appointment of Federal judges, resulting in backlogs of federal cases.

5. Call for reform. You wouldn't know what to reform if it ran over you like a truck. Consider something minor, like the way Congress spends most of its effort in influence peddling rather than legislating. Or the way everyone in the US House of Representatives comes from a gerrymandered district. Together these two things paralyze our politics in a "Culture War" that serves only to distract everyone from anything too complicated. Again, specifics are welcome: tell us what you want to reform, how you want to do it, and what will be the effect of the reform. And make sure that reform starts with you.

6. Claim to be strong on defense. Military procurements can take 20 years and cost more than some of our recent wars. This is because military procurements are intimately bound up with Congressional influence peddling. And it threatens our ability to defend ourselves because it makes our defense technology unworkable, obsolete, and unaffordable. You didn't fix this when you had the chance - instead you made sure to benefit from it, as measured by contributions to your campaign coffers. I'm not saying that the Democrats didn't do it, too. But they aren't smug about being perceived as strong on defense.

7. Wrap yourselves in the mantle of religion. My favorite example of a politican who wrapped himself in his religion was Saddam Hussein. So, let's say you're a Christian. I'm glad of it. So am I. So what? There are over 2 billion Christians on earth to choose from. What I want to know is why I should vote for you.

I could go on, but it's late and my dog needs to be let out to pee. She is big, beautiful and very conservative. You may pet her, but you may not make her your standard-bearer.

14 November 2008

Fascism or Ignorance?

Here is a recent note by the Diesmeister:

As the Republican Party mulls its recent defeat and seeks the road forward, discordant notes emerge from leading conservative voices. Some have made useful calls for moderation, patience, or a refocus on core values. All of these are legitimate parts of a discourse for renewal. Amid these have appeared some articles which are either terrifying or merely tone deaf in precisely the register that presaged the most recent Republican debacle.

The National Review Online posted an article, Restoring Reaganism, by Deroy Murdock in which the author issued a call for the Republican Party to reenact a famous Nazi purge, which resulted in at least 80 deaths and 1000 arrests. Murdock wrote: “What the Republican party today badly needs is a Night of the Long Knives.” By this he meant the party should eliminate heretics from its ranks and return to the purity of conservative principles. We may charitably assume he did not advocate the actual murder of dissenting voices within party ranks.

The political merit of expelling moderate voices is dubious and the language used in this instance is reprehensible. Advocating a Night of Long Knives is terrifying for the intolerance and violence it implies. It is precisely intolerance which hung like an albatross about the neck of the Republican ticket. Does the conservative movement in America truly intend to invoke fascist images as it seeks renewal?

The timing for this article could hardly have been worse. According to the website it was posted the day after the 70th anniversary of another famous Nazi purge, Krystallnacht when about 100 Jews were killed outright and 30,000 more were sent to prison or into camps. We might forgive Mr. Murdock for not keeping a clear knowledge of important events in world history, but the editorial board of the National Review should not be excused for failing to make the connection. Surely someone must have the historical knowledge to recognize a singularly ill-timed reference.

Is the editorial board sufficiently comfortable with the images of fascism that neither the reference nor the timing struck them as ill-conceived. Given this editorial lapse will Mr. Murdock next deploy the image of Krystallnacht itself in some future paean of political wisdom?

12 November 2008

Small Groups

In my last post, I wrote about revitalizing the Church by making it more personal. The problem for those who have been (or who have yet to be) abused by clergy is that sometimes it can be too personal. Maybe one-on-one is not what our Lord and Savior has in mind.

Maybe having "love one to another," implies that the Church be organized in smaller, family or clan-sized groups. Neither anonymously corporate nor narcissistically individual. Enough of "us" that we really can afford to help each other in time of need, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and economically. Not so few of us that the fall of one can take down the group, not so many of us that we can't all know each other personally.

I wonder what that would be like. Maybe we should get back to style of the "primitive" church. Keep the corporate worship on Sunday (even though it was originally Saturday), and have the congregation break into small groups to meet in each other's houses one evening during the week for a light meal and a worship service led by whoever is hosting the group that evening. No written liturgy, no written music. Just whatever is in the memories of the group members. And the worship should include a check on how everyone is doing that week followed by a free-form mix of prayer, song, and group contemplation/discussion.

09 November 2008

How the Church Wounds its Members

Consider now the Gospel of our Lord. As he was about to be betrayed he said to his disciples:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. - John 13:34,35

But the Church has grown beyond little groups of people who met secretly in each other's houses. Back then love was real, person-to-person, because people really can love each other. Now the Church is a vast entity, composed of people who do not and cannot know each other. As such the Church members can love each other only in the abstract. The Church on earth is a corporate entity, and as I wrote earlier, corporate entities are incapable of love.

And so we have the paradox of the Church's successful growth from a threatened and insurgent movement to a triumphant organization whose global scope has shaped the arc of world history. It has grown into an entity that, as a whole, simply cannot fulfill its greatest commandment, the commandment by which all disciples of Christ should be distinguished - "that ye have love one to another." The Church can't do it as a whole.

As a whole, the Church does not have a limbic system to feel or express love. In that it is less like a mammal and more like a reptile. Or rather a serpent. The serpent rewards those whom it finds useful and at best discards those whom it finds threatening. One has only to remember what the Church once did to those deemed heretics for one example. Or the way it still tries to cow into silence survivors of sexual abuse by clergy for another.

Are we then to declare defeat by our own triumph and disband the Church, either by group decision, or by individually walking away? I think not. There is hope in the great commandment. Jesus did not say that the whole should love the part. He did not give an impossible commandment. He said "ye have love one to another."

What if the Church would recognize, in all humility, that it cannot fulfill the great commandment as a whole, and would therefore delegate the responsibility to individuals? What if, when dealing with an abuse survivor, the Bishop were under orders from the Church that he "should do what is truly loving toward this person, in the place of Christ and of His Church?"

You see, the money settlements are only a surrogate, a way of forcing the Serpent to attend to these matters. To the survivors they are just signals that the survivors have been heard. To the Serpent they are just a way of containing the damage that can be done by what have become "foreign bodies" who have enlisted the power of the State to help them.

But if instead of damage control, the Church were bent on delegating individuals to "have love one to another," the healing might begin.

And a new-yet-old way of reorganizing and revitalizing the Church might be invented.

The Corporation Cannot Love You

Do you love your company? Your government? Are you counting on either one to take care of you when the chips are down?

Think again.

According to psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, wrote a remarkable book entitled A General Theory of Love (2000), love in humans (and what behavioral psychologists call "attachment" in mammals) is mediated by the brain's limbic system. Mammals have this system, reptiles don't. That's why you can't get your pet snake to greet you as enthusiastically as your dog.

With regard to corporations they wrote:

A company has no limbic structure predisposing it to recognize its own as intrinsically valuable. People who extend fidelity and fealty to a corporate entity - legally a person and biologically a phantom - have been duped into a perilously unilateral contract.

Steeped as they are in limbic physiology, healthy people have trouble forcing their minds into the unfamiliar outline of this reptilian truth: no intrinsic restraint on harming people exists outside the limbic domain.

In other words, your corporation cannot love you. Neither can your government.

Something to bear in mind even when we elect officials of high ideals and soaring rhetoric.

07 November 2008

The Long View

Some 80,000 years ago modern humans began leaving Africa and settling the rest of the earth. We came to the end of that process only in the last century. The long term trend is for people to become ever more able to communicate and travel. The resulting homogenization is likely to culminate in the end of the nation-state as we know it.

The problem is that for the last 230 years or so, the nation-state, particularly the United States of America, has been the only earthly guarantor of individual liberty. By this I mean that we respect and enforce limits on what any group, including the nation-state, can do to any individual. (See the Bill of Rights for details.)

My solution is to be a partisan for individual civil liberty, to assert that it is a positive value for all people of all cultures and religions. My hope is that civil liberty will become so accepted and common as to be taken for granted all over the world. So that by the time the nation-state disappears, liberty will remain.

The problem is that, as the planetary society gets homogenized and crowded, as technology empowers individuals to do ever greater good or harm, as governments must therefore monitor individuals ever more closely, will we simply dumb down the concept of liberty to the point of being meaningless Newspeak?

In a free society the fundamental tension between the good of the collective and the good of the individual is never finally resolved. Going too far one way will crumble the society, and going too far the other will crush the individuals who make up the society.

And as we develop the biotechnological tools that will enable us to change what it means to be human, maintaining the balance between the individual and the collective will become ever more complicated, delicate, and difficult.

In a way, it's not my problem. I'm already middle-aged, and I have no progeny. But the rest of you will be sorry if you screw this up.

He Told Us So

See Setting the Record Straight, concerning Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the current economic meltdown.

06 November 2008

Nuclear Deterrence: A Britcom's View

First there's this:

And then there's this:

OK, they're funny. But they raise some serious questions. We'll see if the Obama Administration formulates and articulates a policy regarding the US nuclear deterrent. The Bush Administration never did, and the result was that Congress didn't approve a set of reliability, safety and surety upgrades to the US nuclear stockpile known as Reliable Replacement Warheads.

Over enough years, this will amount to dismantling our nuclear deterrent without our government making a deliberate decision to do so. Paradoxically, this will ill serve the cause of nuclear non-proliferation.

For example, if Japan were to think that it could not count on the US nuclear umbrella to protect it from China, or if Germany were to think that the US would not or could not protect it from Russia, what would they do? I think they would "go nuclear." That is, if we let our nuclear stockpile shrink without policy or plan, other countries may proliferate nuclear weapons as a response.

The question of "deterrence" is not as simple as the above Britcom videos make it seem. Deterrence needs to be seen as part of our Non-proliferation Treaty commitment to reduce the size of all the nuclear arsenals in the world, not just ours. It also needs to be set in the larger context of making world peace, not just making the it safer for conventional world war by eliminating nuclear weapons.

If it isn't obvious by now, eliminating nuclear weapons will not make peace. Making peace will eliminate nuclear weapons.

See also: Thoughts for the Nation.

The Working Rich

A New, Taxable Socioeconomic Class

You've heard about the "working poor." I would like to introduce a new socioeconomic class, the "working rich." These are people who are rich, as long as they're working. They are rich enough to pay the lion's share of the taxes in the United States, but not rich enough to buy their own politicians — and too few in number for their votes to make a difference. They are not to be confused with the rich, who are even less numerous, but who can make those big soft money donations, award those sinecures, and otherwise buy political influence, and who oppose tax cuts because (a) they've already bought their loopholes, and (b) they feel guilty about that part of their wealth that they haven't earned.

If you are not one of working rich, you still enjoy the benefit of having them work an extra 10 to 15 years so that they can fund your favorite social programs and still maintain their lifestyle in retirement. So, the next time you see someone who has worked their ass off to get and hold one of those really great jobs that pays good money, be thankful rather than envious. Whenever you want to take their money you and your fellow working non-rich citizens can tax them any way you like. You can even call it "taxing only the rich," to make yourself feel better. But the really rich won't pay a dime — that will be left to those who haven't quite made it, the working rich.

VCBC's Political Platform

A Work in Progress
2004, revised 2008

It is not enough to criticize Republicans (the party of rural districts) and Democrats (the party of urban districts). One must offer a positive agenda. I steal from both camps to gather the planks our DogPAC Political Platform, which I offer to any party that has the imagination to take them on.

Abortion. Write and pass a law providing limited use of abortion similar to the provisions of the Roe v Wade decision. This would move abortion out of the realm of mere judicial opinion, and free up the minds of Congress, the President, and the public to examine other criteria in the appointment of federal judges.

Affirmative Action. Bring it back, but base it on socio-economic class rather than race. This makes it fair, broadens its base of support, and plays to the American spirit of wanting to give the poor of any race, both native-born and immigrant, a leg-up into the middle class. To the extent that it works, it will also help poor people "buy into" middle-class American values.

Balanced Budget. Establish a feedback system for Congress and the White House in which the elected officials and their staffs forgo their pay when appropriations bills are late, and get pay cuts or bonuses depending on whether the federal budget shows a deficit or a surplus.

Bi-lingual Education. Bring it back, too, but stand it on its head. Require that every school-child demonstrate competency in at least two living natural spoken languages, one of which must be English, in order to advance beyond 6th grade. (If an immigrant kid is older than 6th grade, require that he or she demonstrate competency in English to advance beyond whatever grade he or she is in.) Use English-Immersion to teach immigrant kids (because it works best with most kids), with English-as-a-Second-Language classes available for those who want it. This will make America more immigrant-friendly: if you need a translator, just ask a kid. It will also make America more cosmopolitan — our whole population will be able to listen to and read non-English news broadcasts. We will also gain a broader class of international business people, and more people to work in foreign intelligence and defense for national security.

Defense. We need to execute the next revolution in military affairs — we need to build Thomas Barnett's "sysadmin" force that can move in and run a country after our Rumsfeldian fast strike force has knocked down its military and government. And we need to augment that force with a policy change — leave as many employees and administrators of the old system in place as possible, and supervise their training of replacements for the people that can't be left in place. We also need to change our policy of war and peace: we need to get involved in fewer wars, and to be much more forceful when we do get involved. Ever since WWII the US has fought wars by doing the moral equivalent of punching a man in the face hard enough to knock him down, and then helping him get up and waiting around until he hits us back. We need to do the equivalent of stepping on his neck, and then telling him to do what we say. This will be expensive, because we will have to invest in people - both in terms of a larger military and in terms of paying the locals until their tax base can support them.

Energy and Environment. Create a long-term bipartisan energy policy that provides progressively more energy for more Americans with fewer environmental consequences. Part of this means an all-out effort to solve two problems: the efficient conversion of sunlight to electricity, and the efficient, safe, and economical storage of hydrogen as a pollution-free fuel to power cars. How to distribute hydrogen? Don't! Distribute electricity generated from nuclear and solar power and use it to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen at the pump. That way we can cut pollution, decrease the human contribution to global climate change, and get the price of oil to fall — and as the price of oil goes down, the level of freedom in the Arab world will go up (because the governments there will have to turn to their populaces for money), which in turn will improve the quality of Islam and the peace of the world.

Free Trade. US jobs go overseas not because US wages are too high, but because non-US wages are too low. The American Labor Movement needs to internationalize itself and organize labor worldwide. The US government may be able to smooth the way a little, but the drive must come from labor itself.

Health care. Streamline the laws, regulations and procedures in order to reduce the administrative overhead costs of health care, and to reduce the time and cost of the process to develop, approve and distribute new medications. We need to develop a free market in health care by making most health-care outcome statistics (by facility, by practitioner) easily accessible public knowledge. We also need to develop an "assigned risk pool" in which all health-care insurers must participate in order to do business in this country. And yes, it needs to cover the cost of health care and mental health care for the indigent, the working poor, and aliens, legal and otherwise. It's just bad public health policy to let groups of people be sick — i.e., reservoirs for emerging diseases. We should also develop a list of diseases endemic to the developing world, that major pharmaceutical companies must work to cure or prevent, in order to participate in the US market, and encourage all other countries to do the same. Also, a technical detail: we need to develop a uniform electronic medical care record that will follow a person anywhere in the world.

Homeland Security. Let's encourage cities to figure out how to help neighborhoods defend themselves (with the aid of the police and other departments) and use federal funds to propagate the successful models (community policing, Neighborhood Watch, etc.). Let us reinforce the practice of busting local criminals on local charges who may be involved in supporting or committing terrorism. We also need to leverage work to reduce the consequences of natural disasters (epidemics, etc.) to "shrink the targets" we present to international terrorists.

Homelessness. Put more money and people into setting up and running group homes with psychiatric and social services. This is what we said we would do in the 1950s when we began shutting down large state-run mental institutions. We did not follow through. The result was a surge in both the homeless and the prison populations. Of course we would need to require that residents get and stay clean of drugs and alcohol.

Illegal Drugs. Legalize them just like we legalized alcohol, in order to drain the profit out of the drug trade. But create a "bottom tier" of health care for people who are addicted to them. This would emphasize drug and alcohol rehab and palliative care, the goal being to minimize the lifetime cost of care.

Immigration. We need to work with the government of Mexico to create a special status that recognizes and helps the population that washes back and forth across the US-Mexico border. We also need to work with US and Mexican employment agencies to arrange transportation, housing and employment for temporary (or guest) workers. That way the employment agencies pocket the money that currently goes to criminal organizations that smuggle people into the US. In other words, we should try to regulate the flow of immigration, which could be profitable for all concerned, rather than to stop it, which could be both costly and impossible.

Nuclear Weapons. We need to recognize that the abolition of nuclear weapons will not make peace, rather, making peace will lead to the abolition of nuclear weapons. To test this proposition, let's start by working to end the decades old state of war on the Korean peninsula. And until there is peace on earth, let us commit to keeping the US nuclear arsenal safe, secure, and sustainable.

Space. Return the US space program to exploring our solar system using robots and space-based robotic telescopes. Redirect the manned space program to spend most of its efort developing (both internally at NASA and externally by means of grants and competitions) a way to get humans safely to Low Earth Orbit and back to the ground for less than $100 US per pound of body weight. This would re-vitalize space science, spur developments in robotics, and make manned space exploration commercially viable.

Welfare to Work. Its a great idea for many people, but let's streamline it so that it gets people on their economic feet without wasting their time trying to figure out the bureaucracy. Let's also make sure that the bureaucracy provides "one-stop-shopping" for access to all the support a prospective or beginning wage-earner needs: including but not limited to child and elder care, health care, help with managing and planning finances, arranging transportation, social services, psychological services, marriage counseling, parenting counseling, drug rehabilitation services, etc. Let's remove all disincentives to getting and staying married, while we are at it.

05 November 2008

President Obama, Bearing our Hope

I have had my apprehensions about Barack Obama becoming President of the United States. He has run as the candidate upon whom we can project almost whatever hopes (or fears) we want. Sort of like a more intellectual and aware Chauncey Gardner from the movie Being There.

But I listened to his acceptance speech, and I saw Jesse Jackson genuinely teary-eyed. Forty years ago Jackson was close by when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Forty-four years ago black people were not able to exercise their right to vote in many parts of the country. Back then a common theme of the Civil Rights Movement was the song whose words included, "We shall overcome some day."

In Barack Obama's election to the presidency, that day is dawning.

I can only hope that Mr. Obama will be as great a president as his rhetoric indicates he means to be. I hope he is better than both his supporters and his detractors can imagine. But whatever happens politically, his election has to improve the sociology of this country. Children of color now have another real hero in whose footsteps they might hope to follow. And that has to be a very good thing for all of us.

03 November 2008

Yes on 11: Anti-Gerrymandering

On the ballot in California is Proposition 11, an attempt to take the drawing of state legislative districts out of the hands of elected legislators. Instead an independent commission would draw up the boundaries.

Look, it's not a perfect proposition. But our current system amounts to the foxes guarding the henhouse. Our legislators draw up the district boundaries to keep themselves in power. It's called gerrymandering, and it is a crime against your liberty and your right to have your vote count for something.

Take a look at the various district boundaries. And if you're in California, vote YES on prop 11.

If we don't fix the gerrymandering problem, our esteemed representatives will have little motivation to fix anything else of importance.

A Religion of Second-Class Boys

Review: The Islamist
Why I joined radical Islam in Britain,
what I saw inside and why I left

Ed Husain
Beware of extremism in religion; for it was extremism in religion that destroyed those who went before you. — The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
In contrast to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Ed Husain was born into Islam, and raised by his parents (first generation immigrants from India and Bangladesh to the UK) with a good foundation in traditional Islamic spirituality. They followed a well-established spiritual teacher, who had followed a teacher before him, and so on, ostensibly back to the Prophet and his Companions. His earliest secular educational experiences also seem to have been pleasant, thanks to liberal "colour-blind" British schoolmarms. But to many "native" Brits, including some of his schoolmates, he was still a bespectacled "Paki." He did not "fit in." Neither did he fit in with the Bollywood enamored Bangladeshi boys at his next school. Fitting in with one's peers is the externalization of the inward quest for identity. When one is young "Who am I?" and "Who will have me?" are two faces of the same coin. The coin which with you can be seduced to sell your soul.

Ed decided to strike out in his own direction. He asked his school if he could study Religious Education after hours to learn more about Islam. Eventually a sympathetic Church of England British teacher took on the project using as a text Islam: Beliefs and Teachings by Gulam Sawar. It contained a remarkable passage, which Ed quotes
Religion and politics are one and the same in Islam. They are intertwined. We already know that Islam is a complete system of life ... Just as Islam teaches us how to pray, fast, py charity and perform the Haj, it also teaches us how to form a state, run a government, elect councillors and members of parliament, make treaties, and conduct business and commerce.
This text was still being widely used in the UK as a "moderate" textbook, and the opinion voiced in the above paragraph is taken as obvious truth by the UK and Western press generally. But Ed, a born Muslim, was surprised by this paragraph when he first read it, and would later be able to de-bunk it. It turns out that Sawar was not a religious scholar, but a business management lecturer, and a sympathizer with if not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamat-e-Islami, two radical Islamist organizations dedicated to the establishment of a world-wide "Islamic State." Such a concept is touted as being straight from the Prophet and his Companions, but it is really a graft from Marxism onto Islamic Fundamentalism, which is itself bida, a modern innovation in reaction against modernity.

Under the influence of Brother Falik, the first real friend he ever had, Ed joins a mosque that has been taken over, "colonized" as it were, by Jamat-e-Islami, to the horror of his traditionalist Muslim parents. The method of colonization relied on the innocent sounding Young Muslim Organization. No pious bearded old men to interfere here - just cadres of activist youth organizing events to proselytize for the radical Islamism of the Jamat-e-Islami. JI's intellectual founder is Abdul Ala Mawdudi, a Pakistani journalist, who "translated the Koran according to his own whims, without reference to or within the paradigm of classical Muslim scholarship." Mawdudi "rebranded" Islam as an ideology instead of a religion, and founded the JI to market his concept. It has since sold well to Muslim youth, who in their adolescent rebellion against their parents and their societies, are received into radical Islam.

In college, Ed left Falik and Jamat-e-Islami to join the even more militant Hisb-ut-Tahrir, which is organized into small cells, like the European Red Brigades of the 1970s and 1980s. Ed describes how the Hizb use Marxist agitation-propaganda techniques to colonize other Muslim organizations, all the while using innocent sounding names and never their own. Banned in Pakistan and the Middle East for its violence-inciting rhetoric, Hisb ut Tahrir and organizations like it flourish in the free societies they condemn. (They see the Western concept of indifidual freedom as sin, an exaltation of self-will over God's will.) The Hisb, it turns out draws its inspiration from works by Hasan al-Banna, Syed Qutb and others who elaborated on Mawdudi. None of these men is a recognized Islamic scholar, and all of them knowingly or unknowingly grafted onto Islam categories of nihlist and anti-rationalist thought they absorbed from the West that they hated so much.

Ed's journey out of radical Islam bgan with a murder committed by one of his radical friends. His internal moral sense (which radical Islamists denigrate - how dare you judge God!) caused him to be repelled by the actuality of the violence his own rhetoric extolled. Gradually, he comes under the influence of real Islamic scholars and historians, and returns to the traditional Islam of his parents. Sojourns in Syria and Saudi Arabia confirm to him the misery of existence in societies that approximate the "Islamic State." He also discovers his Britishness: all his life he had taken basic human rights and basic fairness for granted, out of habit. British habit, it turns out.

Ed ends up discovering his own identity as simultaneously authentically Muslim and authentically British. He thus embodies Islam augmented not by the worst ideas of the West, but by the best. Like liberal democracy and freedom of religion, including the freedom of Muslims to be Muslim as inspired by God rather than as dictated by some self-aggrandizing "authority."
Ultimately, identity is the central theme of Ed's journey into and out of radical Islam. He had formed a youthful identity as a second-class Brit, and was drawn to radical Islam's promise to make him instantly a first-class citizen of the nascent Islamic State. Thus he exposes radical Islamism as a religion of second-class boys.

02 November 2008

No on 8: Let Gays Marry

There is a ballot proposition in California that, if passed, will attempt to nullify California's state Supreme Court decision to recognize same-gender marriages. First, even if it passes, it will probably be ruled unconstitutional by the same court. But more importantly, extending the legal protections and obligations of marriage to same-gender unions is a way of protecting the children these people have adopted. Or did you not know that adoption by same-gender couples is legal?

So, until someone can convince me that someone else's same-gender marriage in any way diminishes or demeans my thirty-plus year different-gender marriage, I will vote NO on Proposition 8 and anything like it. And I don't want some theoretical argument - I want a step-by-step demonstration of the mechanism by which my marriage will be so diminished or demeaned.

01 November 2008

It Takes a Tribe to Raise a Teen

I remember Hillary Rodham Clinton asserting that, "It takes a village to raise a child." And various right-wing commentators saying "No, it takes a family."

I have a alternate aphorism. It takes a tribe.

From infancy to adolescence the formative unit in the child's experience is indeed the family. But modern society progressively dis-empowers the family with regard to controlling the child's reality. First there are public and private schools, which teach in loco parentis, in the place of the parents. Unless you home-school, the state begins driving a wedge between your experience and your child's in Kindergarten.

This was not much of a problem in small, insular communities where everyone knew everyone else, and mothers stayed home. The gossip network was all it took to keep tabs on your kids. And your informal network of acquaintances, from neighbors to the police, could give a lot of support when it came to discipline. But, in parallel with the feminist movement's successful integration of women into the workplace came the economic necessity for families to do so. The result was that in the 1980's an anti-drug slogan circulated asking, "It's five o'clock - do you know where your children are?" Families began losing their grip on their kids at earlier and earlier ages.

As this was going on, technology made possible a mass media-culture, which promptly mutated into the world's first mass youth-culture. Youth-culture provided an identity-group, a tribe, in which adolescents could do what adolescents must always do - develop an identity that is their own instead of their parents'. Their first way-station to becoming their own persons is the tribe. The tribe used to be local, civil society, which exerted a powerful influence toward adopting the values that would sustain civil society, which were more or less the values of the parents.

But the youth-culture offered a tribe that had more tenuous connections to society-sustaining values. And then, another technological revolution brought the fragmentation of mass-media and mass-culture. Now you can see a group of ten kids with ten iPods listening to ten different genres of music at the same time. As there are now a plethora of music genres, there are a plethora of youth cultures, sub-tribes waiting to receive the adolescent, to be consumed by the adolescent, to reward the adolescent for consumption, and eventually to consume the adolescent. The result is the relative (to past history) dis-enfranchisement of parents when it comes to shaping the development of their adolescent children.

Some of these sub-tribes are beneficial or at least benign. Some are not, like criminal gangs, extremist groups, and radical-religious terrorist cells. In their combination of false confidence that they know what they are doing and their fear of being rejected by their chosen tribe, adolescents are primed by nature to fall prey to seductive yet superficial ideologies. Ideologies that offer a quick fix to the problems of identity and maturity: help kill the Zionist occupiers and be a man, kill them yourself and be a hero, get killed killing them and be a martyr.

What civil society lacks is a deliberate and lengthy "tribal" initiation into adulthood. To the extent that we fail to provide it, our kids will find tribes of their own. And some of them are profoundly uncivil.

I write these thoughts in the abstract, but I have a concrete example in mind. It is the autobiography of Ed Husain, a British-born Muslim of Indian/Pakistani descent, entitled The Islamist, reviewed here.