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“The GOP’s Islamic State Bluster”: As Far As The GOP Field Is Concerned, Generosity Of Spirit Is For Losers

The impact of the Paris attacks on the Republican presidential race may turn out to be minimal, especially since the establishment candidates aren’t making any more sense than outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Theoretically, a deadly rampage by Islamic State terrorists ought to make Republican voters think twice about presidential hopefuls who have zero experience in government and no expertise in foreign or military affairs. But the contenders who hold or held high office are offering little more than bellicose rhetoric and overblown pledges of toughness.

Not that it’s easy to match Trump for hyperbole. “Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country,” he said on Twitter. “Who knows who they are — some could be ISIS. Is our president insane?”

But Chris Christie, who should know better, went not just over the top but around the bend. He said all Syrian refugees should be turned away, including “orphans under 5.” As governor of New Jersey, maybe he’ll order a security sweep of the Garden State’s elementary school playgrounds.

For the record, Syrian refugees are not “pouring” into the United States. There’s hardly even a trickle: Since the civil war began, slightly more than 2,000 refugees have been admitted. Compare our meager total with the estimated 2 million Syrians taking refuge in Turkey or the hundreds of thousands flooding into Europe. Boosting the number to 10,000 over the next year, as Obama plans, would still mean that the U.S. contribution to alleviating one of the worst refugee crises since World War II doesn’t amount to a drop in the bucket. I could describe in detail the lengthy pre-entry vetting process, which can take up to two years, but why bother? As far as the GOP field is concerned, generosity of spirit is for losers.

Carson’s response to the Islamic State is, unsurprisingly, vague and off-the-wall. He wrote an op-ed in The Post calling for a military strategy virtually identical to President Obama’s, augmented by “a multi-pronged communications strategy that leverages our strengths in media production and messaging, combined with cutting off traditional access routes to social media for radical Islamist groups.” He seems to mean we should create a really cool smartphone app.

But Marco Rubio, too, called for a dramatic escalation in social-media warfare. He said Sunday that “where we strike them, we capture or kill their leaders, we videotape the operations, we publicize them, because this is a group that heavily uses propaganda to attract fighters and donors from around the world.” And John Kasich proposed a new government agency to promote “Judeo-Christian Western values” to the world.

Lindsey Graham had the best response to Kasich’s brainstorm: “I think that was the Crusades.”

Jeb Bush, the ultimate establishment candidate, seemed to sense both opportunity and peril. “The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force,” he said in a speech Wednesday. “Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air — and on the ground.”

Coming from anyone else, those words might strike Republican voters as tough and sober. Coming from a candidate named Bush, however, they could portend a geopolitical blunder of historic proportions. Perhaps that is why Bush is vague on how many U.S. ground troops he would send and what they would do, saying he would rely on the judgment of the professional soldiers advising him.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because all the establishment GOP candidates pledge to rely on the generals to tell them how many troops to send. Obama says he follows the generals’ counsel, too.

Rogue candidate Trump, of course, needs no advice. He says he will “bomb the [expletive] out of [ISIS],” applauds the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing the same and vows to destroy the oil fields that provide much of the Islamic State’s wealth.

He says all of this in typically bombastic fashion. His claim that he will “win” by sheer force of personality is deeply unserious. But the actual policies he rants about may resonate with GOP voters: Rely on air power, get other countries to put troops on the ground, take no chances with refugees, talk really tough.

Two new polls of New Hampshire Republicans, conducted since the Paris attacks by WBUR of Boston and Fox News, show that Rubio may be doing a little better in that state and Carson a little worse. But Trump remains far ahead of the pack. Plus ça change.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 19, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Religious Fundamentalists Are Losing”: Overall, The World’s Faithful Are Becoming More Open-Minded And Liberal, Not Less

This past weekend, over 2,500 Mormons showed up en masse outside the Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to submit their resignations to the church. They were protesting a new decree excluding wedded same-sex couples from the church and granting baptism to the children of gay couples only if the children disavow their parents. As one devout Mormon put it in expressing her disappointment with the policy: “I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward slowly.”

Her statement encapsulates the current paradox of religious extremism: How is it that as humanity as a whole seems to be evolving to be more inclusive and less dogmatic in general, certain religious strains are doubling in their extremism? It’s possible to conceive of kernels of extremism as intrinsic within particular faith traditions. But it’s also possible to understand the current rise of extremism as a reactionary backlash against the overall liberalization of faith.

“We live in a world where every single person is challenging everything, where every single person has a voice” Amanullah De Sondy told me. De Sondy is a senior lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork (Ireland) and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

“The extremists want conformity and detest plurality and differences. Being different, being an individual who states that it is their individual relationship with the divine is a huge challenge to those who want the strict order of organizing society.”

Put another way, strict religious ideology requires strict conformity, and people aren’t confirming anymore.

Between 2007 and 2014 in the United States alone, the portion of the population that identified itself as Christian declined by 7.8 percent. During the same period, the percent who consider themselves Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or some other non-Christian faith increased by 1.2 percent—still not enough to keep pace with the overall population growth of 7.9 percent during the same period.

The most significant shift came from the increase in those who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or otherwise unaffiliated (an overall increase of 6.7 percent). Within this shifting landscape, the United States reached its lowest level of religiosity since 1952.

The phenomenon is similar in Europe. According to data culled by the Islam in Europe blog:

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there [is] also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they’ve lived in their new homeland for some time.

So how is it that in the face of declining religiosity, we nonetheless find ourselves swept up in almost unprecedented magnitudes of religious struggle—from the brutality of Daesh (as ISIS hates being called) in Paris and throughout the Middle East, or the far less extreme yet still perpetual hostility of Christian fundamentalists toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?

“The three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have groups that espouse some type of eschatology, or belief about the end of time,” says Valerie C. Cooper, associate professor of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “Among these groups, eschatological fears that the end times are near may be stoked by perceptions that the group is being persecuted.”

That sense of persecution can come from the fact of declining religiosity. Or, say, a war being launched against an entire religion—whether it’s the supposed “War on Christmas” or a kind of “War on Islam” that some on the far right call for.

In this context, it’s reasonable to interpret any surge in fundamentalism within a given denomination as a reactionary backlash to the overall trend of liberalization. In Islam, for instance, “Many believers continue to believe in God but not in the place of worship,” says De Sondy. “Even if they don’t go and tender a resignation letter, they attend the Mosque and listen but at some level have checked out and do something different outside.”

De Sondy cites as an example the increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Muslims outside formal religious structures—akin to the demonstration made by rank and file Mormons. These shifting beliefs seriously challenge the orthodox structures and ideas of the faiths, says De Sondy.

And so, unable to propagate their narrow view through ideological cohesion alone, dogma resorts to force—in mild forms like pro-discrimination laws against LGBT people pushed by Christian extremists in the United States, or murderous forms like the brutality of Daesh, which is disproportionately used to punish other “unfaithful” Muslims.

In fact, like other fundamentalist religious groups in this era, Daesh is overreacting to a shifting global climate in which its ideas are increasingly marginalized. The trick to defeating Deash is to see for what it is—a desperate backlash by a declining ideology.


By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Mormons, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Amnesia Peddled As Blithe Counter-History”: Ben Carson Is Wrong About The Holocaust; Jews Did Fight Back

Wolf Blitzer, the improbably named CNN personality, is no one’s idea of an adroit interviewer. His questions have a certain Dada quality, strings of declarative fragments that seem to have been cut and pasted at random. Ben Carson, the suddenly notable presidential candidate, is a slightly better interviewee, if only because, if you can get past his sleepily anodyne delivery, he is almost guaranteed to say something oblivious, terrifying, or both. Carson’s campaign is Your Older Relative’s Facebook timeline, a series of utterly fantastic claims and propositions presented as the commonest sense. It seemed unlikely that Blitzer, in a Thursday interview, would shake anything loose that wasn’t already rattling around under the hood of the Carson express.

So it came as a surprise when the Internet lit up with word that Blitzer had nabbed Carson’s most improbable claim yet, that “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.” But Thursday was not the first time Carson has made this claim.

One of the weirder rituals of the American presidential campaign is the production of the campaign book. These tend to be widely purchased but little read. Their titles echo lyrics of patriotic songs or pull-quotes from historic American oratory. They’re little more than invitations to cable news bookers who would’ve booked the candidates for interviews anyway. Well, Wolf’s producers actually combed through A More Perfect Union, Carson’s latest epistle to the American people, and they discovered the claim that one of the foundations of the Holocaust was civil disarmament.

Whatever else he may be, Ben Carson is not a rigorous thinker, and it’s unlikely he paused to clarify in his own mind whether it was all Germans who would’ve martialed a civic militia to sweep Hitler from power or just Germany’s Jews who would’ve shot their way to freedom like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The notion that private gun ownership prevents tyranny is more an article of faith than a thesis statement. It is worth noting that Hitler’s actual attempt at an armed putsch failed, and the Nazis only later came to power through democratic, parliamentary means. If it’s no longer in vogue to say that all Germans were “Hitler’s willing executioners,” then it’s still fair to note that the Nazis swiftly and effectively consolidated their power and achieved broad support in their country.

But Carson’s comments, thoughtless or no, touch on a troubling undercurrent in the popular Western mythology of the Holocaust: the notion of the Jews as universally passive victims who did not resist their own destruction. This image is amplified in the sentimental portrayals of the Holocaust in so much of our film and media, in which the Jewish victims of the Nazi killing machine are urban, intellectual, and assimilated: city people who would never own a gun or fight back. The shopkeepers and intellectuals and small industrialists are rounded up and packed off to their doom. At best, they hide, or some Schindler saves them.

Eastern Europe, in this narrative, remains vast and undifferentiated. That Jews, cosmopolitan and rural alike, did resist remains unremarked. This serves the American self-image as the singular vanquisher of Hitler’s regime, which was unstoppable and inexorable until our boys made the beachhead at Omaha. But, though it failed and was overwhelmed, there was active resistance in Nazi-conquered Europe throughout the war, and Jews were among the resisters. We do remember the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but we forget that there was armed resistance throughout the ghettos of Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, more than one hundred instances in all. There were uprisings in the camps, in Treblinka and Sobibor and eventually in Auschwitz. Jews fought among partisan resisters in almost every country in occupied Europe. They formed their own partisan resistance groups, like the Bielski partisans in occupied Poland (now Belarus), often facing both German and Soviet forces.

This resistance was not successful. It reveals the lie in Carson’s real central claim. Armed citizens could not prevail against the might of the Wehrmacht. It required the combined power of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler, and even then at the cost of tens of millions of lives. But it also reveals the hateful and frankly anti-Semitic assumption that the Jews of Europe stumbled meekly to their own slaughter.

A grim irony is that the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom was blamed on a Jew with a gun. Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish-German Jew living in Paris, upon learning of the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany, bought a gun and bullets (quite legally), went to the German embassy, and assassinated the diplomat Ernst vom Rath. (An additional irony: Rath, though an anti-Semite himself, had expressed regret at the treatment and suffering of Jews.) A citizen with a gun became one of the gross pretexts on which the Nazis began their Final Solution.

As a Jew, I find it uncommonly disturbing to be treated as a delicate historical artifact that must be preserved under armed guard at all times. There are many Jews, and many kinds of Jews. To reduce us to no more than the point of our almost-destruction and then display us forever as a cautionary tale is worse even than hatred—it’s contempt. And using the Holocaust as a debating point in America’s endless Second Amendment tussle is bad enough without the additional implication that mass extermination is just the sort of thing that happens to people who don’t ammo-up and fight back. Ben Carson likely won’t become president, and we will all feel better about laughing on Twitter at his inanity. But there is a very real problem with amnesia peddled as blithe counter-history. It isn’t disarmament, after all, that makes history repeat, but forgetfulness.


By: Jacob Bacharach, The New Republic, October 9, 2015

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Holocaust, Jews | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“To The Sinners In Congress”: Pope Francis isn’t A Liberal. He’s Something More Radical: A Christian Humanist

Pope Francis is causing quite the stir these days.

On Tuesday he will make his first trip to the United States, where he’ll preach the existential urgency of climate change and the moral imperative of economic inequality to a Republican Congress that would probably prefer he talk about abortion and marriage. Conservatives worldwide are upset that Francis is allowing priests to absolve women who repent for an abortion and has “vandalized” marriage by making it easier for Catholics to get their marriages annulled.

In July, Gallup reported that the pope’s favorability among American self-described conservative Catholics had dropped to 45 percent, from 72 percent a year earlier. “This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality,” Gallup said, noting that these are “all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.”

But just because some conservatives are upset with Pope Francis, that doesn’t mean that he’s a liberal. He isn’t, really, politically or religiously.

He is a reformer, and he is shaking things up in a church that had experienced theological and institutional continuity for 35 years under Pope John Paul II, elected in 1978, and Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s doctrinal right hand from 1982 until his own elevation to supreme pontiff in 2005.

Francis boldly promotes some policies that make conservatives uncomfortable. But the Pope Francis revolution is probably best described as humanist — and that makes it a much bigger challenge to Catholics in the West, both conservative and liberal.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Francis is a secular humanist, or capital-h Humanist, by any means. Instead, let’s call him a Christian humanist, defining that as one who cares about human beings more than ecclesiastical considerations.

That might sound like secular balderdash, but it’s actually a phrase coined by Pope Benedict. “Christian humanism,” he wrote in the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), “enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open toward our brothers and sisters and toward an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” Benedict explicitly borrowed the idea from Pope Paul VI.

Pope Francis has taken the idea of Christian humanism and put it into practice, with a big smile. He is concerned with the welfare of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly, but he is much more concerned with what the Catholic Church calls the “mystical body of Christ” — that is, the people who make up the Christian church.

There are plenty of examples.

His groundbreaking encyclical on climate change, Laudato Sí (“Praise Be to You”), for one, is a stern rebuke to humanity — that includes industrialist polluters, but also voracious consumers and even environmentalists — for turning the Earth into “an immense pile of filth.” But he intrinsically pairs ecology and social justice, arguing that efforts to save the planet “must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Then there’s the pope’s modification of church law to make it easier to get broken marriages annulled, which, Vatican Radio says, is rooted in the core principle of “salus animarum — the salvation of souls.” Catholics whose marriages fail — especially in poorer countries, where annulments are expensive and hard to come by — should be shown mercy and love, encouraged and allowed to fully participate in the sacramental life of the church, whenever possible.

But probably the most illuminating example — the one that shows Francis putting the needs of humanity firmly above the parochial concerns of the church — has to do with the Christian character of Europe.

Pope Benedict, before he retired, fought tooth and nail to keep Europe anchored in Christianity. In 2007, after the European Parliament rejected including references to God and Christianity in the European Constitution, Benedict chastised European lawmakers. How can EU governments “exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify?” Benedict asked. “Does not this unique form of apostasy of itself, even before God, lead [Europe] to doubt its very identity?”

Pope Francis has not only ignored the issue, he has pleaded with Catholics — and, in fact, all Europeans — to personally house the masses of mostly Muslim migrants seeking refuge in the EU.

The surge of humanity from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya will make Europe more Muslim and less Christian, as some European politicians have noted caustically. But the preeminent Christian leader in Europe is begging Europeans to open their doors, anyway. And in the case of Catholic religious orders, he is more than pleading: He is ordering them to utilize their unused convent and monastery rooms to house refugees, unless they want to start paying property taxes. The Holy See has already chosen two families of migrants to stay in the Vatican, the pope said, and they are welcome to remain “as long as the Lord wants.”

If you think that the church focusing on migrants isn’t novel, you wouldn’t be wrong. Pope Benedict said it was “impossible to remain silent” on the issue of refugee camps in 2008 (years before the refugee camps were in Europe). And, back in 1985, John Paul II said the fact that a migrant “is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership to the human family.” In the U.S., the Catholic Church has long advocated for the rights of immigrants — though the big waves of immigrants in the 20th century were largely Catholic.

But that’s the point of the Pope Francis revolution — it’s not really about new ideas, it’s about what the Catholic Church truly focuses on and where it leads by example. Francis isn’t just visiting the sinners in the U.S. Congress, he’s also visiting the sinners in prison, as well as children, hard laborers, refugees, and other demographics the Bible says that Jesus paid attention to.

Ostentatiously living a more humble papacy, determinedly mingling with the disenfranchised and downtrodden, radically (for the Catholic Church) putting the laity at the center of church solicitude: This is the change Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. It is making lots of people uncomfortable. Honestly, any Catholic that doesn’t feel challenged by Francis’ subversive papacy probably isn’t paying enough attention.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, calls Francis “an equal opportunity disturber,” noting that “when we listen to some things he says, we smile; as we listen to other things he says, we bristle.” But, he added, “Jesus was like that, remember?”

It’s pretty clear Pope Francis does.


By: Peter Weber, The Week, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Church, Christianity, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“American Exceptionalism In A Nutshell”: We Think “Freedom” Is Just Another Word For “Packing Heat”

Well, Donald Trump finally said something I agree with 100%:

Here’s what I said about gun rights and American Exceptionalism back in July when the president told the BBC that his inability to enact reasonable gun regulations was his greatest frustration:

Any British audience would be puzzled by this phenomenon, but then the Brits aren’t exactly freedom-loving, are they?

Well, actually they are, as are people in a lot of other advanced countries where there’s no expectation of any right to set oneself up as a private army.

And that gets to one of the roots of the ideology of “American exceptionalism.” If you compare the U.S. to other nations where there are reasonably solid traditions of self-government, respect for law, and democratic accountability, in what respect do we enjoy more “liberty?” When people tearfully sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m proud to be an American,” what do they mean when they say “at least I know I’m free,” as compared, say, to a Canadian? The only thing readily identifiable is our unique freedom to pack heat. And so long as that is thought to be integral to American identity, and protected by powerful and wealthy interest groups, including maybe one-and-a-half major political parties, then efforts to take the most reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of potential shooters will continue to be “frustrated.”

I love my country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I sure wish fewer of us thought of “freedom” as just another word for packing heat, and even fewer thought they had the right to stockpile weapons in case they decide it’s necessary to overthrow the government and impose their will on the rest of us.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 18, 2015

September 20, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Freedom, Gun Regulations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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