“Faith-Based Fanatics”: The Ancient Struggle Of My God Versus Your God Is At The Root Of Dozens Of Atrocities
He’s had a busy summer. As God only knows, he was summoned to slaughter in the Holy Land, asked to end the killings of Muslims by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, and played both sides again in the 1,400-year-old dispute over the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad.
In between, not much down time. Yes, the World Cup was fun, and God chose to mess with His Holinesses, pitting the team from Pope Francis’s Argentina against Germany, home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Well played, even if the better pope lost.
At least Rick Perry was not his usual time-suck. The governor proclaimed three days of prayer to end the Texas drought in 2011, saying, “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this.’ ” The drought got worse. Two years ago, Perry said that God had not “changed his mind” about same-sex marriage. But the states have. Since Perry became a spokesman for the deity, the map of legalized gay marriage in America has expanded by 50 percent.
Still, these are pillow feathers in a world weighted down with misery. God is on a rampage in 2014, a bit like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another.
It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert. Of 1,723 armed conflicts documented in the three-volume “Encyclopedia of Wars,” only 123, or less than 7 percent, involved a religious cause. Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s bloody purges and Pol Pot’s mass murders certainly make the case that state-sanctioned killings do not need the invocation of a higher power to succeed.
But this year, the ancient struggle of My God versus Your God is at the root of dozens of atrocities, giving pause to the optimists among us (myself included) who believe that while the arc of enlightenment is long, it still bends toward the better.
In the name of God and hate, Sunnis are killing Shiites in Iraq, and vice versa. A jihadist militia, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, boasts of beheading other Muslims while ordering women to essentially live in caves, faces covered, minds closed. The two sides of a single faith have been sorting it out in that blood-caked land, with long periods of peace, since the year 632. Don’t expect it to end soon. A majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful, but a Pew Survey found that 40 percent of Sunnis do not think Shiites are proper Muslims.
Elsewhere, a handful of failed states are seeing carnage over some variant of the seventh-century dispute. And the rage that moved Hamas to lob rockets on birthday parties in Tel Aviv, and Israelis to kill children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza, has its roots in the spiritual superiority of extremists on both sides.
The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery.
The current intra-religious fights are not to be confused with people who fly airplanes into buildings, or shoot up innocents while shouting “God is great.” But those killers most assuredly believed that their reward for murder is heaven.
Of late, God has taken a long break from Ireland, such a small country for such a big fight between worshipers under the same cross. There, the animus is not so much theological as it is historical. If the curious Muslim is wondering why Protestants and Catholics can’t just get along on that lovely island, take a look at the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, when about 20 percent of the population of present-day Germany fell to clashes between the two branches of Christianity.
Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.
And so do Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.
In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.
By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, July 18, 2014
Remember back in childhood how, whenever a melee erupted on the playground or in a backyard, mothers, fathers or teachers would suddenly emerge to pull wrestling bodies apart while some sweaty kid, with pointed fingers and glaring eyes, would caterwaul, “But he started it!”? That familiar, blurted defense was intended to justify the chaos and fisticuffs, rationalize the bullying and bloody noses, and, usually, it didn’t work.
Because instead of reacting as the finger-pointing child hoped, most intelligent adults would respond along the lines of (and this was my mother’s favorite rejoinder): “I don’t care who started it! I just want to know which one of you is going to end it?” And from there heads hung, consequences were meted, and we’d be on our way, grumbling about how unfair life was.
Yet our parents’ wisdom in understanding that who “started it” was irrelevant to the goal of peace was actually a highly evolved concept pulled right from the tenets of higher consciousness thinking, philosophy that seeks to transcend our biological response to aggression and adversity. Unfortunately, the persistence of human beings to assert that who “started it” matters terribly (with results that usually are terrible), is, in fact, the flawed rationale behind why rockets are blowing up families in the Middle East and passenger planes are being shot out of the sky in service to the Ukraine/Russian skirmish. We are a world beset by tragedy and trauma motivated by the battle cry, “they started it!” and… it’s killing us.
While many question who exactly shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 (according to the latest it was Russian-backed separatists), and media, social and otherwise, is aflame with heated discussions of who’s more right or wrong in the Middle East, there’s no end to the spectrum of finger pointing to be found. Charles Krauthammer’s “Moral Clarity In Gaza” was posted on Facebook today with an assertion that it defined who, at least, “started it,” but my own thought was: does that really matter at this point? Hasn’t the never-ending reality of war proven that defining who “started it” has no bearing on the impact and tragedy of the escalation beyond that inception?
But we continue to go round and round, century after century, for time immemorial, ripping each other to shreds with pointed fingers, bombs and rockets, terrorism and intolerance, in support of nationalism, ethnicity and religion, defended and justified by who “started it.” Seems we’ve not gotten much beyond our schoolyard defenses… except now the costs are so much more grave.
In response to the current state of warring humanity, l can’t help but ponder an oft-asked and existential question: what is a human being? Apart from our ethnic, national, religious and sexual background, what, really, are we? If one has a religious or spiritual bent (and isn’t religion most often cited for our historical attachment to war and violence?), doesn’t one embrace the doctrine that every human is a spirit, has a soul, or is in some way an energy or essence that transcends the physical self? If so, doesn’t it follow that, beyond life, as one transitions to whatever is next, the spirit shakes off those physical identities we hold so dear and fight for so viciously? And if that’s true (and if one has spiritual belief one typically believes some measure of that is true), then it also follows that, in fact, and beyond where we landed on this planet at birth, we are all, truly and irrevocably, made of the same stuff, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion. If human beings — particularly those who would kill or die for their religious or national affiliation — instead embraced that spiritual philosophy of oneness, wouldn’t peace, then, be possible?
Certainly it should be. But history tells us peace is the greatest uphill battle. Because the invisible hand of religion, national and ethnic pride, and that unfortunate human impulse to, instead of turning a cheek, push when pushed, shoot when shot at, or rush to the killing field to decimate an enemy rather than negotiate a peace, keeps our warring factions ratcheting to higher and higher levels of discord and devastation. Strange how religious tenets of harmony and oneness are never the rallying cry of those who kill in religion’s name.
It doesn’t really matter who started it, whichever it we’re talking about. If it’s one side this time, it’s another the next. The anatomy of feuds, combat, war and strife depends on enflaming our differences — nationalities, religions, ethnicities – instead of honoring our shared humanity. And until someone on one side or the other finds the humility and wisdom to not shoot back, not point fingers, and not allow ancient wounds and animosities to persistently preempt peace, the human right to pursue happiness and raise our children in health and safety will never be a reality for some in some parts of the world. And that is unacceptable.
Our parents were right… it only matters who ends it. So let’s stop talking about “moral clarity,” and “who’s at fault this time.” Just tell me who will end it. That’s the only analysis I want to hear.
By: Lorraine Devon Wilke, The Huffington Post Blog, July 19, 2014
“The Realities Of Modern Warfare”: Why ‘We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists’ No Longer Holds Up As Policy
Like so many Americans, I have spent the past few days assimilating as much information as possible regarding the circumstances involving the ‘player trade’ that will bring Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home to the United States while five terrorists check out of Gitmo and make their way to freedom in Qatar.
While there seems to be no end to the ‘angles’ to be considered in attempting to reach a conclusion as to the propriety—both long term and short term—of the deal, increasingly I find that one of our more culturally ingrained and instantly accepted axioms has been challenged by this case and turns out to be a position that cannot—and should not—be allowed to govern our behavior in the future.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
This is a sentence that few would challenge for all the obvious reasons—but one that has never really been true, despite the preposterous statement made by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wherein he suggested that the President’s deal to retrieve Bergdahl ends the chapter in American history where we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
In 2007, a British IT consultant named Peter Moore, who had been captured in Baghdad by Shiite militiamen who ambushed Moore and his bodyguards, was freed after some 900 days in captivity. Sadly, only Moore would ultimately survive the experience as the terrorists murdered the remaining four members of his party.
To secure Moore’s release, the U.S. government agreed to free Qais al-Khazali who had previously served as a spokesman for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (remember him?). We had, most assuredly, negotiated with terrorists to arrange for Moore’s release and handed over a high value detainee in the process.
Note that Mr. Moore was a civilian—not military—and yet we freed a high value terrorists as the price for the freedom of an American captive.
In 1985, the Reagan administration used the Israelis to ‘front’ a deal (not unlike how we have used the Qataris in the instance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl) whereby the Israelis freed 700 prisoners in trade for Americans that were taken captive on a hijacked TWA flight.
And then, of course, there is the whole Iran-Contra thing.
These are but a few examples of the secret dealing with terrorists that has long taken place.
But should we be following this rule more rigorously?
On it’s face, the notion of not negotiating with terrorists is a sensible proposition. When one choses to reward evil behavior by giving the bad guys what they want, it is reasonable to anticipate that these bad guys—and others like them—will continue their horrendous acts of violence knowing that there may well be a prize in it for them.
To that end, there is simply no getting around the fact that trading five supposedly high-value terrorists (there is disagreement as to how effective the released prisoners will be given their age and time out of the battle) for one unpopular U.S. serviceman may very well encourage others with ill intent to take more American soldiers from the battlefield and hold them for trade—not to mention civilians, diplomats or whomever.
However, where this accepted rule of thumb that demands no negotiating with terrorists comes into serious conflict with the reality of modern warfare is when it comes to members of our military who fight these wars.
Few would dispute that it is a fundamental mission of the U.S. military to do all it humanly can to avoid leaving any American combatant behind. This principle of warfare was, at one time, an easy one to grasp—if sometimes hard to execute—at a time when warfare involved a clash between nations fought by soldiers in the uniform of the nation they serve.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 5, 2014
“Rand Paul Is A Deeply Cynical Politician”: It’s Hard To Spot The Conviction But The Hypocrisy Is Evident
When Washingtonians refer to Rand Paul as a different breed of politician than his father, they generally mean it in a good way. The implication is that he is more pragmatic and tactical (probably more tactful, too); that his worldview has broader appeal. Whereas Ron Paul is way too much of a crank to ever have a shot of winning the GOP presidential nomination, Rand increasingly looks like a contender.
But whatever you might think about the elder Paul, you can say this for him: He is not cynical. He is a conviction politician, however repugnant some of us may find his convictions. The younger Paul? Well, he certainly styles himself a man of conviction. But at this point in his presidential quest, it’s getting hard to say for sure.
Take this story on Rand Paul’s “evolving” foreign policy views in Saturday’s New York Times. The premise of the piece is that Paul is being somewhat unfairly attacked by the hawkish wing of his party, whose members often fail to see the distinction between his father’s isolationism and his more nuanced brand of non-interventionism. As evidence, the piece adduces this rather eye-catching data point:
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a close associate of [GOP mega-donor Sheldon] Adelson’s, said that when he pressed Mr. Paul to explain his position on aid to Israel in a recent meeting in the senator’s Washington office, Mr. Klein left reassured. “He said if there was a vote and for any reason it seemed like it was actually going to be close, he would vote for it,” Mr. Klein said.
So, if Klein’s account is correct (and the Times presumably ran it by Senator Paul), what we have is as follows: Paul’s public position is that we should cut off all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, which he dubbed “welfare” back in 2011. But if Paul were ever in a position to end aid to Israel—which is to say, the only time his personal position would really matter—he would abandon that position, and instead vote to ensure that the aid continues.
I’m not sure I can think of a more irresponsible position. If Rand Paul thinks aid to Israel is truly important, then it’s deeply cynical to badmouth that aid simply because bad-mouthing appeals to the type of voter he’s courting. And if he thinks aid to Israel is irredeemably wasteful, then it’s deeply cynical to fink out when given the opportunity to roll it back. Either way, it’s hard to spot the conviction here.
In fairness, Paul did try to resolve this tension at another event, telling the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition that, in the Times’ paraphrasing, “while he would eventually like to terminate all foreign aid, he knew that would not be realistic now.” The most charitable interpretation of this riff is that Paul would like to cut off aid as soon as possible, but realizes you can’t do it abruptly without triggering major blowback among U.S. allies that would damage our standing around the world. That would indeed speak to his pragmatism.
But this interpretation seems like a stretch given that Paul’s comments appear to have been a lot less coherent than that, or at least less specific. “You could see he was a work in progress,” former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who attended the meeting, told the Times. Instead, it’s hard to avoid the impression that Paul is simply trying to reassure neoconservatives that he’ll be with them on the issue they care about most, but without junking a big source of his political appeal. That’s not an “evolution.” It’s hypocrisy.
By: Norm Scheiber, The New Republic, May 26, 2014