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“Our Lead Exhibit”: Trump Proves Ignorance Doesn’t Matter Much

Our question for the day: Does ignorance matter?

Our lead exhibit — you will not be shocked to hear this — is Donald Trump.

Last week, the billionaire real estate mogul who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination stumbled over a question about terrorism from conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Specifically, he was forced to admit that he could not identify the leaders of Hezbollah and al Qaeda, among other terrorist organizations.

There is a pattern for how Trump reacts when cornered, and he was true to it last week. First, he made the usual vague, grandiose promises about how effective he will be once in office (“I will be so good at the military, your head will spin. … I’m a delegator. … I find absolutely great people and I’ll find them in our armed services”). Then he attempted to kill the messenger, bashing Hewitt on Twitter as a “very low-ratings talk-show host” and a “3rd-rate gotcha guy.”

As has also become part of the pattern, a gaffe that might have totaled another candidate’s campaign seems to have not even scratched the paint on this one. Or, as a Politico headline put it: “Trump bluffs past another crisis.” Indeed, Trump has come to resemble nothing so much as a real world “Sebastian Shaw” — a Marvel Comics supervillian who gets stronger every time you hit him.

After insulting Mexicans, insulting his rivals and insulting Fox “News” personality Megyn Kelly with a tasteless jibe that he claimed wasn’t about menstruation, though it transparently was, Trump continues to lead all contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Nor is the ignorance of world affairs he betrayed on Hewitt’s show likely to change that.

It’s a fact that speaks volumes about the present state of the Grand Old Party. This is, after all, now the third presidential election cycle in a row in which one of its stars has shown him or herself to be spectacularly clueless on some relatively simple question of presidential readiness.

There is a straight line from Saran Palin in 2008 — unable to give coherent answers to questions about the economy, foreign policy and her own reading habits — to Herman Cain hemming and hawing and shifting in his chair in 2011 when asked about Libya, to Trump bristling and pouting because he was quizzed about major figures in Middle East terrorism.

One is reminded of the old political axiom that people want a president they could imagine having a beer with. And that’s fine. But you’d think they would also want to imagine him or her being able to find North Korea on a map. And, in the last few years, there have been some political contenders and pretenders you suspect could not do it even if you spotted them a hemisphere.

Since when did running for president become a reality show? How does Trump or anyone else figure that a presidential candidate should not be asked hard questions? And what does it say about us that fundamental ignorance about things a president should know does not automatically disqualify one from credibly contending for that office?

Perhaps it says that some of us want the world to be simple, and that they want a president who will not ask them to think too deeply, nor proffer any policy prescription too complex to fit on a bumper sticker.

Perhaps it says that some of us embrace an extremist resistance to social change and are willing to support whoever promises most loudly to drag the country back to an imagined yesterday of purity and strength.

But the world is not simple and never was. And yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.

Does ignorance matter? Well, Donald Trump is still the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

So obviously, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it should.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Paradox Of Fundamentalism”: In Its Most Extreme Forms, The Religious Pushback Is Genuinely Frightening

The rise of fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy has taken much of the West by surprise. But the shock is not limited to the world’s well-off democracies.

For most of the 20th century, secular and usually left-leaning advocates of national liberation in the Third World fought twin battles: against Western colonialism, and against what they saw as the “backward” and “passive” religious traditionalists among their own people.

Suddenly, those supposedly backward believers are no longer passive. They are fighting to reimpose the faiths of their forebears. And in its most extreme forms, the religious pushback is genuinely frightening. That the Islamic State is, in certain respects, even more extreme than al Qaeda justifies our alarm.

Ultra-orthodoxy in more benign forms is also on the rise in democratic countries with long traditions of religious tolerance. Marx derided religion as an opiate that was destined to fade away. What happened to make faith one of the most dynamic forces in the world?

The political philosopher Michael Walzer has spent an exemplary life grappling with the intellectual mysteries at the crossroads of modernity, religion, democracy and justice. His latest book, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, examines the history and trajectory of national liberation movements in Israel, India, and Algeria. It could hardly be better timed. It asks why the secular revolutionaries, far from marginalizing religion to the private sphere through what they saw as “consciousness raising,” actually produced a backlash, calling forth often radical forms of religious assertion.

National liberation, he writes, “is a secularizing, modernizing, and developmental creed.” Its champions seek not only to free their countries from colonization but also to free their own people from what they see as the burdens of old religious understandings.

The people are not always eager to go along. “Raising consciousness is a persuasive enterprise,” Walzer writes, “but it quickly turns into a cultural war between the liberators and what we can call the traditionalists.”

Many who rose against colonial rule were themselves shaped by ideas first propagated in the lands of their colonial masters — France in the case of Algeria, Britain in India and Israel. The new leaders were simultaneously opposed to Western imperialism and avid westernizers within their own societies.

“I am the last Englishman to rule in India,” Jawaharlal Nehru, the father of Indian independence, told John Kenneth Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador to India in the Kennedy years. Indeed, Nehru was a product of some of Britain’s finest upper-class institutions — the Harrow school; Trinity College, Cambridge; and the Inns of Court.

Thus, while secularizing leaders were generally on the left, they were often viewed by the traditionalist, religious masses as elitists. Religious revivals that followed independence, Walzer writes, “were fueled by the resentment that ordinary people, pursuing their customary ways, felt toward those secularizing and modernizing elites, with their foreign ideas, their patronizing attitudes, and their big projects.”

One of the many virtues of Walzer’s subtlety is that he helps us understand that while the ideologies of today’s fundamentalists and ultra-orthodox are rooted in ancient or medieval ideas, these movements are, in a peculiar way, thoroughly modern. Their resistance to secularization “soon becomes ideological and therefore also new: fundamentalism and ultra-orthodoxy are both modernist reactions to attempts at modernist transformation.”

Reactionary religious politics was, in part, a response to the governing failures of secular ideologues who had been inspired by various forms of nationalism and socialism. But even where secularists succeeded in building working societies (Israel and India), their ideologies lacked the deep cultural roots capable of inspiring the same level of loyalty religious commitments can command. And so, over time, Walzer writes, young people “drifted away, moving toward the excitements of global pop culture or toward the fervency of religious revival.”

Walzer is too good a philosopher to write a simple handbook for a liberal revival. Instead, he outlines a useful long-term project: Liberationists should continue to press for religious reform, but they also need to reform themselves by engaging seriously with the religious traditions of the people they propose to liberate.

This means challenging religious reactionaries for their support of various forms of oppression, notably the subjugation of women, and maintaining a strong defense of democracy and free expression. But it also means engaging traditions from the inside, taking into account their contributions and ending the cycle of pure acceptance or pure rejection of religious insight.

In battling extreme religious orthodoxy, liberal secularists will be more successful if they embrace a certain wariness of their own orthodoxies.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 3, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | Fundamentalism, National Liberation, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Calling Them Out”: Rand Paul Is Pushing The GOP To Confront Its Terrorism Problem. Too Bad The Other 2016 Candidates Won’t Listen

Any time there’s a genuine difference of opinion concerning a policy issue within a presidential primary it’s worthy of note, even if there’s only one candidate standing apart from the others. Rand Paul may be the one you’d expect would dissent from his peers when it comes to foreign policy, but he nevertheless surprised many when he said on Wednesday that it was his own party that bore responsibility for the rise of ISIS.

When asked on Morning Joe how he’d respond to attacks from foreign policy hawks like Lindsey Graham, Paul responded, “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of these arms were snatched up by ISIS.” He even tied his Republican colleagues to the despised Hillary Clinton: “ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya, they just wanted more of it.”

Whatever you think of the particulars of Paul’s analysis, his charges probably aren’t going to go over too well in a party where the consensus is that everything in Iraq was going swimmingly until Barack Obama came in and mucked it all up. Jeb Bush spoke for the other candidates when he recently said, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.” As it happens, neither of those assertions is even remotely true. But the fact that Paul is making the claims he is means Republicans might have to grapple with the substance of an alternative perspective on ISIS in particular and terrorism in general.

The prevailing view among Republicans is that the most important thing when confronting terrorism is, as with all foreign policy questions, strength. If you are strong, any problem can be solved. Likewise, all failures come from weakness. Barack Obama fails because he is weak (and also because he hates America, but that’s another story).

Rand Paul, even in his unsophisticated way, is saying something fundamentally different: Strength not only isn’t enough, sometimes it can make things worse. Seemingly alone among the Republican candidates, he realizes that there’s such a thing as unintended consequences. You can have all the strength in the world — as, for all intents and purposes, the U.S. military does — and still find events not working out the way you want.

One might think that the experience of the last decade and a half would have taught us all that. In justifying their support for the Iraq War, Republicans will often say that “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” as though it were self-evident that conditions improve once you remove a brutal dictator. But it’s not at all clear that that’s true — Saddam is gone, but a couple hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed, a corrupt sectarian government in Baghdad allowed ISIS to take hold, Iran’s strength in the region was enhanced — all things that the architects of the Iraq War either didn’t consider or thought wouldn’t happen.

ISIS itself offers a demonstration of a common unintended consequence terrorism analysts have been talking about for a while, which is that a strategy aimed at decapitating terrorist groups can actually produce more violence. When one leader is killed, his successor feels the need to prove his mettle by expanding the group’s ambitions and increasing its level of brutality. ISIS started out as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; after Zarqawi was killed by an American airstrike, an action hailed at the time as a great victory, the group not only didn’t disappear, it evolved into the ISIS we see today.

Yet to hear most of the Republicans tell it, all we need to solve the problem is strength. They quote action heroes as though there might be some genuine insight from Hollywood B-movies on how to combat terrorism. “Have you seen the movie Taken?” says Marco Rubio. “Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.'” Or Rick Santorum: “They want to bring back a 7th-century version of jihad. So here’s my suggestion: We load up our bombers, and we bomb them back to the 7th century.” So strong.

Yet when it comes time to say what specifically they would do about ISIS or Syria if they were to become president, the candidates grow suddenly vague. It’s almost as though, the tough talk notwithstanding, they know that getting into too much detail about the policy challenge will inevitably force them to confront the possibility that saying they’ll be strong doesn’t quite answer the question.

Perhaps on a debate stage a few months from now, Rand Paul will manage to get his opponents to address that possibility. Or maybe they’ll be able to just give a look of steely resolve, quote a movie they saw, get an ovation from the crowd, and move on.


By: Paul Waldman, The Week, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Swaggering Idiot Returns”: George W. Bush Emerges From Artistic Exile To Rehab His Disastrous Legacy

Arguably the best thing George W. Bush ever did for his party was to keep quiet in the years following his presidency. Winning elections in a political environment shaped by Bush’s legacy – a bloody and unpopular conflict in Iraq and a cratering economy – was difficult enough. The last thing Republicans needed was W. out in the public eye smirking and drawling about staying the course. So he exiled himself to the ranch in Crawford and took up painting.

But Bush’s political hermit act couldn’t last forever. His brother’s likely entrance into the 2016 presidential race guaranteed that we’d hear from him sooner rather than later, and it’s only natural that after years of self-imposed silence, Bush would feel the urge to get out there and talk politics again. And so this past weekend, Bush spoke to a Republican donor conference in Las Vegas about the Middle East and served up some harsh critiques of his successor’s foreign policy. It was classic Bush, in that he seemingly refused to consider for even a moment that much of what we’re dealing with in the Middle East are the unintended consequences of his own epic policy failures.

According to a transcript of Bush’s remarks provided to Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin, Bush came down hard on Barack Obama for ruining all the good work he and his administration had done in Iraq:

Bush then went into a detailed criticism of Obama’s policies in fighting the Islamic State and dealing with the chaos in Iraq. On Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2011, he quoted Senator Lindsey Graham calling it a “strategic blunder.” Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw those troops, but the idea had been to negotiate a new status of forces agreement to keep U.S. forces there past 2011. The Obama administration tried and failed to negotiate such an agreement.

It was a “strategic blunder,” according to Bush, because he’d made everything right in Iraq with the surge, which he offered up as a great example of commander-in-chiefing: “When the plan wasn’t working in Iraq,” Bush said, “we changed.”

That’s a sanitized retelling of how the surge came about. The “plan” in Iraq had not been working for years, as evidenced by the ever-rising death tolls of American troops and Iraqi civilians. But Bush, as you might recall, was something of a stubborn man, and he stuck with the “plan,” insisting all along that it was working, even as the country fell apart before our eyes. Also, anyone who questioned the “plan” was immediately slimed by Bush, Karl Rove, and/or Dick Cheney as a traitorous, terrorist-appeasing, cut-and-run coward. The surge happened in 2007, four years after the war had begun and shortly after the political damage wrought by “staying the course” had cost the Republicans control of Congress in 2006.

And the surge itself failed to accomplish its primary goal of enabling political reconciliation amongst the factions within the Iraqi government. The regime the Bush administration left in Iraq was hopelessly corrupt and presided over by a wannabe authoritarian strongman who repressed Iraqi Sunnis to consolidate his own power. But according to Bush, forcing the Iraqis to agree to a residual force of a couple of thousand U.S. troops would have kept the sectarian government in line and kept a lid on the violence – a fanciful notion that was contradicted by the entire history of the Iraq war up to that point.

Bush also had a few words on the bad hombres of the Islamic State:

Bush said he views the rise of the Islamic State as al-Qaeda’s “second act” and that they may have changed the name but that murdering innocents is still the favored tactic. He defended his own administration’s handling of terrorism, noting that the terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was captured on his watch: “Just remember the guy who slit Danny Pearl’s throat is in Gitmo, and now they’re doing it on TV.”

The Islamic State and Al Qaeda are actually two distinct entities who don’t like each other all that much, but if we must go by this dodgy framework, then the Islamic State is actually Al Qaeda’s third act. The first act was just plain old Al Qaeda. The second act was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist until George W. Bush invaded Iraq and gave regular Al Qaeda the chance to set up a new franchise. The Islamic State grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the group’s sophistication owes much to the fact that the Bush administration disbanded Saddam Hussein’s army and made freelancers out of Hussein’s intelligence officers, who took their talents to the various jihadist movements.

Anyway, one could go on and on in this vein. It’s silly to think that Bush would ever cop to the enduring failures of his disastrous Iraq adventure, but he at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Now he’s out there defending the Bush record and letting it be known that he’s very concerned about how all the catastrophes he helped author are playing out.


By: Simon Maloy, Salon, April 27, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, George W Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Defines Islam In America?”: Muslims Must Learn To Define Themselves

You may have heard by now about the event over the weekend where more than 1,000 Muslims joined hands and formed a “peace ring” around a synagogue in Oslo, Norway in sub-zero temperatures. Why? Because the Muslims in that city wanted to make it clear they oppose anti-Semitism. As one of the Muslim organizers, Zeeshan Abdullah, explained: “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

So with the Muslims standing side by side with Jews, Norway’s chief Rabbi Michael Melchior sang the traditional song marking the end of the Sabbath. The head of Norway’s Jewish community organization, Ervin Kohn, added, “It is unique that Muslims stand to this degree against anti-Semitism and that fills us with hope… particularly as it’s a grassroots movement of young Muslims.”

This was truly an inspirational event. One that helps define Islam accurately, as opposed to the way ISIS and al Qaeda are striving to define the faith.

This story, happily, did end up going viral. But another story about Muslims this weekend made bigger headlines and top-lined media websites across the country. That was the threat made by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab that it was targeting shopping malls in North America, including the Mall of America in Minneapolis. The Norway event got loads of play in social media, and to some extent the traditional media. But the mall threat was top-of-the-hour news everywhere.

And that is a perfect example to explain who defines Islam in America: The media. The adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” can be updated to “If threatens to cause bleeding, it leads.” So a story about Muslims doing what Islam calls for doesn’t hold a candle to one where Muslims act in violation of the faith is glorified.

We constantly see wall-to-wall coverage of the tiny percent of bad Muslims. Keep in mind that if ISIS is truly 30,000 fighters that means it represents .02 percent of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. We are talking less than a third of 1 percent of Muslims.

Yet our media barely covers the stories about the other 99.98 percent of Muslims. How often have you seen segments in the news about the interfaith work in the United States, such as the efforts of Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali? Or Muslim groups denouncing terrorism, or even stories about the millions of other Muslims simply living their lives?

Here’s another example of the media defining Islam more than the faith does. Last week, The Atlantic ran a front-page story telling readers: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” The article’s conclusion was based on interviews with a handful of extremist Muslims, including Anjem Choudary, a person with no following of note and who has been continually denounced by mainstream Muslim leaders.

This would be the equivalent of relying on the Christian pastor in Arizona who in December called for the mass killing of all gays, which he claimed is mandated by the Bible, as revealing what Christianity is truly about.

Still the Atlantic story was extensively covered in media in the framework of being accurate. However, when over 120 Islamic scholars and clerics released a letter in September detailing in specificity how the actions of ISIS—such as beheading aid workers and forcing conversion to Islam—violated the principles of Islam, that received far less media attention.

Same goes for when Muslims are killed by terrorists. In the Charlie Hebdo attack, the police officer we saw shot and killed while lying wounded on the sidewalk was Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim who gave his life defending freedom of expression. While some media outlets covered that angle, it was a minor part of the story. The result is that the two terrorists defined Islam far more than Merabet.

And while our media rightly covered the recent despicable murder of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS, why don’t we see similar coverage of the literally daily slaughtering of Muslims by ISIS? The media’s failure to cover the Muslim men, women, and children killed by ISIS furthers the narrative that this is a war by Islam against the West, as opposed to what it truly is: ISIS versus everyone, Muslims included (and indeed on the front lines), who won’t submit to them.

While we hear other minority groups in the United States also bemoan the media’s obsession with covering their worst examples, the Muslim American community is unique. We are far more dependent upon the media in defining who we are since we are tiny, clocking in at about 1 to 2 percent of our nation’s population. And only 38 percent of Americans, per a Pew poll released last summer, actually know a Muslim.

So what can be done to change the media’s coverage? Well, complaining might have a slight impact, but I doubt it will change much.

But I did learn a valuable lesson this weekend. I tweeted out the article about the Muslims in Oslo, which ultimately made its way to Rush Limbaugh’s younger brother, David. (He’s also conservative.) He then tweeted out the link to the story with the words: “Bravo. Credit where credit is due” and included the link to the story. In turn, others shared the story.

The lesson is that to change media coverage, we, Muslims, need to strategically plan how to attract media coverage in a way that enables us to tell people what we are truly about. To date, we have focused on denouncing terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. But that isn’t working. First, not many people hear it because the media barely covers press events of Muslims condemning terrorism.

But more importantly, simply focusing on telling people what we are not does little to define who we are. Consequently, many of our fellow Americans don’t know what Islam is truly about and have no way of knowing that the terrorists are the exception, not the norm. We must change that.

True, it’s unlikely we can eclipse the coverage of the terrorists given the business model of the media. But perhaps we can at least create a counter narrative that chips away little by little at the inaccurate image created by the terrorists. I know that is a tall order, but it’s better than simply complaining and hoping things will change for the better.


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 24, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Media, Muslims | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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