Wednesday, December 31, 2008

(Allegedly) Christian Terrorists? Yes, They Exist

Not all terrorists are Muslims. Some say they are Christians: and may really believe that they are.

Murder in the Church

Quite a number of people were hacked to death in a Catholic church in the eastern part of Congo, the day after Christmas. The Ugandan army says that an outfit called Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA. The LRA, perhaps sensing that murder in a church isn't all that appealing to many, says they didn't.

The LRA says that it wants to establish a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments - and cuts the lips off people who don't agree.

From what I've read, the LRA is just as Christian as the KKK - and as big an embarrassment.

Christians, Kooks, and the War on Terror

As I've written before, "I prefer to let people define themselves." If someone says he or she's a Christian - or a Muslim - or whatever - I probably won't say, "no, you're not." I may, however, point out ways in which their statements or actions don't match what people expect from Christianity, Islam, or whatever.

I still prefer to believe that "Islam is a peaceful religion." One reason I can keep hoping that this is (in some cases) true is that Islam seems to depend heavily on local culture for its beliefs. In a situation like that, it's no surprise that Islam has its own Tony Alamos and LRAs.

Who knows? The destructive zeal of Hamas and Al Qaeda might encourage some Muslims to take a serious look at what they believe - and who they support.

In the news: Background:

Iranian Newspaper Calls Hamas Terrorists, Gets Banned

First, a Palestinian president blames Hamas for setting off death and destruction in the Gaza strip.

Now, an Iranian newspaper (accidentally) prints a piece which says that Hamas is a terrorist organization - just because it hides behind civilians.

Sure, the newspaper has been banned, and there's probably a fatwa or two ordering the death of President Mahmoud Abbas: but I'm still impressed that anybody in such a staunchly 'Islamic' part of the world would suggest that an organization dedicated to wiping Israel off the map isn't acting properly.

Iran's Well-Regulated Press and Criticism of Hamas

The chief of domestic media at Iran's culture ministry, Mohammad Parvizi, told IRNA that the Kargozaran newspaper was banned. Iran's government has a perfectly good reason for turning the reformist paper over to the courts.

Mohammad Parvizi said the ban was ordered because of "a piece yesterday which justifies the Zionist regime's crimes against humanity in Gaza and portrays the Palestinian resistance as terrorists who cause the deaths of children and civilians by taking up position in kindergartens and hospitals." (AFP)

The ban may be temporary. Turns out, publishing the piece was a mistake in more ways than one. Kargozaran's director, Morteza Sajadian, said that the offending piece written by the Office to Consolidate Unity, a radical pro-reform student group.

"The statement was not supposed to be carried, it was mistakenly printed," Sajadian told AFP. He hopes the ban will be temporary. (AFP)

Cracks in 'Islamic' Unity - and It's About Time

I've written before about the wildly different versions of Islam practiced around the world. I get the impression that many Muslims don't think it's polite - or safe - to suggest that killing Jews and other non-Muslims might not be nice.

Can't say that I blame them. It can feel awkward, criticizing someone who claims to share your beliefs.

On the other hand, the excesses of groups like Hamas may be an opportunity for Muslims to decide whether they want Islam to be a respectable major religion, or a weird and destructive atavism from the seventh century.

Related Posts: In the news:

India, Mumbai, and the Pakistan Connection: Following Facts

I've gotten the impression that quite a few Indians are convinced that America is shielding Pakistan from the India's righteous wrath over the Mumbai attack. After all, it's been (just) over a month since terrorists killed people and set fire to buildings in Mumbai.

"Obviously," it was the work of Pakistan's LeT: and Pakistan must be punished.

Equally "obviously," it was the work of Hindu terrorists, bent on disrupting upcoming elections and/or deflecting attention from their own naughtiness. That point of view doesn't seem as common, though.

If the American government had not gotten involved in the investigation of the Mumbai attack, that would have been proof of America's apathy: or that America was shielding Pakistan. Or Hindu terrorists.

As it is, America is presumably guilty of dragging its feet over admitting the obvious guilt of Pakistan:
"It was meant to be a swift and airtight investigative effort after India opened all doors of cooperation with US investigators. As it turns out, a convinced US did ask Pakistan for access to Lashkar-e-Toiba operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and communications in-charge Zarar Shah but has heard nothing positive on the request, leaving India frustrated and disappointed."

India, Mumbai, Pakistan: 'My Mind is Made Up, Don't Confuse Me With the Facts'

After the 9/11 attacks, it was 'obvious' that Saudi Arabia was involved:
  • By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, there were strong indications that "Saudi militant Osama bin Laden" was behind the attack
  • Lots of Saudi Nationals left America, after
    • National airspace re-opened on September 13, 2001
    • Being checked by the FBI
  • All but four of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia
    • At least, they had the names of Saudi nationals
Evidence didn't show that the House of Saud was involved, although bizarre pronouncements by Saudi clerics - some of them high-ranking officials - make suspicion of Saudi involvement plausible.
Suspicions Aren't Facts
It's one thing to suspect that Hindu fanatics set fire to the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai and killed a key government official. Proving it is another matter.

In fact, testimony by the surviving terrorist, a telephone number stored in a cell phone's memory, and other evidence, points to Pakistani territory, and the LeT. Not Hindu extremists.

Pakistan, the LeT, ISI, and a Reality Check

India is, in my opinion, a stable democracy. Pakistan is not. There's a civilian government in Pakistan that might eventually succeed in getting control of the country's military, and the territories now run by tribal leaders. I think the odds are good that, with some help, a Pakistani civilian government might cut off the ISI's independent sources of revenue and bring that intelligence agency under civilian control.

But right now, there are quite a few different 'Pakistans' - the one presumably controlled by the elected civilian government, the one that the military runs, and the ISI - that's been described as a "state within a state."

American investigators got communications intercepts - and a confession from Zarar Shah, a top LeT leader - that may prove LeT involvement in the Mumbai attack. Americans turned evidence over to Pakistani authorities, and the American government is leaning on Pakistan's to cooperate with Indian authorities.
Trusting Feelings vs. Following Evidence
I'm sure it's not as emotionally satisfying to some as nuking Islamabad would be: but America doesn't work that way. Even the "unilateral" invasion of Iraq was based on evidence that clearly indicated a WMD program. The equipment and weapons haven't been found. They may not exist, or they may have been hidden. There's a fair amount of undeveloped, open, landin Iraq.

The coalition could have waited to see what cities Saddam Hussein destroyed first, but they decided to act. It may have been just as well. Very few Iraqis miss Hussein's rule, apart from a minority who benefited from it. And, apparently, one shoe-throwing reporter.

I can understand feeling deeply in one's heart, that Pakistan - the whole country - is responsible for the Mumbai attacks. But feelings aren't facts.

Even if India did decide to attack Pakistan, and the conflict ended in a regional nuclear war: wouldn't it be nice if the decision to devastate two countries was based on something besides somebody's feelings?

Better yet, wouldn't it be nice if India's government behave like the stable democracy it is, and be willing to allow a serious investigation to run its course?

Happily, that's what seems to be happening.

India and Minorities: Some Good May Come from Mumbai's Loss

Judging from an op-ed piece, some Indians are considering the possibility that India's policies - official and otherwise - toward minorities may not be ideal.

As long as this introspection doesn't descend into the simple abuse that some of America's 'serious thinkers' indulge in, I think that India's people and government might benefit from a serious and practical look at how people who aren't part of the majority's ethnic, religious, and cultural pattern are treated.

What terrorists did in Mumbai was wrong. But that doesn't mean that India's government shouldn't let evidence and reason guide its decisions. I think there's even a chance that Pakistan's civilian government might learn that terrorists within its borders can't be tolerated - and get more practical control of the territory it's supposed to have.

Related posts: News and views:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Guinea, Military Rule, and Terrorism: Beware Hasty Judgment

Lansana Conte didn't go on television last week, to assure the people of Guinea that he was alive, because this time he actually had died.

Guinea: You Want a Civilian Ruler? You Got a Civilian Ruler!

Conte had been the leader of Guinea since 1984, when President Toure died. Having a military ruler hasn't been in vogue for some time, so General Conte put on an election and became President Conte. Three times. Some people quibbled about "irregularities" in the polls, but Conte kept his title anyway.

What, if Anything, Does Guinea Have to do With The War on Terror?

Not much, actually. But Guinea's 'democracy' is an example of why I'm not all that particular about what a country's leader is called - or how the leader gets selected. It's what the president, king, or whatever, does that's important.

Military Rule as the Ideal Form of Government

No, I don't really think so, but look at this:
  • Government by Religious Leaders
    Example: Afghanistan under the Taliban
    Result: Terrorism
  • Government by Monarch
    Example: Saudi Arabia
    Result: Terrorists
    • (15/19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis)
  • Government by Elected Leaders
    Example: Somalia
    Result: Terrorists - and pirates
  • Government by Military Ruler
    Example: Guinea
    • Assuming that the elections were as well-managed as critics claim
    Result: No terrorism (and no pirates, either)
You see?! That 'proves' that military rule is superior to old-fashioned monarchies, theocracies, and constitutional democracies.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Pretty obvious, isn't it? I carefully selected examples that supported my claim. That can make for effective propaganda, but it's not good reasoning.

As a matter of fact, I don't have the visceral, reflexive revulsion that many Americans have toward the idea of having a country run by military or religious rulers. I think it depends on what individuals are running the show, and which side of the eighteenth century most of the country's people live on.

For example, it's arguable that Turkey is a country where military leaders have the unofficial task of monitoring the democratically-elected rulers. When elected rulers start doing crazy things - like making adultery a crime for women, but not for men - the military steps in and sees to it that the next elected government is a bit less out of step with the real world.

That seems to work for Turkey, but I'm not at all sure that it's the arrangement I'd recommend.

Taking the Mental Blinders Off: It's Important

The African Union's Peace and Security Council suspended Guinnea from membership today. They said that the military coup was a "a flagrant violation of the Constitution of Guinea and of the relevant AU instruments" - and they may be right.

The AU also issued a press statement from it's Commission that "condemns the ongoing air raids on the Gaza Strip by Israel, since 27 December 2008." The statement has quite a bit to say about Israel's "massive and disproportionate attack" "which has resulted so far in the death of more than 300 Palestinians, while about 1,000 others, including women and children, have been injured."

Hamas isn't mentioned. At all. Attacks on Israel, also not mentioned. I suppose that would just complicate things.

I don't blame the African Union for taking the standard-issue 'it is the fault of the Jews' position. Many of its member nations have massive Muslim majorities, and Africa merges into the Middle East - which makes it expedient to follow the lead of that area's culture and philosophy.

I would much prefer, however, if the AU and other organizations were willing to accept the idea that killing Jews isn't nice, and that people who kill Jews should be stopped.

Related Posts: In the news:
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Palestinian Leader Condemns Hamas: That's Something You Don't Hear Every Day

Actually, you're not likely to hear it now. The remarkable statement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was carried on NPR's All Things Considered, and I've found an extended quote on some somewhat obscure news sources.

A Palestinian President Blames Hamas?!

NPR's All Things Considered said that Mahmoud Abbas "...came to Cairo and dismayed his Arab audience by blaming Hamas for the bloodshed in Gaza.

" 'Let me say this clearly. We contacted Hamas and spoke to them bluntly. We spoke to them on the phone and pleaded, "Please do not end the cease-fire. Let it continue, so we can avert what has now happened." And how I wish we had,' Abbas said...."
(NPR) had this to say: "...Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said he'd implored his political rivals to avert an Israeli attack by agreeing to extend a six-month cease-fire that expired earlier this month, echoed the criticism of Hamas.

"Speaking to reporters after consultations in Egypt, Abbas suggested that Hamas was to blame for the Israeli attack.

" 'We pleaded (with Hamas): Please do not end the cease-fire. Let it continue so we can avert what has now happened,' Abbas said. 'And how I wish we had.'

"The president's stance was a further sign of the internal strains that have fractured Palestinian politics ever since Hamas won free, U.S.-backed democratic elections in 2006...."

---And the Jews are to Blame

Israel is at fault, apparently: judging from the standard-issue demonstrations in places like London.

"...Angry protests also took place in several cities around the world on Sunday against Israel after its air strikes in Gaza killed at least 270 people and wounded hundreds more. In London, hundreds of demonstrators battled riot police in an attempt to enter the Israeli Embassy, according to media reports...."
Aimed at Jews, Hit Palestinian Girls
What set off the current attack on the Gaza strip was what happened last Friday, December 26, 2008. "Palestinian militants" fired rockets - presumably at Israeli targets.

They did manage to hit three people: cousins, girls, age 5, 7, and 12. The two older girls are dead, the third was in critical condition, the last I heard. Since Hamas says it may resume suicide bombings, the five-year-old may have a chance to avenger her cousins' deaths. Unless she grows up with good sense.
With Friends Like These ---
I'm not 'against' Palestinians. But their supporters make it hard for me to be gushingly supportive of the land dispute they have with Israel. Earlier this year, after Osama bin Laden defended their cause, I wrote:

"...I think I understand now. Palestinians blow up strategic schools and students, attack tactical markets, and the Jews are to blame for it. That makes outfits like Hamas 'national liberation movements.' When the Jewish military takes down rocket launchers hidden inside someone's home, that's terrorism.

"Goofy, but pretty straightforward: and quite simple to understand, once you learn to look at the world that way."
(May 16, 2008)
A Question of Targets
What seems to be getting lost in some of the coverage this weekend is that Israeli forces are destroying military targets: ammunition dumps, command centers.

My guess is that 'civilians' - Palestinians who don't work directly with Hamas and the like - are getting killed. That's hardly surprising, since "Palestinian militants" have learned that they get propaganda fodder by putting their equipment next to, on, and in, civilian targets.
The Jews Bombed a University!
The BBC lead in one article is "Israeli air force jets have bombed the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, a significant cultural symbol for Hamas...." (BBC)

To be fair, the BBC does acknowledge, in the fifth paragraph, that "...The university is a centre of support for Hamas - the Islamist militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. Many of its top officials graduated from there...."

Was the university a legitimate target? Offhand, I think that, although I have a soft spot for colleges and universities, the bombing might have been justified. However, I don't know about how thoroughly the university served as a recruitment and support unit for Hamas, and so I won't form a definite opinion.

Is the Israeli response to the Hamas attack disproportionate? Maybe. But the recent cease-fire gave Hamas a wonderful opportunity to stockpile weapons - and I can understand Israeli leaders not wanting to wait until all had been used.

Hope for the Palestinians

One good thing came out of this weekend's military action: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, publicly, that Hamas was responsible for this appalling violence.

That's an enormous break from the standard-issue 'it is the fault of the Jews' line that I've become drearily familiar with over the decades. I think that Palestinians need a leader like that, who is able to understand killing Jews may not be the only answer to Palestinian problems. And, I hope that Abbas is very careful about preserving his life.

After that statement of his, I'd say its only a matter of time before someone tries to kill him.

Related Posts: In the news:

America is in Decline: and Has Been for Decades

America is in decline! U.S. intelligence agencies say so!

Before you either wring your hands in anguish, or dance on an American flag, let me tell a not-altogether-irrelevant story.

I Live in a Dying Town

When I moved to the small town that's now my home, I learned that the place was dying. Quite a few people told me so. They'd lived here all their lives, and the town was dying. They said.

That was over twenty years ago. The town is still 'dying,' by their standards. Several of the stores that were open then have closed, including a bar that was a favorite gathering spot for some. Meanwhile, businesses have opened, the population has gone up, there's a new elementary school complex, and a Wal-Mart superstore in town.

Another set of doomsayers said that Wal-Mart would destroy the town. That was in April of 2007, and I haven't noticed all that much destruction.

Dying and Changing - Not the Same Thing

What I think the long-time residents had in mind when they said that the town was dying was a set of changes. This town, like many others, used to be centered on the railroad. Now, it's getting centered on the Interstate.

That's change. It happens.

The only Wal-Mart-related change that I've noticed is quite a bit more traffic on the south side, and the closing of a new Alco store. There's a video store in part of Alco's space now, and an Ace Hardware is moving into the other part.

That's also change.
Change Happens: Deal With It
Nostalgia is a perfectly normal feeling: nothing wrong with it. Unless a person starts assuming that things are supposed to always stay the way they are right now.

That's not the way the world works.

Things change. Even cockroaches have changed, a bit, in the 250,000,000 years they've been around.1

Which gets me back to America in decline. Which it most likely isn't.

America in Decline! An End to Yankee Oppression! - or - We're All Doomed!

Here's a news flash: seventeen years ago, things weren't the way they are now.

Seventeen years from now, they won't be the same as they were, or as they are.

A post (mostly about a worm that was eating the Pentagon's computers) from about a month ago mentioned the 'Declining America' idea. Specifically, how the news was treating a bit of published research. "Worm Spreading Fast in Pentagon Computers: (not) in the News" (November 21, 2008).

I had been impressed at how I had the time and resources to research American government publications, while newspaper reporters and editors apparently don't. Actually, I suspect that there's bias or unconsidered cultural assumptions involved, but that's a whole different topic.

Where was I? Oh, yes: America is in decline.

The article I cited was "U.S. influence is on the decline, report says" from the L.A. Times.

Here's part of what I had to say about what the report really said:

"From what I got out of the summaries, and a really quick glance at the report, America may lose a little ground, but the big changes include China, Russia, India, and Brazil becoming more powerful players in world affairs. Bottom line, there are other big kids on the block." ("November 21, 2008)

Another blogger dug deeper, and pointed out that U.S. declinism theories are nothing new. "American Might is not going anywhere ..." (December 21, 2008) leads with a reference to Andrew Hacker's "The end of the American Era" (1970). I remember that year: all the best and brightest (in their own estimation) campus thinkers agreed that America was on the skids.

From what I see, America is as much in decline as the town I'm in is dying.

Related (sort of) post: Views and background:

If this post's expository style seems divergent from my usual syntax, there's a good reason. I'm running a somewhat respectable fever, and have reason to believe that my cerebral functions are, if not impaired, running in distinctly non-standard modes, on alternative tracks, and other metaphors which really don't apply here I realize.

I'd have gone back and edited what's here, but my typo-per-minute rate has gone so high that it seems prudent to stop while I'm ahead.

Thanks for your patience.

1 For all you cockroach fans out there, there's a pretty good Q & A on cockroaches at "The Cockroach FAQ."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pakistan, India, Mumbai, Nuclear Weapons, and Pashtunistan: Simple This Isn't

Pakistan is massing troops near its border with India: presumably to keep India from invading. Pakistan's leaders: civilian, military, and otherwise, have some reason to worry. India has very good reason to believe that LeT, a terrorist group that's based in Pakistani territory, planned the attack on Mumbai. And Pakistan hasn't been jumping through hoops as fast as some Indian leaders would like.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not 'for' Pakistan or 'against' India. I think India is a stable democracy, and that Pakistan is a mess.

Pakistan: It's Better Off than Somalia

There are places that are in worse shape than Pakistan: Somalia, for example, where pirates in the north and religious fanatics in the south are making the alleged government in Mogadishu look really bad.

All the same, Pakistan has a long way to go, before a sensible person could call it a stable country.

From what I've seen:
  • Pakistan has a civilian government that is, just barely, able to control parts of the major cities, most of the time
  • Pakistan's military isn't quite under the control of the civilian government
  • And neither of them have much to say about what the ISI does
The ISI is Pakistan's own Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or Inter-Services Intelligence. The ISI is a pretty close match to the die-hard American liberals' view of the CIA: a state within a state, answerable only to itself, and financially independent of the civilian government and the military.

It's quite possible that the ISI supports the LeT, a terrorist group based in Pakistani territory. The LeT was almost certainly responsible for the Mumbai attack.

India, Mumbai, LeT, and Pakistan: Crazy Talk and Common Sense

There's been crazy talk on both sides, blaming the Mumbai attack on Hindu Zionists and/or Hindu terrorists bent on disrupting investigations of their activities (I'm not making this up).

And yes, there are Hindu terrorists. We don't hear about them in America all that much, since their focus seems to be driving Muslims out of India - for now. I make the point from time to time that the War on Terror isn't limited to Islamic crazies, or to the Middle East.

Indian leaders must feel the urge to something, anything, to make it look like they're 'really doing something' about the Mumbai attack. A calm, methodical, serious investigation into a case of international terrorism isn't all that exciting. And the diplomatic process of getting another country to hand over its citizens to a (possibly revenge-crazed) judicial system is even more boring.

When one of the countries involved is Pakistan's patchwork of tribal leaders, an elected government, a military that's used to running things, and a rogue intelligence agency, progress is even more plodding.

I could understand it, if Indian leaders decided to make themselves look good (in the short run) by invading Pakistan. It would be stupid, but that hasn't stopped national leaders in the past.

Pakistan's recent troop movements might be a belligerent gesture: or a sensible response to a potential, but very real, threat.

On top of everything else - Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons. Cheerful thought. Those two countries blasting away at each other with A-bombs isn't what the world needs.

India, Pakistan, LeT and ISI: Beware Unintended Consequences

My take on the situation is that the civilian government in Pakistan has little to no control over the tribal areas of the territory, and that they're involved in a turf war with LeT, the Taliban, and assorted terrorists, over who gets to control what parts of the land between Afghanistan and India. And that India is, by threatening military action against the civilian government, inadvertently helping the wrong side.

Pashtunistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

A Reuters op-ed piece pointed out that Afghanistan might bring up the idea of creating Pashtunistan, if Pakistan keeps having trouble sorting itself out.

Pashtunistan sounds like a noble idea: re-uniting the Pashtuns, whose homeland was divided in 1893 by the Durand Line. The 1947 remake of international borders left the new country of Pakistan with the British-made Durand Line - something that Afghanistan's leaders don't particularly like.

Afghanistan has pushed for Pashtunistan, a true homeland for a divided people - and, I suspect, controlled by Afghanistan.

It might work, but I can see how some Pakistanis might not like the idea.

The reason I brought up Pashtunistan is that many parts of the world, including the 'Stans,' are still recovering from the enthusiastically clueless nation-building of the treaty of Versailles. Although I think that having a Kurdistan and Pashtunistan sounds like a good idea, I also think that it's best to take America's approach with Iraq: treating national leaders with respect, and offering help while they set up stable countries, instead of telling them how to do it.

News and views: Background:

Bhutto's Assassination Anniversary: Claims, Wild and Otherwise

A year ago today somebody killed Benazir Bhutto, who might have made a fine leader for Pakistan. Pakistanis are mourning the anniversary of her death with an enthusiasm that reminds me of the years following the JFK assassination.

And, we still don't know exactly who killed Benazir Bhutto.

A Pakistani government investigation found that she died as a result of a bomb blast. British detectives recently came to the same conclusion.

Whaddaya Mean, a Bomb Killed Bhutto?!

That's the 'wrong' answer, so now the U.N. may be getting involved.

Asif Ali Zardari, Benzair Bhutto's husband won the presidential election, and he's managed to alienate his own party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). It didn't help that he replaced many of Bhutto's staff with his own people. News outlets like The Hindu seems to have decided that people like Safdar Abbasi, a PPP member who doesn't like Zardari, are right, and that Zardari is a crook - or worse.

Yes, I'm overstating the case a bit. But I think their article carrys that implication:

"Many leading party members accuse her widower, President Zardari, of suppressing the investigation. 'It is intriguing why the Government has not even ordered any investigation into Ms Bhutto’s killing,' said Safdar Abbasi, a senator."

Bhutto's Assassination: It Must be a Government Conspiracy!

'Obviously,' for some of the PPP people, Bhutto was killed by a gun, not a bomb, and that proves that the gov'mnt did it, and there's been a cover-up. They could be right. The October, 2007, bombing in Karachi that didn't kill Bhutto involved some very odd coincidences. It's possible that people in the Pakistani government were involved.

But that doesn't mean that the Pakistani government is involved. From what I've seen, Pakistan's civilian government just barely contols parts of the major cities, most of the time. The military isn't quite under the control of the civilian government, and neither of them have much to say about what the ISI does. The ISI is supposed to be Pakistan's intelligence agency. At this point, it's more of a state within a state: which leads me to another topic, for another post.

Bhutto's Assassination: Cover-Up, or Uncomfortable Reality?

There's something to the claim that Pakistani president Zardari 'suppressed' the investigation of his wife's killing. The previous administration's investigation had come up with answers. Asif Ali Zardari has a country to run now, and redundant investigations might do more harm than good. "Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Mr Zardari, confirmed that the Government was not conducting an investigation. 'We do not want to appear witch-hunting,' he said." (TimesOnline)

Bhutto's assassination was an international incident, so of course another set of investigators looked into the evidence:

"...Earlier this year, British detectives investigating the fatal attack in Rawalpindi said Mrs Bhutto had died from the effect of a bomb blast, not gunfire.

"Their account matched that of the Pakistani authorities...."

'Wrong' answer again.

Some discussion of Bhutto's assassination remind me of claims that George W. Bush blew up the New York World Trade Center, back in 2001. Maybe now, if the U.N. gets involved, someone can 'prove' that George W. killed Bhutto: which might satisfy some of America's more earnest thinkers. What their counterparts in Pakistan want to be true, I'm not quite sure.

List of related posts: News and views:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dog Tags for Kids: That's One Good Idea

War is tough on families, when a parent is overseas. Code Pink notwithstanding, there's not a realistic alternative to what America and other countries are doing to keep terrorists from killing us: but there is something that individuals can do, to help the families of America's military.

Dog Tags for Kids - Grassroots Support for American Military Families

"Charity gives engraved dog tags to kids"
MyFoxOrlando (December 25, 2008)

"LANCASTER, Calif. (WOFL FOX 35, Orlando) -- A California nonprofit is on a mission to send unique presents to children whose parents are serving in the world's most dangerous war zones.

"Rose Sliepka has no children of her own, but said she was compelled to make a gift for thousands of kids when she heard about a soldier who wanted to send his children a gift from Iraq.

" 'The only thing inside were some band-aids and sunscreen,' Sliepka said. 'That's all he had access to.'

"Sliepka, who owns an engraving shop, quickly focused on dog tags as something that was meaningful for military families and affordable for her to make...."

The dog tags cost 50 cents each.

Just the same, with 400,000 given out so far, it takes more than pocket change to keep Dog Tags for Kids running. The organization depends on donations to keep helping military families.

Dog Tags for Kids - From a Parent Overseas to a Child at Home

"100% of Your Donation Delivers Smiles"

"Help us send dog tags to troops in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan so they can send them to their kids back home!

"We desperately need everyone's help. Please see our Donation Page for more information. Thank you!

"This is a grassroots effort to show our support for the troops and their families. We tried to think of something we could send Dad or Mom that...."

"Letters and Quotes"

"...We have a ton of soldiers here, who come into our police station and see the 'LOVE DAD' dog tags. We give them out like candy and the soldiers always come back and tell us the praises they get from thier families about the dog tags...'How neat it is', 'What a good idea, who thought of it?', 'The kids take them to school and show as show and tell'....stuff like that. A couple of our soldiers have got them from you guys and they run out real fast....."

Dog Tags for Kids shows a sample of the dog tags "in Appropriate Service Colors" - DTfK used to give Photo Tags, too, but got swamped by the demand.

There's a donations page, where a person has a couple of options for supporting the program.

Individuals Make a Difference

Hats off to Rose Sliepka, one woman with a good idea and a lot of grassroots support.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bangladesh Arrests JMB Terrorists - You Thought American Elections Were Rancorous?

Bangladesh has a good idea: stop terrorists before they kill people. In this case, several members of Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB: and found a lot of explosives, too. Bangladesh has an election coming up, and there's a chance that JMB wanted to do a bang-up job of expressing themselves.

Bangladesh has a secular legal system, like America and most governments that work. Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh doesn't seem to like that. They'd rather have Islamic law in Bangladesh.

A Country Ruled by Religious Law: What Could be Wrong With That?

I suppose that, in theory, a country could be ruled by a set of religious leaders, using a law that enforced their religious preferences. But the track records of Sudan and Saudi Arabia don't make the idea look appealing. At all.

Particularly for Islam, where it looks like each area get to decide what Islam really means, there's entirely too big a risk for religious law to enforce the preferences, quirks, and phobias of whoever is in charge.

Some of the more colorful examples of what to expect from Islamic law:
  • Teacher sentenced for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed
  • An old doctor to 1,500 lashes because a Saudi princess demanded that he get her drugs
    (Saudi Arabia)
  • It's okay to kill network owners, as long as they're immoral - in the opinion of a chief Saudi judge
    (Saudi Arabia)
  • Visitors to the country aren't allowed to bring in dangerous things like
    • Edged weapons
    • Bibles
    • Statues
    (Saudi Arabia)
  • Women should only use one eye at a time when outside - according to a prominent Saudi cleric
    (Saudi Arabia)
That last isn't, I grant, part of the law of Saudi Arabia: but it gives a pretty good idea about what Islam is, when the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is running things. That sort of law appeals to me about as much as "Christian law" would, if outfits like the KKK were the ones who decided what was "Christian," and what wasn't.

In the news:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Emotions, the Frontal Cortex, the War on Terror, Anarchists, and the Illuminati

The War on Terror is an emotional topic.

I was told recently that as emotions rise, the frontal cortex goes offline: which is important, since that's where we do most of our higher-level thinking.

Stick with me: This post isn't as off-topic as it may look. Although I'll admit to writing it mostly as an excuse to share a hilarious collection of dire predictions.

People on many ends of the political and philosophical spectra have gotten so excited that their frontal cortices seem to have shut down entirely. That may explain some of the odd opinions, presented as facts, flying around: like monkey fewmets in the primate house.

Emotion Trumping Reason: Not Limited to the War on Terror

Being born during the Truman administration has some advantages: like the opportunity to notice what changes, and what doesn't. When I was in school, experts said there would probably be another ice age soon. The year I graduated from high school, a butterfly expert, Paul Ehrlich, made quite a name for himself:
  • "By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth's population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people." (1969)
  • "By 1980 the United States would see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million." (1969)
The best and brightest applauded his intelligence and foresight, and heartily adopted his views. Despite America's - and Earth's - population stubbornly refusing to follow his prediction, some still do.

Don't misunderstand me: I think it's a good idea not to eat pesticides. But, as I wrote earlier:
"I've been around the block enough times to realize that if there's a viewpoint, like 'vegetables are good for you,' 'we shouldn't mistreat criminals,' or 'it's okay to earn money,' there will be people who take the idea, and run with it: straight off the edge of sanity. And they're likely to be the ones shouting loudest about the idea."
("Obama Critic Deported: It's a Plot, of Course" (October 8, 2008))

It Killed the Loch Ness Monster, and Now It's Coming For YOU!!!

I think that some of these people sincerely believe what they've said. Global warming, we've been told, will lead to:
  • Overpopulation, which leads to Cannibalism
    (Ted Turner)
  • The Death of the Loch Ness Monster
    (Robert Rines)
  • Beer Gets More Expensive
    (Jim Salinger)
  • Pythons Take Over America
    (The U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service, as reported in
  • Kidney Stones
    (A University of Texas study)
  • Skinny Whales
    (Some Japanese scientists)
  • Shark Attacks
    (George Burgess)
  • Black Hawk Down
    (Massachusetts congressman Edward Markey)
  • Frozen Penguin Babies
    (Jon Bowermaster)
  • Killer Stingray Invasion
    (Alex Gerrard)
Sounds dire, and I might take this more seriously, if
  • The coming ice age hadn't been replaced by global warming as the Big Crisis
  • Paul Ehrlich's application of Malthusian principles had actually happened
  • I didn't know that it would be odd - and very disturbing - if Earth wasn't warming up, on average, right now
There's been an ice age on, you know.

The thing is, though, that the idea of Big Oil and hair spray being responsible for global warming isn't held by all scientists. Particularly, I'd think, those who have been studying climate change on places like Mars.

But I'm getting seriously off track here.

The War on Terror: It's Okay to be Scared

I'm personally more than a bit upset that there are people who think that flying airliners into the New York City World Trade Center and the Pentagon was a good idea.

But being upset isn't an excuse for not thinking. If anything, a high-risk period like this is a time when a person's thought process should be particularly rational.

---Which Reminds Me of an Amusing Story

Skimming through earlier posts, I ran across a one about a 1920 terrorist attack on New York City. At the time, I realized that nobody seemed to have realized that the 9/11 attack could be viewed as an Anarchist plot to avenge the Sacco/Vanzetti indictments.

And so, being in a pawkish frame of mind, I made one up. By the time I was through, anarchists, astrology, Mecca, and the Illuminati were involved in the 9/11 attack. If I'd kept at it a little longer, I'd have worked in Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and the Kennedys.

Related Posts: News and views: Background:

Monday, December 22, 2008

President-Elect Obama's Problem With Left-Wing Bloggers

This could get even more interesting:

"Obama Intelligence Pick Torpedoed By Bloggers"
FOXNews (December 22, 2008)

"President-elect Barack Obama has shown almost perfect pitch in crafting his new administration, aptly choosing old hands instead of fresh faces and bringing in the experience he lacks.

"But there is one glaring void. Obama has yet to name key intelligence officials to manage the war against terrorism.

"And one of the central reasons he hasn't come forward with a pick for one of the top jobs is because he's running into pressure from an unexpected source -- left-wing bloggers...."

Obama apparently wanted John Brennan, but some bloggers thought he was involved in torture. So, Brennan won't get the job.

Politics, Purity, and Common Sense

My own opinion about waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques is politically incorrect, and I know that other people have strongly-held contrary opinions. And, I can understand how someone who wants to protect terrorists from discomfort would not want a supporter of waterboarding in the Obama administration.

As the article put it, "...[Glenn] Greenwald and other bloggers blamed Brennan, though, for condoning harsh interrogation methods, as well as rendition -- the practice of capturing terrorists, like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and taking them to the U.S. or other countries for interrogation and imprisonment...."

The thing is, Brennan apparently had no part of the decisions to use waterboarding.

The article concludes: "...Greenwald said Brennan's support for rendition and 'all of the other enhanced interrogation techniques beyond waterboarding' makes him 'unqualified' for the job.

"Intelligence veterans, however, say that sets an impossible standard.

" 'If you were involved in a senior position in the intelligence community during the war on terror, you can't be nominated for another senior position,' [former assistant CIA director Mark] Lowenthal said."

This sort of 'purity' might purify qualified people out of the Obama administration.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Well-intentioned people like Mr. Greenwald may succeed in purging the Obama administration of people whose backgrounds make them qualified to protect America. I hope that doesn't happen, because I like living in a country where a citizen can criticize government policies and officials - and not disappear, get beheaded, or be enrolled in a reeducation program.

Like it or not, the leaders of Al Qaeda, and others, want to change the way America works. And, if they have their way, they'll almost certainly be less concerned with individual freedom than America's current leadership is.

Maintaining effective intelligence is very important in keeping Americans safe and free. And that means doing things that terrorists don't like: including, sometimes, waterboarding.

A concern for the rights of the accused, and of prisoners of war, is admirable.

However, a concern for the lives of innocent Americans1 is also important. Which is why I hope that the Obama administration isn't kept pure for the sake of bloggers like Mr. Greenwald.

A Few Words About Waterboarding

I can't take the idea that waterboarding is torture seriously. Not when protesters willingly - and repeatedly - had themselves waterboarded to show how awful it was; and the American military includes being waterboarded in its training programs.

As I wrote before, if waterboarding is torture, and should be banned, "then final exams should be banned, too."

Related posts: In the news:
1I'm one of those people who think that "innocent American" isn't an oxymoron.

New York Times Prints Ersatz Letter, or All the News That's Fit to Fake

I'm not exactly a fan of The New York Times. More accurately, I regard it as a rather insular hometown paper, representing the views and interests of the town's better sort. Nothing wrong with that. But I think it's a mistake to regard a hometown paper as America's newspaper of record, even when the town is New York City.

That said, I think that today's SNAFU with a letter (not) sent by the mayor of Paris getting published was an embarrassing mistake: the sort of thing that could happen anywhere.

Incredible but Not True: The Mayor of Paris Takes an Interest in New York State Politics!

A letter, presumably from Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris, arrived at The New York Times this morning. It was in reaction to an article in The New York Times, and expressed some very definite opinions about Caroline Kennedy's efforts to take Hillary Clinton's Senate seat: providing that Clinton gets a position in the Obama administration:

"As mayor of Paris, I find Caroline Kennedy’s bid for the seat of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton both surprising and not very democratic, to say the least. What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat? We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling...."

My understanding is that the letter was written in English: a pretty good idea for anyone writing to an American newspaper. The Parisian mayor, though, is French. An employee of France-Amerique, a French language monthly based in New York City, was what the Associated Press called "skeptical."

" 'When we read the letter it just sounded very surprising, the choice of words sounded very surprising,' he [Editor-in-chief Jean-Cosme Delaloye] told The Associated Press. 'When we called Paris to verify the information ... they were very surprised.' " (Associated Press)

France-Amerique broke the story on its website, and The New York Times sprang into action. Someone at the paper called Paris, and discovered that the letter was bogus. Fake. Ersatz. A forgery. Not really from the mayor.

Credit Where Credit is Due: The New York Times, an Apology, and an Admission of Error

My hat's off to The New York Times: In addition to apologizing to the Parisian mayor, the paper published an apology to its readers, and an explanation, in an "Editor's Note."

The New York Times' "Editor's Note" concludes, "This letter, like most Letters to the Editor these days, arrived by email. It is Times procedure to verify the authenticity of every letter. In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the email and did not hear back. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoë's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us.

"We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.

"We are reviewing our procedures for verifying letters to avoid such an incident in the future."

Related post: Forgery, news and oops:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pay Raise for Congress: Have They Read the Papers This Year?

It's nice to have a comfortable COLA1 applied each year, regular as clockwork. It's even nicer, when you can decide what the COLA is.

Particularly these days, with financial institutions tanking, the American automotive industry looking forward to some, ah, adjustment, and the very real possibility that tens of thousands more Americans will lose their jobs. In the dead of winter.

Rejoice! Congress Won't Starve

Americans might be reassured to know that Ted Kennedy and other members of Congress aren't destitute, and will probably be able to make ends meet next year - in their household budgets, at least.

I'm not so much reassured, as annoyed, that our elected leaders have gotten another 2.8% pay raise. Quietly, with no muss and no fuss.

In their income bracket, that's a raise of about $4,700 a year more than each of them is paid now, or a little over $390 more a month. Next year, a member of Congress will pull down a tidy little $174,000 a year.

I don't begrudge America's legislators a six-figure income. Particularly when an auto company's CEO took $2,000,000 for his 2007 salary, plus about ten times that in bonus, options, and other booty.

On the other hand, it's annoying when America's leaders have a quiet little process that lets them give themselves regular pay raises without having to talk about it.

It's Not the Money

I think that America can afford to cough up $2,500,000 next year, to pay Congress. It's a trivial amount of money, seen against the Federal budget, or the $13 trillion-plus American gross domestic product.

What bothers me is the impression Congress is giving: that they just don't get it.

Getting a pay raise when so many Americans are losing their jobs simply isn't setting a good example. And, it makes it easy to wonder if Congress understands that the economy is in trouble and that America is at war.

There's a War on, Congress!

If "there's a war on" sounds familiar, it's because I've used it quite a few times. I am concerned that Americans in critical jobs just don't get it: Religious fanatics want very badly to kill Americans. They've already hit New York City and Washington, D.C.. There's every reason to believe that they'll try again.

I'm not going to rail against sloppy security and lax attitudes again: Check out the "Related posts" if you want to read what I think.

But, it would be nice if Congress behaved as if its members read the papers once in a while, and had a general idea of what was going on in America and the world.

Related posts: In the news:
1 COLA - Cost Of Living Adjustment, in this case.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why I Call "Knights in Support of the Invasion" Islamic

A few minutes ago I wrote a post about the Facebook group, "Knights in Support of the Invasion." I called it an Islamic group.

A Muslim, whose word I have no reason to disbelieve, said, "...that's the whole truth, we are a part of a peaceful religion...."

If I believe the 'peaceful religion' person, why would I call "Knights in Support of the Invasion" Islamic?

I Let People Define Themselves

In general, I prefer to let people define themselves. For example, if someone says, "I am a Democrat," or "I'm a Christian," or "I'm a vegetarian," I'm not likely to say "no, you're not."

If I've got fact-based reasons for thinking that the person isn't acting the way a Democrat, Christian, or vegetarian, might be expected to behave, I might point that out. I might even, if - say - the vegetarian was chowing down on a 16-ounce porterhouse steak at the time - come right out and say that there's specific reason to believe that the person isn't what he or she claims to be.

But, I don't know enough about Islam to say that Facebook's "Knights in Support of the Invasion" isn't Islamic. They claim to support Islam, and the group is (or was) focused on that support, so I think it's reasonable to say that it's Islamic.

Besides, the membership of Muslim clerics, prominent ones, who are subjects of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, seem to affirm that "Knights in Support of the Invasion" is an Islamic group.

With so many flavors of Islam around, I'm not going to be the one to say 'this is Islamic,' and 'this is not Islamic.' Besides, the closest thing that Islam seems to have to an authority, clerics under the ruler of the House of Saud, seem to think that the "Knights in Support of the Invasion" version is the real McCoy.

Related posts:

Islamic "Knights in Support of the Invasion" Group on Facebook Shut Down: Censorship, or Common Sense?

In a recent post I said that I'm against censorship.

So, why am I glad that Facebook shut down a group of Muslims, Fursan Ghazawat Alnusra?

The New York Times and the BBC don't encourage their readers to kill people that their respective editorial boards don't approve of.

Fursan Ghazawat Alnusra, or "Knights in Support of the Invasion" does - either that, or they've been working very hard to give the wrong impression.

Some samples of the Facebook group's statements (translated, I'm pretty sure):
  • Purpose of the group:
    • "to support Jihad and Mujihadeen"
    • "to invade this Web site"
    • To ask "Allah to grant us Jihad and martyrdom"
  • "Today we invade your sites, tomorrow your lands and homes, o you cross worshippers[!]."
And, this beaut:
  • "Maybe the day will come when one of the martyrs is asked [by Allah] who urged you to Jihad, so he answers saying: a message came to me from Facebook asking me to support the Mujihadeen. The message impacted me therefore I went to Jihad to destroy the places of the cross worshippers[!]."
(From FOXNews)

Photos of group members included Al Qaeda leaders and prominent Saudi clerics.

An American president has said that "Islam is a peaceful religion." A number of people who say they follow Islam have told me essentially the same thing. I have no reason to doubt the word of any of them. I've also been told that "jihad" isn't violent: an idea that might be awkward to explain to the family of an "Egyptian "traitor" whose beheading was shown by Fursan Ghazawat Alnusra. I suppose killing him was okay, by some Muslim standards: somebody felt that he had helped Americans in Iraq.

So, Islam is a peaceful religion, and jihad isn't violent. Those ideas are easy enough to understand.

On the other hand, as a "cross worshiper," I'm a bit unsettled at how many members of this "peaceful religion" have expressed an interesting in waging jihad and invading the homes of Christians.

Related posts: Related discussion thread: In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
Updated (sort of):

The New York Times Banned in China

I could be wrong.

I can also imagine China's leaders breathing a sigh as relief as the 2008 Olympics fade into the past, and they can get back to business as usual.

The Chinese government announced that it has the right to block sites that it thinks are inappropriate. Like ones that don't agree with the Beijing official assumptions about Taiwan.

Now, people in China can't get at The New York Times online edition: unless they risk using an unapproved server.

The New York Times is in good company. China's 'don't read' list includes
  • Chinese-language versions of the BBC
  • Voice of America
  • Hong Kong media
    • Ming Pao News
    • Asiaweek
    (Reuters (December 20, 2008)
As Reuters put it, "China regularly blocks sites it finds unsavoury, particularly those related to Tibet or critical of the Communist Party."

I've said this before: be careful what you wish for. People who want 'hate speech' or anti-American opinions banned or blocked, or who are trying to 'save the children' from the Internet may have reason to be concerned.

But I think there's a very real danger in having someone decide for us what we are and are not allowed to see. And China's an example of a place where people are very 'protected' from things they're not supposed to know.

Some related posts: (There's more: type China into the search box at the top of this blog.)

In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mediterranean Internet Cables Accident-Prone?

Three Internet cables snapped in the week spanning the end of January and the first of February this year. Two were in the Mediterranean, near Egypt, the other was in the Persian Gulf.

This week, the trouble is about a thousand miles west of Alexandria, where January's first break happened. (8.3 kilometers from Alexandria, to be exact.)

There's been another cable break. Three, actually. Between Sicily and Tunisia. Europe, the Middle East and Asia are having trouble communicating with each other. There's still no word on what severed the cables.

A France Telecom spokesman said that whatever it was, it probably wasn't an attack.

When the January/February accident cluster happened, I wrote: "If a fourth, or fifth, or sixth cable gets cut in the next few days, I'll start re-evaluating my 'cluster of accidents' opinion."

This is way beyond "the next few days," so I don't have to re-evaluate.


View Larger Map

Quite a few people have been offline:
  • India lost 65% of traffic
  • Qatar and Djibouti, on the Gulf of Aden lost 70% of traffic
  • Maldives Indian Ocean islands lost 100% of their traffic
Other countries with severe outages:
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Taiwan
  • Pakistan
Today's three-way break shows how sensitive - and flexible - the global communications network is. Quite a bit of traffic between Europe and Asia was re-routed through America, reducing the impact.

So, do I think this is some kinda plot? No. Although I'm a little impressed at France Telecom's statement: "The causes of the cut, which is located in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia, on sections linking Sicily to Egypt, remain unclear," followed closely by the assurance that it wasn't an attack.

I could imagine the scene in a movie: a massive communications blackout happens. The company spokesman comes on camera and says, "we don't know what happened, but we're sure it wasn't an attack." In a movie, that would a clue to the audience that it was an attack.

This is the real world, so it's possible that broken undersea cables in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf are accidents - the sort of thing that happens where there's a lot of traffic.

I'm getting increasingly interested in the growing number of coincidences, though.

Cut cables, earlier this year:
  • Wednesday, January 30, 2008 -
    Egypt undersea communications cables cut
  • Friday, February 1, 2008 -
    Persian Gulf undersea cable cut
    (International Herald Tribune (February 1, 2008), BBC (February 4, 2008))
Related post: In the news:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free Speech, Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, Campus Activists, and America's Future

Egyptian engineering student Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed pleaded guilty to making a 12-minute 'how to build a bomb' video and posting on YouTube. Technically, that's 'providing material support to terrorists.' He's been sentenced to 15 years by an American court.

His case wound up in an American court, because he was a student at the University of South Florida. Also, South Carolina authorities said they found various bomb-making materials in his possession, when they pulled him over.

Ahmed's Violent Ideology: A Blast from the Past

Court documents dated November 4, 2008, and provided by Wired magazine, show a fellow who seemed oddly familiar:
  1. Dedicated to a cause
    1. He meant the technical how-2 in his post " ' be used against those who fight for the United States' since he considered them and their allies fighting in Arab countries to be 'invaders'."
  2. Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed's opinion of
    1. Law enforcement officers
      1. "Dogs"
      2. "Christians"
      3. "Infidels"
      4. "Racists"
      5. "Enemies of G-D'"
    2. Americans
      1. A "stupid people"
      2. "One of the most stupid creations of G-D"
    3. America
      1. A "vile nation"
        (In a conversation with his parents on December 20, 2007)
(I copied more extensive excerpts from the court document at the end of this post.)

It's not a perfect match, of course, but I ran into beliefs like that fairly often, back in the day. Particularly B/1/d, B/2/a, and B/3/a. I was a college freshman in 1969, and spent quite a few years, off and on, in the seventies and eighties.

It was very 'in' to regard the police as racist oppressors and/or tools of the military-industrial complex. Americans - the ones who saw something good about the country and said so - were, of course, stupid. And, although the campus crowd wouldn't have used a word like "vile," that's what they thought of America.

A number of the more profound thinkers (by their own standards) might have used "Christian" as an epithet - although they more often simply ranted about Christianity's oppressiveness and how nasty religion was, in general. They certainly wouldn't have identified their opponents as "enemies of God."

Free Speech: It's Important

There are a couple of points here that are important.
  1. Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed's sentence isn't an attack on Islam
    • Unless Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda represent mainstream Islam: which I sincerely hope they do not
  2. He was convicted of recommending that people kill the enemies of Islam, and telling them how to do so
I find the beliefs of Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, as he describes them, very disturbing - and based on a seriously inaccurate view of reality. But I'm not at all convinced that expressing those beliefs should be illegal. Assuming, of course, that the person wasn't saying that reasonable people should go out and kill blacks, whites, infidels, Muslims, or whatever.

As I wrote earlier this year: "One of the strengths of America is that we have a great deal of freedom to say and display what we want: however outrageous, ill-advised, or daft it is. The War on Terror is giving America an opportunity to review and re-define just where freedom ends, and reasonable protections begin...."

Who Will Decide What We Discuss, and How?

Which brings me back to Ahmed and my very earnest fellow-students of days gone by.

I doubt that Ahmed would see the campus activists of thirty-odd years ago as his spiritual brothers. And the flag- and bra- burners of that era might not see themselves in him.

But both seem to believe that American society is "inherently oppressive." Even the groovier end of American academia's interest in "social justice" - which seems to involve taking money away from one set of people and giving it to another, because of what a third set of people did over a century ago - has a strong parallel in what other highly-focused groups believe. (I'd say 'extreme,' but I've run into it too often today, and don't feel like it.)

Both progressive academia's determination to impose social justice, and Islamic terrorists' desire to purify Islam and the world, seem to have this in common: They view groups as more important than individuals. The world, for them is made up of The Rich and The Poor; Blacks and Whites; Muslims and Infidels; Oppressors and Victims.

I recognize that groups exist, and that membership, or lack of membership, in a group may be important in some respects. But, I live in a world where there are individuals: and where an individual should be considered in light of who that individual is, and what that individual has done - not on the person's membership in a group.

In many cases, the campus activists of my youth are now the administrators and senior professors of the colleges and universities they attended. For whatever reason, the American education system has had some very serious problems for decades. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has identified several, including:
  • Ideological litmus tests in faculty hiring
  • Restrictive speech and 'civility' codes
  • Phony allegations intended to silence opposition
  • Politicized science
This is a serious problem, because colleges and universities are often the places where ideas are discussed - and decisions made.

America is in a very critical period now. It's not always formal, but there's a debate going on about exactly what freedom means. If people who do not regard America as a racist oppressor are marginalized, the results could be just as bad as if people who feel that 'the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim' were able to impose their views on the rules of debate.

Related posts: In the news:

Remember: Mohamed was Convicted of Helping Terrorists

It wasn't Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed's stated beliefs that got him in legal trouble. I think those beliefs are interesting, though, from several points of view.

Court documents dated November 4, 2008, and provided by Wired magazine, show a fellow who seemed oddly familiar:
  • "He acknowledged that 'he intended the technology demonstrated in his audio/video recording to be used against those who fight for the United States' since he considered them and their allies fighting in Arab countries to be 'invaders'."
  • "After repeatedly slurring the officers as 'dogs', 'Christians', 'Infidels', 'racists', and 'enemies of G-D', Mohamed later characterized Americans in that same video as being a 'stupid people' and as 'one of the most stupid creations of G-D.' ... To his parents, in a later conversation with them on December 20, 2007, Mohamed termed the United States a 'vile nation'."
  • "included images of Ossama bin Laden and others connected with violent jihad in the Middle East, as well as caricatures of the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, all pictured inside of what appears to be a garbage can with a modified image of the seal of the United States above them on which appear the words: 'Profiteers of the United States'. ... The images on the defendant’s computer also included a photograph of a child aiming a anti-tank weapon while stepping on a military helmet which appears to be of American manufacture and also an image of a map of what appears to be Israel circled in what appears to be blood, being held in the palm of a bleeding hand."
  • "Perhaps the coldest statement of this defendant and the most telling as to his hatred and disdain for the United States came in a hand-written letter which the defendant sent to a Hillsborough County jail deputy on April 1, 2008. ... In that letter, which he signed, the defendant 'congratulated' the jail deputy upon the fact that the Pentagon had recently announced the death of more than 4,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East. Next to that line, he drew what appears to be a face with a smile on it.
    He continued on in the letter on the subject of American casualties, stating that the
    'resistance in Iraq says they are 40,000.' Again, he drew a face with what appears to
    be a smile on it next to that line. He then sarcastically stated that 70,000 'veterans from the U.S.' '[l]ost their hearing and became deaf, so unfortunately they will keep silent.'
  • "Next to that last line, he simply drew a pair of eyes and a broad smile below it. He then went on to mock the deputy in the letter by pointing out that the Hillsborough deputy would still have to bring food to the defendant while the defendant was in jail."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.