Monday, December 10, 2012

Egypt, America, and 'Preserving Freedom'

I wasn't entirely satisfied with last month's election here in America.

Still, it could be worse.

I could be living in Egypt.1

Morsi? Morsy?

Egypt's President is محمد مرسى عيسى العياط‎, or Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat. I've seen his name spelled Morsi and Morsy. For now, I'm using "Morsi."

My native language, English, uses the Latin alphabet, and I've discussed transliteration before. (October 22, 2011)

Moving on.

Playing the Class Card

One of the nice things about allowing folks with ability to earn more than average is that, when things get rough, you can blame them.

Someone working for Egypt's president said that "blamed a small but powerful minority for the political upheaval." (CNN)

In my 'good old days,' it was the fault of 'pinko intellectuals' or 'bloated capitalists;' now it's the 'radical religious right,' or the 'liberal elite.' Tomayto, tomahto.

Expedient, Yes: Prudent, No

I acknowledge that when a leader starts facing the consequences of some unusually clueless move, it's easy to blame 'those people over there.' Sometimes passing the buck works: but I don't think it's the best idea. Not in the long run.

I don't doubt that folks in Egypt who are professionals, entrepreneurs, or simply have access to more information than average, are the ones trying to keep their president from taking personal control of their country.

Unlike President Morsi, though: I think they're probably right.

Freedom and Stability

Maybe Egypt's president is right, and the only way to preserve freedom in Egypt is have troops arrest citizens who don't agree with the government. Maybe not.

I'm guessing "not," but I could be wrong.

"Freedom" and "stability" sound good: and can describe worthy ideals.

But "freedom" doesn't mean "free to agree with me," or shouldn't; and "stability" shouldn't mean "keeping things just the way they are," or shouldn't.

Egypt and America

Minutiae of culture and language aside: I don't think folks in Egypt and America, or anywhere else, are all that unlike. Human nature, for good or ill, is - reliable:
"Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared to the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good."
(Abraham Lincoln, Response to a serenade (November 10, 1864))
That said, all countries are not alike.

Wait a few decades, and one country often won't be 'alike.'

The America I grew up in was a place where someone could still believe that an "American" was someone with a nice English name, who either had English ancestors or who was desperately trying to pass for Anglo.

That changed in the last half-century. I like the new America, for the most part, but it's driving some folks nuts.

While writing this post, I looked up Egypt and America. The countries are similar in one or two ways. Both call the head honcho a "president," and both are republics. On the other hand, nobody's likely to get Egypt and the the United States confused:
  • Egypt
    • Ethnic groups (2006 census)
      • Egyptian 99.6%
      • Other 0.4%
    • Language
      • Arabic (official)
      • English and French widely understood by educated classes
    • Religion
      • Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%
      • Coptic 9%
      • Other Christian 1%
    • Government
      • Republic
    ("Egypt," World Factbook, CIA (page last updated November 14, 2012))
  • United States
    • Ethnic groups
      • White 79.96%
      • Black 12.85%
      • Asian 4.43%
      • Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%
      • Native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%
      • Two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
      • Hispanic
        • Note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean persons of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin including those of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, Spanish, and Central or South American origin living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.)
    • Language (2000 census)
      • English 82.1%
      • Spanish 10.7%
      • Other Indo-European 3.8%
      • Asian and Pacific island 2.7%
      • Other 0.7%
      • note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii
    • Religion (2007 est.)
      • Protestant 51.3%
      • Roman Catholic 23.9%
      • Mormon 1.7%
      • Other Christian 1.6%
      • Jewish 1.7%
      • Buddhist 0.7%
      • Muslim 0.6%
      • Other or unspecified 2.5%
      • Unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4%
    • Government
      • Constitution-based federal republic
        • Strong democratic tradition
    ("United States," World Factbook, CIA (page last updated November 28, 2012))
With so many flavors of "American," I think it's getting increasingly difficult to appeal to knee-jerk paranoia in the 'average American." That doesn't keep my country's alleged best and brightest from trying, though: and that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news

1 From the news:
"Egypt crisis: Morsi gives army arrest powers before vote"
(December ,10 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions in the run-up to a controversial referendum on a new constitution.

"The army has also been given the power to arrest civilians.

"Mr Morsi has tried to calm public anger by annulling a decree giving him huge powers, but rejected a call to scrap the 15 December constitutional vote.

"Opposition leaders called for protests on Tuesday against the referendum.

"The opposition was "not aiming at toppling the president" but wanted a better constitution, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told the BBC.

"Islamist groups have said they will hold counter demonstrations, raising fears of further bloody clashes on the streets of the Egyptian capital.

"In another apparent concession, the president suspended a big tax increase on the sale of a variety of goods including soft drinks, cigarettes and beer...."

"Top Morsy aide: Small, powerful minority behind Egypt's political upheaval"
Reza Sayah and Amir Ahmed, CNN (December 10, 2012)

"A top aide to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy blamed a small but powerful minority for the political upheaval that has plagued the country ahead of a planned constitutional referendum.

"The statements are the latest in a volley of accusations between Morsy's supporters and opponents, and they highlight a political crisis that at times has spilled into the streets, prompting the president to deploy troops and tanks to protect government buildings.

" 'You have the majority of the poor people, the simple, definitely for the president and for the constitution,' Muhammad Rifaa al-Tahtawi, Morsy's chief of staff, told CNN on Sunday.

" 'You have a majority among the elite who are not for this constitution. Businessmen, media people. They are definitely a small minority, but powerful minority.'..."

"Egypt's opposition rejects constitutional referendum"
Reuters (December 9, 2012)

"Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into 'violent confrontation'.

"Mursi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

" 'We are against this process from start to finish,' Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

"The Front's main leaders - Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy - did not attend the event...."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Business (not) as Usual in Egypt

Egypt hasn't been "stable" since around February of 2011, when quit a few folks in the Middle East decided that they were fed up with stability. I can't say that I blame them:
The new(ish) Egyptian president seems to be trying to return the sort of stability Mubarak enjoyed. Some folks in Egypt may have thought it was a good idea. Quite a few didn't. (November 23, 2012)

So far, several Egyptians have been killed, President Morsi either left his office in a hurry, or he didn't, and Egypt is missing a political party headquarters.

One more thing, President Morsi changed his mind about stability. Sort of. Maybe.

"Safeguarding the Revolution"

"Egypt crisis: President Morsi annuls decree"
BBC News (December 9, 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month that hugely expanded his powers and sparked angry protests, officials say.

"However, a news conference in Cairo was told that a controversial referendum on a draft constitution would still go ahead as planned on 15 December.

"Mr Morsi's critics have accused him of acting like a dictator, but he says he is safeguarding the revolution...."
I take what I read in the news with a grain of salt: or two; or an entire salt lick. When someone's political opponents or "critics" say that an official is acting like a dictator, all I can be sure of is that they don't like what the official is doing.

In Mr. Morsi's case, though, there seemed to be more than 'politics as usual' going on. His new rules:
  • Keep judges from
    • Reviewing Mr. Morsi's decisions
    • Interfering with a committee that Mr. Morsi's party is running
  • Say that only Mr. Morsi can change the rules
Maybe President Morsi really is "safeguarding the revolution." I think it's reasonable, though, to wonder whose revolution is being safeguarded.

"Not Legally Possible?" Maybe

"...'The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment,' said Selim al-Awa, an Islamist politician acting as a spokesman for a meeting Mr Morsi held with political and public figures on Saturday.

"But he said the referendum on a new constitution would go ahead because it was not legally possible for the president to postpone it.

"The meeting had been boycotted by the main opposition leaders who had earlier called for their supporters to step up their protests.

"They want both the decree and the referendum cancelled...."
(BBC News)
My hat's off to the current Egyptian administration, if they're really going ahead with a dubious referendum because Egyptian law says they have to. I think some laws are stupid: but I also think that stupid laws should be changed, not ignored.

In some ways, I'm more concerned about folks who think it's okay for leaders to break the law, than I am about other folks who think it's okay to fly airliners into office buildings. It's not much of a choice: but at least the suicide pilots are generally an external threat.

"Reactionary Figures," Protests, and an Incendiary Statement

"...The president's supporters say the judiciary is made up of reactionary figures from the old regime of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

"But his opponents have mounted almost continuous protests since the decree was passed.

"They are also furious over the drafting of the new constitution because they see the process as being dominated by Mr Morsi's Islamist allies.

"Several people have been killed in the recent spate of anti-government protests, and the presidential palace has come under attack.

"The Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement to which Mr Morsi belongs, were set on fire."
(BBC News)
I don't think the Muslim Brotherhood are 'good guys.' I don't think they're 'bad guys,' either.

I'm dubious about folks who act as if they think God follows their policies and preferences: and folks like that aren't always 'those people over there.'

When I was growing up, some radio preachers seemed to think that Jesus was an American, and that's not quite another topic.

I do think that Egyptians are no more uniform in their views and beliefs, than Americans. Dead Egyptians, arson with a political target, and continued protests seem to back up that view.

As for those "reactionary figures?" Maybe Mubarak's old pals really are behind at least some of the trouble in Egypt. Or maybe not.

Blaming a hated, and comfortably distant, foe is an old trick. America's old establishment had the communist threat, today's lot have vast right-wing conspiracies, and that's yet another topic.

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Egypt, Morsi, and Dealing With Change

It looks like at least 100,000 folks in Egypt don't like their new president's recent actions. That's how many showed up at a demonstration in Cairo today.1

One official says that President Morsi left when the crowds outside "grew bigger;" another official, speaking for Mr. Morsi, said that the President's departure was routine.

Whatever Morsi's motives, I'd say that Egypt isn't the 'stable' country it was under Mubarak.

As I've said before, "stability" isn't necessarily a good thing: not when it means that a small group makes decisions for a nation; tells the general public what the leaders think is 'proper;' and criticizing the leaders is punished.

Folks whose position or influence make them part of that small group don't, understandably, like criticism; sometimes don't distinguish between reasonable complaints and treason; and aren't necessarily 'those people over there.'

Related posts, about dealing with:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Egyptian President Morsi leaves presidential palace as protests turn violent" (December 4, 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi left the presidential palace Tuesday as violence erupted between police and at least 100,000 protesters gathered in Cairo.

"In a brief outburst, police fired tear gas to stop protesters approaching the palace in the capital's Heliopolis district. Morsi was in the palace conducting business as usual while the protesters gathered outside. But he left for home through a back door when the crowds 'grew bigger,' according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials at the palace and to head off 'possible dangers' and to calm protesters. Morsi's spokesman, however, said the president left the palace at the end of his work schedule through the door he routinely uses...."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Egypt, America: Change, Freedom, and Other Threats to the Status Quo

Egypt's president says:
  • He's making Egypt
    • Safe for freedom and democracy
    • Stable
  • Nobody can change the new rules
    • Except him
That's a simplified version of what I found in the news.1

Most of the new Egyptian decree sounds okay: being safe is nice; folks seem to like freedom; and democracy is supposed to be a good idea, too. I think part of the trouble folks have is that the president says that nobody can change the new rules, except him.

I can see their point: but not because President Mursi is an "Islamist."

'Free to Agree With Me?'

Freedom doesn't, or shouldn't, mean "free to agree with the boss," or "free to support 'proper' opinions." Like I've said before, I remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism, and endured political correctness while doing time in American academia.

Although their vocabulary was different, supporters of both said they were defending freedom. I think they believed it; and probably couldn't understand that another person might disagree without being pinko, homophobic, or whatever.

What 'Everybody Knows, That Just Ain't So'

Today's 'real Americans,' and those who graduated from campus activism to successful career tracks, have an odd sort of common belief: Muslims are evil, or at least dupes of Islam. An oversimplification? Yes: but I think it's good enough for a quick sketch of the attitude toward 'those people.'

What sets today's establishment apart is that all religion is supposed to be dangerous, or at least 'intolerant.'

"The establishment" isn't what it used to be, and that's almost another topic:
As the name of that blog suggests, I'm one of 'those religious people.' Worse, I'm a Catholic: which doesn't mean what you may have heard.

By the way, I discuss political issues, but this isn't a "political" post, and there's a reason why it's hard to pigeonhole my views as liberal or conservative:
I'm getting seriously off-topic. Sort of.

'Kill a Commie for Christ,' and Assumptions

Denver News (1921), from The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection),, via, used w/o permissionLet's say that the more violent iterations of the Ku Klux Klan were the only sort of 'Christianity' a person heard about. Assuming that folks who 'protected' their America from foreigners, blacks, and other 'anti-Christian' influences, were typical Christians wouldn't be hard.

Equally rabid patriots who inspired the 'kill a commie for Christ' slogan didn't help, in my opinion.

My reaction to ranting radio preachers and their secular counterparts eventually led to my becoming a Catholic, and that's definitely another topic.

Beware Rabid 'Defenders'

In a way, I'm not half as concerned about foreign threats, as I am about some of the folks determined to 'protect' my country.

These days, I don't see a 'vast right-wing conspiracy' as a serious threat to America's freedom. Too many folks remember various red scares, or were told about them in the government schools. Yet another topic.2

I am concerned about folks who apparently want to 'protect' America from the supposed dangers of religious belief: any religious belief.

That's another over-simplification. I've written about tolerance, real and imagined, fairly often: and put links under "Tolerance," below.

Egypt and a Changing World

Maybe the Egyptian president really will bring freedom, democracy, and stability, to Egypt: and then let someone else have a say in how his country is managed. I'm dubious about that: but it's possible.

I think it's more likely that Mr. Morsi wants Egypt to be a nice, orderly, "stable" country: like North Korea, Burma/Myanmar; and 20th century Latin American rulers whose title was "president," since American support depended on a show of "democracy." Cynical? Maybe.

I don't mind stability, or freedom. But I think there are different sorts of "stability:"
  • Good news
    • Choosing leaders without bloodshed
    • Citizens living without fear of criminals in the
      • Private sector
      • Government
  • Bad news
    • Protecting folks with power
      • Political
      • Military
      • Economic
    • Silencing criticism
    • Preventing change
I realize that change is unsettling, sometimes painful. But change happens, change can be good, and resisting change can create new problems: and even more unsettling, painful change. My opinion.

Getting a grip about:
In the news:

1From the news:
"Egypt President Mursi defends new powers amid protests"
BBC News (23 November 2012)

"President Mohammed Mursi has appeared before supporters in Cairo to defend a new decree that grants him sweeping powers.

"He told them he was leading Egypt on a path to 'freedom and democracy' and was the guardian of stability.

"He was speaking as thousands of opponents gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square and offices of the president's party were attacked in several cities.

"The decree says presidential decisions cannot be revoked by any authority...."

"Egypt's President Expands His Own Powers"
Sam Dagher in Cairo and Jay Solomon in Washington, The Wall Street Journal (November 22, 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, coming off a heady week of high-stakes diplomacy that thrust his government onto the international stage, pushed to consolidate his power at home with a set of decrees aimed at sidelining a judiciary that has been one of the last institutions challenging the Islamist government.

"The declarations, which appeared to stun the Obama administration, brought into the open a long-simmering confrontation between Mr. Morsi's Islamist government and a judiciary that is populated with many secular-leaning judges appointed by the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.

"U.S. officials on Thursday said there was no indication that Mr. Morsi was going to make this move when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cairo Wednesday, and the administration widely praised the Egyptian president for brokering the cease-fire between the militant group Hamas and Israel that also involved the U.S. and a host of regional powers. The agreement ended more than a week of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and repeated bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military.

"A senior U.S. State Department official said Mr. Morsi's actions 'have raised some concerns' and that officials are watching the developments closely....

"...The set of decrees exempt the president's decisions from all judicial review and bars the courts from dissolving a constitutional-drafting committee that has increasingly come under the sway of Mr. Morsi's allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Several prominent Egyptian liberal political leaders, including some who ran in this year's presidential election, met in Cairo on Thursday, with most expressing their shock at Mr. Morsi's moves.

" 'Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences,' wrote Mohammed ElBaradei, a former candidate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on his official Twitter account.

"The negotiations over Gaza, whose conclusion was announced by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr with Mrs. Clinton at his side, elicited praise for Egypt's new leader, who came to power this year in the wake of the revolution that overthrew Mr. Mubarak. The Obama administration talked with cautious optimism of teaming up with Mr. Morsi to attempt to make progress on regional issues that have been stalled for decades....

"...U.S. officials have urged Mr. Morsi to pursue changes that include gender and religious rights in Egypt. 'We encourage all parties to work together and we call for Egyptian leaders to resolve these issues through democratic dialogue,' the official said....

"...While the immediate impact of the declarations remains unclear, observers said they could help further strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood's dominance of the constitutional-drafting process and perhaps open the door to retrials of former regime officials and connected businessmen who were found not guilty in corruption trials.

"Mr. Morsi's allies defended the decrees as necessary to prevent former regime influence from derailing an increasingly turbulent transition.

"They insisted that the extraordinary powers bestowed by the decrees will disappear once a new constitution is drafted and goes into effect....

"Yet the declarations also sealed Mr. Morsi's position as the dominant figure over Egypt's transition to a system many hope will be more democratic—and raised new concerns that Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are eliminating all checks on their authority...."

2 Some Americans who home school their kids may be intellectually-challenged sociopaths with strong anti-science beliefs. I think that stereotype is seriously flawed, but what would I know? I'm one of those home-schooling parents: and 'everybody knows' what they're like.

I've harangued about education, science, and religion, a bit in another blog:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

An American President, Armistice Day, and a Comic Strip Character

The 11th day of November is Armistice Day. Over the decades it's been called National, Poppy, and Rembrance Day. These days, Americans call it Veteran's Day.

Some of the most sensible words I've seen recorded that apply to this holiday come from a comic strip character, and an American president:
"Y'know, it seems to be me this is all backwards....We, Ever'body, ought to keep our big mouths shut all the whole year long so's we'd have time to think of two minutes worth of somethin. to say on the eleventh day of November."
(Porky Pine, in Pogo; Walt Kelly (1953))

"Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared to the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good."
(Abraham Lincoln, Response to a serenade (November 10, 1864))

Adapted from:
Related posts:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pakistani Assassination Contract, Politics, and Hate

A Californian, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, made a short movie. He posted it on YouTube, and now he's famous: mostly because quite a few Muslims think it insults Islam. They're probably right.

Some folks in the Islamic world apparently believe that killing other Muslims is a good way to deal with this insult. I think that's daft.

Others seem to have decided that killing Americans is a reasonable response. I don't think that's a good idea, either: but will admit to a bias. I'm an American.

Earlier today, it sounded like the Pakistani government would give $100,000 to whoever kills that California filmmaker. Now (Sunday afternoon here near the center of North America), the bounty on Nakoula Basseley Nakoula seems to come from government official - who was acting on his own.

Either way, I don't think assassination is good way to react to hurt feelings. On the other hand, I don't think it's a good idea to hurl insults.

Incentives, Claims, and Decisions

Pakistan's Railroad Minister offered to pay whoever kills Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. International news services picked up the story, and now someone speaking for the Pakistani prime minister said that the Pakistani government had nothing to do with the bounty.1

Maybe the railroad boss really was acting on his own. Maybe whoever planned the assassination contract didn't realize that information travels fast these days. I don't know.

What's important, at least for Mr. Nakoula and anyone near him, is that whoever kills him gets $100,000. Between outrage, anger, and that reward: quite a few folks have a big incentive to hunt the filmmaker down.

California is a long way from Pakistan, but the now-famous Mr. Nakoula isn't taking chances:
"...While many Muslim countries saw mostly peaceful protests on Friday, fifteen people were killed in Pakistan during demonstrations over the video.

"People involved in the film, an amateurish 13-minute clip of which was posted on YouTube, have said it was made by a 55-year-old California man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

"Nakoula has not returned to his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos since leaving voluntarily to be interviewed by federal authorities. His family has since gone into hiding...."
I've got some sympathy for Mr. Nakoula's family, particularly if they didn't go along with the fellow's exercise in self-expression. For that matter, I hope Mr. Nakoula doesn't get killed as a result of his actions: if only so that he has time to reconsider the wisdom of his recent decisions.

Pakistan, California, and a Global Culture

The fuss over Mr. Nakoula's film isn't anything new, although that lethal attack on an American embassy in Libya made this situation stand out a bit.

Every so often, someone in a Western country burns a Quran, draws a nasty picture of Mohammed, makes a movie, or does something else rude in reference to Islam.

Then some Muslims set fires and - often as not - kill other Muslims; others point out that the latest outrage isn't nice; and still others probably stay inside and hope the building they're in doesn't get bombed, burned, or both.

That, in my opinion, does more to damage the reputation of Islam than any YouTube video could.

Like it or not, we live in the Information Age: when folks all over the world are likely to learn about someone burning a mosque (February 13, 2008), or offering a reward for killing an infidel.

I like living in a huge world, where most folks aren't just like me, and that's almost another topic.

Hate Crime Legislation: Sort of

Change the names, and a few details, and what Egypt's President wants sounds pretty much like 'hate crime' laws here in America:
"...'A new reality in the Middle East has emerged after the toppling of autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak and others through democratic elections that brought newly-elected Islamist governments,' Emad Abdel Ghaffour, leader of the Salafist Nour Party, told Reuters.

" 'There are interest groups who seek to escalate hatred to show newly-elected governments and their Muslim electorate as undemocratic,' he said.

"Nour, whose party is the second largest in parliament and plays a formidable force in Egypt's new politics, said President Mohamed Mursi should demand '[!] legislation or a resolution to criminalize 'contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet' at the U.N. General Assembly next week."
I'm not a huge fan of hate crime legislation. America had enforceable libel and slander laws before complaining about 'hate crimes' became fashionable. 'Hate crimes' looked like a way to criminalize opinions of folks who weren't on the same page as the establishment, and that's not quite another topic, too.

Accustomed to Change

I was born in the Truman administration, grew up in the '60s, and can't remember a time when my world wasn't changing. Technology went from vacuum tubes to integrated circuits, 'she's as smart as a man' stopped being a compliment, and America became visibly less WASPish. Some of the social changes were long-overdue reforms; some didn't come out the way I'd hoped.

But I didn't grow up expecting the world I'd grow old in to be the same as the one my grandfather knew. I didn't even think today's world should be like 'the good old days.'

I've said this before: I think the intermittent international riot that's happening again has more to do with culture, and less with religion. Or, rather, that there are at least two 'Islams.'

One of them is a faith that is adjusting to a world where camels and horses aren't the fastest mode of transportation. The other is a system of belief which worked for folks whose way of life was old when Abram left Ur: but which has trouble coping with a post-Magna Carta world.

Living with Difference

My ancestors had a thousand years or so to go from the days of Njal's Saga and the Táin Bó Cúalnge, to Huckleberry Finn and Catch-22. Even so, some folks in the Western world aren't acting well. What's different in the West is that our social and political systems don't generally regard killing neighbors as acceptable behavior. (July 24, 2011)

I'm not making excuses for the Pakistani Railroad Minister, the young Norwegian who tried to start a race war, or the Taliban. I do, however, think it's a good idea to remember that folks like that exist: and can cause serious problems if goaded.

We've all got wonderful opportunities to change the world - for the better. I think there are more effective ways of building a better world than posting provocative videos; or killing fellow-Muslims, Norwegians, or whatever.

Politics and Hate

Maybe the Railroad Minister and others are a lot shrewder than they seem. Getting folks angry is an staple political tactic:
"...'There are interest groups who seek to escalate hatred to show newly-elected governments and their Muslim electorate as undemocratic,' he [Emad Abdel Ghaffour] said...."
Let's remember that it's not always 'the other guy' who's stirring up hatred, and that's yet another topic.

By the way, that Reuters article has been revised since I first read it. I think the original has interesting material, so I appended it to this post.2

Related posts:
In the news:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Pakistani bounty placed on anti-Islam filmmaker"
Jibran Ahmad and others, Reuters (September 23, 2012)

"A Pakistani minister offered $100,000 on Saturday to anyone who kills the maker of an online video which insults Islam, as sporadic protests rumbled on across parts of the Muslim world.

" 'I announce today that this blasphemer, this sinner who has spoken nonsense about the holy Prophet, anyone who murders him, I will reward him with $100,000,' Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour told a news conference, to applause.

" 'I invite the Taliban brothers and the al Qaeda brothers to join me in this blessed mission.'

"A spokesman for Pakistan's prime minister said the government disassociated itself from the minister's statement...."
2Reuters article, before rewrite:
"Pakistani bounty placed on anti-Islam filmmaker"
Jibran Ahmad (also Anis Ahmed, Tom Cocks, Robin Pomeroy, Editing by Sophie Hares), Reuters (September 23, 2012)

"A Pakistani minister offered $100,000 on Saturday to anyone who kills the maker of an online video which insults Islam, as sporadic protests rumbled on across parts of the Muslim world.

" 'I announce today that this blasphemer, this sinner who has spoken nonsense about the holy Prophet, anyone who murders him, I will reward him with $100,000,' Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour told a news conference, to applause.

" 'I invite the Taliban brothers and the al Qaeda brothers to join me in this blessed mission.'

"A spokesman for Pakistan's prime minister said the government disassociated itself from the minister's statement.

"While many Muslim countries saw mostly peaceful protests on Friday, fifteen people were killed in Pakistan during demonstrations over the video.

"People involved in the film, an amateurish 13-minute clip of which was posted on YouTube, have said it was made by a 55-year-old California man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

"Nakoula has not returned to his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos since leaving voluntarily to be interviewed by federal authorities. His family has since gone into hiding.

"In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Saturday, thousands of Islamist activists clashed with police who used batons and teargas to clear an unauthorized protest. In Kano, northern Nigeria's biggest city, Shi'ite Muslims burned American flags, but their protest passed off peacefully.

"The demonstrations were less widespread than on Friday, but showed anger still simmered around the world against the film and other insults against Islam in the West, including cartoons published by a French satirical magazine.

"Showing continued nervousness among Western governments, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Muslim countries to protect foreign embassies.

" 'The governments in host countries have the unconditional obligation to protect foreign missions. If that doesn't happen, we will emphatically criticize that and if it still doesn't happen it won't go without consequences,' he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday[.]

"Germany's embassy in Sudan was stormed on September 14 as was the U.S. mission in the capital Khartoum where there were deadly clashes between police and protesters against the film.


"In the Libyan city of Benghazi, a crowd forced out an Islamist militia some U.S. officials blame for a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate during one of the first protests, on September 11.

"Ansar al-Sharia, which denies it was involved in the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, quit the city after its base was stormed by Libyans angry at armed groups that control parts of the country.

"That might go some way to vindicate U.S. President Barack Obama's faith in Libya's nascent democracy where Ambassador Christopher Stevens had worked to help rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi only to be killed in a surge of anti-Americanism.

" 'It's the view of this administration that it's a pretty clear sign from the Libyan people that they're not going to trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of the mob,' said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

""It's also an indication that the Libyan people are not comfortable with the voices of a few extremists and those who advocate and perpetrate violence, to drown out the voices and aspirations of the Libyan people." [ID:nL5E8KM49W]

"In Egypt, the leader of Egypt's main ultra orthodox Islamist party, that shares power with the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, said the film and the French cartoons were part of a rise of anti-Islamic actions since the Arab spring revolts.

" 'A new reality in the Middle East has emerged after the toppling of autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak and others through democratic elections that brought newly-elected Islamist governments,' Emad Abdel Ghaffour, leader of the Salafist Nour Party, told Reuters.

" 'There are interest groups who seek to escalate hatred to show newly-elected governments and their Muslim electorate as undemocratic,' he said.

"Nour, whose party is the second largest in parliament and plays a formidable force in Egypt's new politics, said President Mohamed Mursi should demand '[!]legislation or a resolution to criminalize 'contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet' at the U.N. General Assembly next week."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Anti-American Protests, Anti-Islamic Film, and Getting a Grip

I've been out of town on business all week, and started catching up yesterday. I discovered that four Americans had been killed Tuesday at an embassy in Libya, and that both Libyan and American authorities seemed to think the attack had to be treated seriously.

That's progress of a sort. As for the usual protests:
Today I learned that many of the protests were a response to "...a film ridiculing Muhammad produced by an American in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States...." (AP, via

I think killing Americans and torching an embassy isn't an appropriate response: not even for someone who's really angry. That said, I can sympathize with Muslims who are upset about what seems to be the latest anti-Islamic film.

But folks who get upset, and then kill someone? That's unacceptable.

Ridiculing 'Those People'

I'm part of a religious minority in America, and long ago got used to having my faith ridiculed by other Americans:

(Chick Publications, via, used w/o permission)

I don't like comics like the one in that excerpt. But I'd much rather live in a country where folks are free to express their opinions: as long as I'm allowed to do the same. I remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism, and the more recent political correctness: and didn't like either one.

"Freedom" shouldn't mean "free to agree with me, or be quiet:"

Living in a Big World

Like I've said before, we live in a big world. Like it or not, the 7,000,000,000 or so folks who share the planet don't all:
  • Look alike
  • Wear the same clothes
  • Follow the same
    • Faith
    • Customs
I like living in a world where not everyone is like me. It would be unreasonable for me to expect everyone to enjoy a world of differences - but I think most of us can learn to say 'I don't agree' without killing someone.

I also hope that more of us can learn to say what we believe: without hurling insults at 'those people over there.' And that's another topic.

Here's a bit of what started me writing this post:
"Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad tore across the Middle East after weekly prayers on Friday with protesters attacking U.S. embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions.

"At least seven people were killed as local police struggled to repel assaults after weekly Muslim prayers in Tunisia and Sudan, while there was new violence in Egypt and Yemen and across the Muslim world, driven by emotions ranging from piety to anger at Western power to frustrations with local leaders and poverty.

"A Taliban attack on a base in Afghanistan that killed two Americans may also have been timed to coincide with protests.

"But three days after the amateurish film of obscure origin triggered an attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11, President Barack Obama led a ceremony to honour the returning dead and vowed to 'stand fast' against the violence.

" 'The United States will never retreat from the world,' said Obama, who in seeking re-election must defend his record on protecting U.S. interests, both at embassies and more widely in a region where last year's Arab Spring revolts overthrew pro-Western autocrats to the benefit of once-oppressed Islamists...."
(Ulf Laessing and Tarek Amara, Reuters)

"...Protesters angered over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad fired gunshots and burned down the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing one American diplomat, witnesses and the State Department said. In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and replaced an American flag with an Islamic banner.

"It was the first such assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime leaders, Muammar Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak in uprisings last year.

"The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Muhammad produced by an American in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube...."
(Associated Press, via
Related posts:
In the news:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dead Americans Returned from Libya, Bomb Threats at Home: 'Same Old, Same Old'

'Yankee go home' has been replaced by 'the great Satan America,' but other than that I tend to see what's been happening overseas as more of the 'same old, same old.'

In Libya, four Americans were killed on Tuesday. I rather hope that someone's going to figure our why embassy security was, ah, modified:
"...sources have told the BBC that on the advice of a US diplomatic regional security officer, the mission in Benghazi was not given the full contract despite lobbying by private contractors.

"Instead, the US consulate was guarded externally by a force of local Libyan militia, many of whom reportedly put down their weapons and fled once the mission came under concerted attack...."
(BBC News)
Some details of what happened during that attack are public knowledge: but not why the attack happened, or who planned it. Much as I'd like to know exactly what Libyan and American officials know and guess about the attack, I think they're acting sensibly.

Blurting out sensitive information, or off-the-cuff exclamations make for exciting news: but I don't think it would be good for most Libyans or Americans at this point. What we do know is more tantalizing than enlightening:
"...Four people have been arrested in connection with the attack that left Stevens and the three other Americans dead, the top aide to the president of the Libyan parliament said Friday.

"Those arrested were not directly tied to the attack, Monem Elyasser, the chief aide to Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur, told CNN by telephone.

"Elyasser did not release the identities of the four suspects in custody, nor did he detail the allegations against them.

"The announcement came as the United States is struggling to determine whether a militant group planned the attack that killed the four Americans...."
Meanwhile, quite a few folks in other parts of the Middle East are expressing the usual anti-American sentiment. I'm pretty sure that this does not 'prove' that:
  • Everything is the fault of
    • America
    • The Jews
    • Islam
    • Democrats
    • Republicans
  • America should
    • Pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist
    • Bomb Libya
    • Arrest all Muslims
    • Apologize for offending someone
Meanwhile, bomb threats affected routines at some American universities: including one of my Alma Maters, NDSU. Those threats resulted in no explosions, but quite a few questions.

I have no idea who made the bomb threats: but I'm not terribly surprised that they happened. We just passed the September 11 anniversary, and some major issues are at stake in the coming November election. Threatening to kill college students isn't a reasonable response to America's domestic situation: and that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering September 11, 2001; and Looking Ahead

On September 11, 2001, thousands of people died in an attack on cities along the east coast of North America. The attack was carried out by people who apparently didn't approve of America, America's way of life, and anything else that wasn't exactly consistent with what they preferred.

I'm not entirely pleased about some aspects of America's contemporary culture, either: but slaughtering thousands of folks I don't like isn't a reasonable response. I'll get back to that.

Since 9/11/2001, a remarkable number of national leaders have decided that getting killed by religious fanatics isn't a good thing. Even more remarkable, many have committed to an armed response to the threat of Al Qaeda and like-minded outfits.

I think peace is nice. I think war is very unpleasant. But sometimes peace isn't an acceptable option.

The Job at Hand

In the short term, the job at hand is dealing with the sad fact that some folks would like to kill more people who don't dress and act the way they want us to. Since asking nicely hasn't worked in the past, my guess is that military action in the Middle East and other parts of the world will continue to be necessary.

Tolerance, Real and Imagined

While dealing with the physical threat posed by religious fanatics, I think it's vital to preserve the tolerance that earned America their hatred. That's going to be difficult, since my country is home to some folks who seem as fervently dedicated to their own notions as any Al Qaeda zealot.

One lot seems to feel that 'Muslims and other foreigners' are a Satanic threat to their own views of how everybody should dress and act. These folks see "tolerance" as allowing others to agree with their views: even if the others look like foreigners.

Another lot seems convinced that all religion is a sort of psychiatric condition or social pathology. These folks see "tolerance" as allowing others to hold differing opinions: as long as the 'intolerant' people keep quiet, and do whatever the 'tolerant' folks tell them to.

I'm not at all fond of either sort of 'tolerance.'

Sorting Out 'Quirky' and 'Constant'

Tolerance has been defined as "a permissible difference; allowing some freedom to move within limits." (Princeton's WordNet) I think that's reasonable.

One of the major challenges in today's world is determining just what "some freedom" means. We're going through exciting and promising changes - which means that quirky little preferences that may have worked a few generations back simply don't apply any more.

The trick will be distinguishing between rules that don't matter, like which side of a plate the fork goes on, and ethical principles that apply to 'left fork,' 'right fork,' and 'no fork' folks. It's not going to be easy: but it's necessary. And that's another topic.

Related posts:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Air France 447: Equipment Problems; Stall Warnings; Pilot Error

Air France Flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro and headed toward Paris. Some time later, the Airbus A330-200 disappeared from radar.

Evidence, But Not Much

That was May 31, 2009. By June 10, we knew that an airliner and 228 people had disappeared, and that:
  • Two names that were on a terrorist watch list appeared on Air France Flight 447's passenger list
  • The Airbus A330-200 had an older set of Pitot tubes
    • Air speed sensors
  • Pilots in the area saw an "intense flash" when the airliner disappeared
  • A fuel slick found wasn't jet fuel
    (June 10, 2009)
All we knew was that more than 200 people were missing and presumed dead.

I could make that bright flash seem like an explosion, but there was a thunderstorm in the area: and lightning is notoriously bright.

Passengers with names that appeared on a terrorist watch list were suggestive, but far from proof. The names may not have been as common as "Jim Johnson" was in northern Minnesota: but different people often have the same name.

The Pitot tubes, which were going to be replaced, hinted at technical problems: but a 'hint' isn't proof.

Almost two years later, AF 447's flight recorder was found. (April 28, 2011

Training Pilots: Yes, It's Important

Apparently AF447's pilots hadn't been trained for high-altitude flight, or what to do when airspeed sensors don't work right. (BBC News, July 29, 2011) Putting them on a high-altitude flight in an airliner with slightly obsolete airspeed sensors may not have been a prudent decision. Air France says that the pilots were so trained.

Airbus and Air France may face manslaughter charges over the little oopsies in AF 447.

A BBC News article included a timeline of the last few minutes of Air France 447:
"...0135 GMT: The crew informs the controller of the flight's location

"0159-0206 GMT: The co-pilot warns of turbulence ahead before the captain leaves the cockpit for a rest break

"0208 GMT: The plane turns left, diverting from the planned route. Turbulence increases

"0210 GMT: The auto-pilot and auto-thrust mechanisms disengage. The plane rolls to the right. The co-pilot attempts to raise the nose. The stall warning sounds twice and the plane's speed drops. The co-pilot calls the captain

"0210 GMT: The stall warning sounds again. The plane climbs to 38,000ft

"0211-0213 GMT: The captain re-enters the cockpit. The plane is flying at 35,000 ft but is descending 10,000 ft per minute. The co-pilot says 'I don't have any more indications', pulls the nose down and the stall warning sounds again...

"...02:14 GMT: Recordings stop"
(BBC News)
I think there are a few things to learn from AF 447, including:
  • 'Accidents happen'
  • It's a good idea to train pilots
  • Faulty equipment isn't reliable
  • Deferring judgment until there's enough evidence is sensible
Related posts:
In the news:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day, 2012

Related posts:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dead Syrians, Stability, and Getting a Grip

First, some news and views. Then I'll opine a bit.
"U.N. observers in Syria see gruesome evidence of a new massacre"
Los Angeles Times (June 8, 2012)

"Bullet-pocked homes and bloodstained walls. Shell casings littering the ground in a ghost town still smoldering from the onslaught.

"A United Nations observer team on Friday finally reached the site of Syria's latest apparent massacre, a now-abandoned farming village where opposition activists accuse pro-government forces of killing dozens of civilians this week in an artillery bombardment and grisly door-to-door executions.

" 'Young children, infants, my brother, his wife and seven children … all dead,' said a grieving man in a video distributed by the U.N. 'I will show you the blood. They burned his house.'..."

"The U.N.'s Syria disaster"
The Post's View, The Washington Post (June 8, 2012)

"THIS MAY BE remembered as the week in which the illusion that the bloodshed in Syria could be stopped by United Nations diplomats was destroyed once and for all. Inside the country, the killing sharply and sickeningly accelerated. In Washington, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan finally had to acknowledge that his calamitous peace initiative, which has provided the United States and its allies with an excuse for inaction for the past 11 weeks, 'may be dead.'

"Mr. Annan's concession was forced in part by the latest massacre by a government-backed militia. In a village near Hama, some 80 people were butchered and their homes burned...."

"In Its Unyielding Stance on Syria, Russia Takes Substantial Risks in Middle East"
Ellen Barry, News Analysis, The New York Times (June 8, 2012)

"MOSCOW - The international deadlock over Syria has, in a dreadful way, provided balm for old grievances in this city. After years of fuming about Western-led campaigns to force leaders from power, Russia has seized the opportunity to make its point heard.

"This time, its protests cannot be set aside as they were when NATO began airstrikes in Libya or when Western-led coalitions undertook military assaults in Iraq and Serbia. Instead, the international community has come to Russia’s doorstep.

" On Friday, a top State Department official visited Moscow, presumably seeking to persuade the Kremlin to reconsider its stance and contribute to an effort to engineer a transition from the rule of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a longtime Russian ally. In remarks after the meeting, Russia's top negotiator was implacable, telling a reporter that Moscow’s position was 'a matter of principle.'

"Russia's leaders have said repeatedly that their goal is to guard against instability, not to support Mr. Assad...."

"United Nations frets about 'sitting duck' monitors in Syria"
Tim Witcher, The Daily Star (UK) (June 9, 2012)

"The United Nations is increasingly worried about the unarmed observers it has sent into Syria to monitor the war between President Bashar Assad's troops and opposition rebels.

"The U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria is caught between hostile troops accused of firing at its patrols and increasingly bitter Syrians who cannot understand why it has not halted the bloodshed, officials said.

"Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, likened the monitors to '300 sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, one IED from a disaster,' at a recent U.N. Security Council meeting...."

The Los Angeles Times seems to be doing fairly straightforward reporting. And, sadly, Syria's boss has another mass death of civilians to explain.

The Washington Post's op-ed may have something to do with the upcoming November presidential election: or not. Either way, it looks like the W.P. has decided that asking Syria's boss to start acting nice isn't working.

The New York Times' op-ed seems to imply that (nice) Russia is protecting the world against the (nasty) west:
"...After years of fuming about Western-led campaigns to force leaders from power, Russia has seized the opportunity to make its point heard...."
(The New York Times)
I could be wrong about that, of course.

The Daily Star brings up an important point: the U.N. observers are in an awkward position. Folks in Syria understandably seem to want the observers to 'do something.' Which is frustrating, since the U.N. observers are doing just that: observing.

And since even Syria's neighbors don't particularly like outsiders observing what happens to Syrians when they're not properly appreciative of Asad, the U.N. observers are under attack themselves.

What continues to impress me about the situation in Syria is that, as far as I've seen, nobody's figured out a way to blame the Jews. As I've said before:
"...this is, I think, a hopeful sign. Maybe more folks are starting to consider the idea of living with neighbors: instead of killing them.

"It's a start, and that's yet another topic."
(May 26, 2012)
Finally, about Russia's decision to defend Asad's regime: Stability is nice. But it seems to me that Syrians who aren't on Asad's 'preferred' list don't want "stability." They want a government that doesn't kill its own citizens.

I think that's a reasonable desire.

Somewhat-related posts:

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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.