Thursday, August 31, 2006

Follow-up to School Shooting Post

When I ended the post below with the remark that we could help end school shootings by telling children we love them, I wasn't being as trite as it seems.

The Secret Service did a study a number of years ago on school shootings, after Columbine, to try and help schools and parents identify risks. They could not come up with much of a profile (beyond the fact that nealy all the school shooters are male and white). They did, however, identify some common ground among school shooters.

Among their findings...

First, shooters were likely people who were regularly and persistently bullied by their peers. Of course, the most common place for them to routinely interact with their peers is at school. These kids are ostracized for some reason- appearance, behavior, etc.- and this becomes such a common part of their lives that they begin to contemplate violent revenge.

Secondly, shooters are very likely to talk about what they intend to do before they do it. They may threaten to shoot or blow people up. They may even warn friends to stay home on a particular day. But, they talk.

Here's where kindness to a child can have an impact. Loving a child can help to counterbalance, perhaps even immunize them from, the harassment they face at school. If they feel loved, perhaps they are less likely to take such an extreme action that can cost students their lives.

Further, if we reach out in kindness to our children, perhaps they will tell us when things are getting to be too much. Perhaps they will tell us what they feel like doing. Then we can intervene- before it's too late.

I know it's not so simple as saying, "I love you." But the analogy I would use is like people who take a 'baby aspirin' to reduce their chances of a heart attack. Other risk factors have to be dealt with too, and the aspirin is no guarantee.

However, it won't hurt, and it may well help.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Sad, Sad Beginning

As a teacher, these stories make me heartsick. From CNN:

School shooting suspect charged with killing father

A 19-year-old who was taken into custody following a school shooting Wednesday afternoon was charged with killing his father earlier in the day, according to the Orange County, North Carolina, sheriff's office.

The teen fired eight shots at Orange High School, injuring two students and sending others running for cover...

I can't believe that this early in a school year such an event has occurred. Here in Michigan where a new state law requires a start after Labor Day, we don't even have students in the buildings yet. Already a tragedy that has become all too common has struck a school.

My heart goes out to the children from this school, and their teachers and parents.

Help stop school shootings: Tell a child you love them today.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Point to the Moderates

Muslim Group Picks First Woman Leader

[Ingrid Mattson is the] first woman president of the largest Muslim group in North America...

American Muslims hold varied cultural views on the proper role for women in the faith and disagree on how to interpret Quranic verses about the subject.

Most recently, the community has been debating how far mosques should go in separating men and women during worship and whether women should lead mixed-gender prayer. There is no tradition of women imams, or clerics, at mosques. Still, women have had prominent roles outside of ritual services, founding and leading some Islamic groups throughout North America.

'My position is that women can do virtually everything else that Muslim men can do, but leading the prayer is always relational,' she said. 'It should be about who's in the room.'

While this may not be 'liberal' by American standards, it does demonstrate that devout Muslims can choose to be people of faith and have more moderate views of the role of women than Americans generally associate with the religion.

Moderates in Islam do exist, and in larger numbers that we may know. We must continue to encourage these moderate groups, and cultivate friendships with them. This path- making friends- is a viable method towards the reduction of the terrorist threat. War is not the only means.


The Real World Calls

Not being independently wealthy, the Grey Pilgrim needs to stop wandering and work for a living. The school year begins. Students await (not eagerly, I presume). Lessons must be planned. Papers must be graded.

Although I will have less time to scan the news and write, I intend to continue this experiment throughout the school year. I will write- daily, I hope- but a bit less frequently than I have this summer.

I do want to take a moment to thank those of you who join me here at this site. Some of you agree, some don't. That's very good. I've been given fresh thoughts from your emails and comments. I have had the opportunity to hear from people around the globe, which has been a great experience. I will look forward to more insightful thoughts in emails and comments in the near future.

Thank you.


Outrageous Rumsfeld Speech

Today Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld said that any of us who oppose the policies of the Bush Administration in Iraq or dealing with terrorism in general suffer from 'moral and intellectual confusion.'

He also said that people who disagree with him and the President lack courage, and are willing to appease terrorists as there were those willing to appease Hitler in the time preceding WWII.
“But some seem not to have learned history’s lessons,” he said.

I find this speech to be outrageous.

First of all, the man who has led American troops into a war of choice based on bad and/or cooked data is ill-equipped to speak to us about moral direction.

Secondly, this administration has helped to create intellectual confusion- not among opponents but to create supporters- with it's misinformation (such as that pointed out by Sen. McCain recently) and secrecy.

Finally, it should be pointed out that those of us who oppose this administration's policies do so not because we wish to aid or appease the terrorists, but because we believe that it as a result of the Rumsfeld/Cheney/Bush policies we are less safe in a world where terrorism is a real threat. Policies which 'make enemies faster than we can kill them' do us no good.

The lessons of history are there, that is true. Those lessons teach us that when a government misleads its people into a war of choice that is not in the nation's direct national interest, then that government will ultimately lose the faith of its people.

It is especially ironic that Rumsfeld tries to direct our attention to history. When our current affairs are written into the history books, Rumsfeld may feel differently. Our current Secretary of Defense will likely not find himself mentioned along side those who led America against Hitler in the 40's, but with Robert McNamara, who led America to defeat in Vietnam in the 70's.


Monday, August 28, 2006

How do you like your crow??

That's the question for much of the media today.

CNN reports:

The DNA sample taken from John Mark Karr does not match DNA found on JonBenet Ramsey's body when she was murdered in 1996, CNN affiliate KUSA is reporting.

The Breaking News banner at the top of the page reads:

No charges will be filed against John Mark Karr after his DNA did not match evidence from JonBenet Ramsey murder scene, Denver, Colorado's KUSA TV reports.


Past or Present?

We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
- Edward R. Murrow
It was true during our struggle with communism. It is true during our struggle with terrorism.

Religion and Environmentalism

From the Australian News:

Environmental damage 'threatens poor'
POPE Benedict XVI warned today that damage to the environment has dire consequences for the poor, and called for all Christians to work to save the earth.

The world "is exposed to a series of risks created by choices and lifestyles that can degrade it", the leader of the Roman Catholic Church said in his Sunday sermon given at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

"Damage to the environment makes the life of the poor on Earth particularly unbearable," the Pope said, calling on all Christians to take care of the earth and not deplete its resources, sharing them in solidarity.

I've always believed that environmentalism and religious thinking should go hand in hand. I've generally emphasized the stewardship angle- that we should care for God's gift of this world to us as God would care for it himself.

The Pope provides us with a different angle, but one that should resonate in all religious traditions: economic justice.

Our obligation to care for "the least of these" should extend to care for the environment. As the Pope suggests, there is little question that with environmental degredation and resource depletion, it would be the poor who suffer first, and suffer most.

People of faith should take up the cause of environmentalism naturally. (Pun intended.)


Sunday, August 27, 2006

What do Iraqis Think?

A new poll from the University of Michigan may provide some insight.

The growing sense of insecurity affected all three of Iraq's major ethnic and religious groups. The number of Iraqis who "strongly agreed" that life is "unpredictable and dangerous" jumped from 41% to 48% of Shiites, from 67% to 79% of Sunnis, and from 16% to 50% of Kurds. The most recent survey, done in April this year, also asked for "the three main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq." Less than 2% chose "to bring democracy to Iraq" as their first choice. The list was topped by "to control Iraqi oil" (76%), followed by "to build military bases" (41%) and "to help Israel" (32%).

91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are "strongly opposed". Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia,
opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%. Even among the Kurds, opposition went from 19.6% to 63.3%. In other words, it isn't just that Iraqis oppose the American presence - it's that their feelings are intense: only 7.2% "somewhat oppose" and 4.7% "somewhat support."

I can't verify the accuracy of the poll. I would be willing to give the University of Michigan the benefit of the doubt, however, as capable of doing as good a job as possible in such a poll. It must be terribly difficult to get a scientific sample in Iraq due to the violence and lack of electricity/phone service. Whatever the difficulties, I'm not sure they would slant the results in any particular way.

So, the numbers may be a little off, but I don't have any reason to suspect the overall findings.

If the numbers are remotely accurate, consider the 'battle for the hearts and minds' lost.


Conflicting reports

I don't even know how to make sense of these two headlines on the same day:

Levees could still fail in big storm, Corps warns: Despite repairs, barriers around New Orleans vulnerable to storm surge. (from MSNBC)

Feds say New Orleans is storm-ready. (from AP)

For the sake of the people of New Orleans, I hope someone knows what the real answer is.


From the lips of children

When driving home from visiting some friends today, my youngest son, out of nowhere, said, "I hope the cease-fire is lasting."

I was happy to be able to tell him, "It is."

I know there have been moments, and that there is still danger, but the fact that the cease-fire has held is a cause for a major sigh of relief.

And it is great news for the children of Lebanon and Israel.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Reality sneeking in

From CNN/Time:

While President Bush may be getting a slight uptick in his job-approval numbers, the situation in Iraq and Lebanon has been a setback in the war on terrorism, Americans say. According to a new TIME poll, 54% of those surveyed said the U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq has hurt America's standing in the war on terrorism, vs. 40% who feel it has helped. U.S. handling of the conflict between Hizbollah and Israel has caused harm as well, said 51%, vs. 29% who said it has had a positive effect.

As this understanding grows, we can begin to chart a new course.

It is especially encouraging that now Americans are beginning to realize that our security has not been enhanced by the Iraq War, and instead has probably been weakend.

Why now?

Because candidates and voters will have time to evaluate this more enlightened understanding and have a better debate on the path to take in the future as we move to the '08 presidential election. It will take time for politicians and voters of both parties to get their brains around this realization, and create new and better ideas about how to procede towards policies that will actually lessen the likelihood of terrorism over time.

While it's not a "the future's so bright I gotta wear shades" moment, at least it's movement in the right direction.


Exploiting Faith

Interesting pieces on NBC's Today Show (see video here) on a group called "Growing in Grace". It's leader, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, claims essentially to be Jesus. The risen Jesus "integrated" himself into Miranda, the preacher claims. His website says he is "the last manifestation of God in the flesh..."

Watch the video, and see the cult-like qualities. An absolute leader (who can questions Jesus himself?). Lavish donations. The leader living a life of luxury. Families estranged. Miranda says all other religious leaders are liars, and encourages his followers to protest other churches.

It makes me sad to see people who have a true need being exploited. People who want religion, faith, God in their lives, get a con-man instead.


Continuing Rupture in the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church continues to struggle not only with the issue of consecration of gay bishops, but also with the election of a woman to be archbishop.

Dallas Bishop James Stanton is among the leaders of seven Episcopal dioceses who have denied the authority of the incoming national Episcopal leader -- Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The rejection is prompted partly by Jefferts Schori's support for gay relationships.

It falls just short of a complete break -- but in October, Dallas-area Episcopalians will meet to more fully consider their future in the denomination. The six other dissenting dioceses -- including the Fort Worth diocese -- are having similar internal debates.

Notice the fact that the rejection is based only partly on Schori's support for gay relationships. The other part, left unsaid... her gender.

I love this last sentence of the article:

Splitting from the national leaders would create spiritual orphans throughout the region -- including moderates and liberals who may have to leave the churches where they've worshipped for years.

Spirtual orphans. That hits the emotional disruption that is at stake here. People are going to be hurt. Is the pain necessary?

I continue to believe that a rupture is not necessary. I continue to have faith that dialogue- true dialogue with listening as well as talking- can allow us to continue to worship around the same communion table.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there simply is not enough middle ground on the moral issues over which people disagree. But I'd certainly like to see more time elapse, and more true dialogue take place, before churches and diocese begin to splinter off, creating spiritual orphans.

People of faith owe it to themselves and to their brothers and sisters in the faith to give every effort to developing understanding before moving down the path of separation. I am fearful that we are moving down that path entirely too quickly.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

From a reader...

In response to the post immediately below this one:

Our Christian values would never allow us to arrive in
heaven with such ruthlessness. Does the Muslim world expect us to embrace the
death of others as the way to heaven? God will judge and we must show our
disdain for the terrible acts of other humans. I am dishonored by the acts of
humans that take the life of others.
The first sentence at that reply cuts right to the heart of the issue of a key problem that does exist within modern Islam (discussed in general terms here)- that killing leads to salvation. The notion of jihad, as it has been twisted by radical Islamists, has perverted Islam to something that is unrecognizable to a faith whose very name- 'Islam'- shares a root word with 'peace.'

In the Christian world, there are extremists as well- who have twisted the faith to support crusades, inquisitions, racial supremecy, or to justify killing abortion doctors. Fortunately those types of individuals have generally, at least in modern times, been kept at bay, and on the fringe. The writer is correct- our mainstream Christian values are at odds with the terrorists who think they will find themselves a place in heaven by killing innocent civilians.

No religion is immune from being abused.

I will continue to hope and pray that moderate Muslims will be able to take back their faith from those who would misuse it for evil ends. Then a sad chapter in the history of Islam, and the world, can be closed.

I also appreciate the writers comment that "I am dishonored" by the killings. Very interesting. Aren't we all dishonored, as a part of the human family, by the killings? I think so.

If we all seek to bring peace to every facet of our lives, perhaps we can move towards a future with much less of this dishonor.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Just another day in Iraq

From Reuters:

MOSUL - Gunmen killed a family of five, including two children, after entering
their home in the al-Zanjeeli district of Mosul 390 km north of Baghdad, a
hospital source said.
MADAEN - The bodies of eight fruit traders were found
with their throats slit by a road in Madaen, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad,
said Ahmed Diabil, a spokesman for Najaf province. The men, who were from Najaf, died on Monday.
RAMADI - Gunmen killed one of the bodyguards of the governor of Anbar in a drive-by shooting in the restive Sunni stronghold, west of Baghdad, police said. The governor was not present during the attack.
MUQDADIYA - Fifteen people were wounded in a mortar attack on a market in
Muqdadiya, 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police and hospital sources
NEAR KIRKUK - Gunmen killed two people on the main road near Kirkuk,
250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - The body of Dawoud Salman, an employee in the Shi'ite Endowment, a religious foundation that cares for mosques, was found in the southern Saidiya district of Baghdad, police said.
NEAR HILLA - The body of a man with gunshot wounds to the head was
found near Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
BAQUBA - Gunmen killed a police major and seriously wounded his driver as he was heading home in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of the capital, police said.
MOSUL - Gunmen killed a man in the northern city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
YUSUFIYA - A civilian was killed and two wounded when a roadside bomb went off near a police patrol near Yusufiya, 15 km (9 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

And not a particularly bad day, relatively speaking.

"Last throes", Mr. Cheney?


Sen. McCain on Iraq


Republican Sen. John McCain, a staunch defender of the Iraq war, on Tuesday faulted the Bush administration for misleading Americans into believing the conflict would be “some kind of day at the beach.”

“I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required,” McCain said. “Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I’m just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.”

Those phrases are closely associated with top members of the Bush administration, including the president. Bush stood below a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003 after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The war has continued since then, with the death of more than 2,600 members of the U.S. military. Vice President Dick Cheney said last year that the Iraqi insurgency was “in its final throes.”

Come along, Senator. Take the last step.

Let's admit that the American people were misled about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to our national security. It's only one more little step. You can do it.

"There were no WMD. No yellow cake from Niger. No 'smoking gun that's a mushroom cloud.' No connection to 9/11. No connection to Bin Laden/Al Qaeda."

Give it a try, Senator. The truth will set you free.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ramsey Case v. Middle East Coverage

From Informed Comment:

Overseas readers who don't watch US-based cable news may not know that there is a news blackout on the 24 hours news stations, which have shown endless hours of useless speculation on a ten year old small town murder case. Why the cable news channels in the US behave in this stupid and lemming-like fashion no doubt has to do with the severe discipline of the advertising market and its dependence on ratings. I.e., news has to generate 20 percent profits, which it cannot do, and so lurid infotainment is substituted. It is also possible that they are deliberately attempting to turn American gray matter into mush so as to ensure that nobody on this continent notices what is really going on around them.But although I mind this pollution of the air waves with something that is not, whatever it is, news, the main thing I mind is the racism. The case of Abeer al-Janabi, the little fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl who was allegedly raped and killed after being stalked by a US serviceman would never be given the wall to wall coverage treatment. That is frankly because the victim was not a blonde, blue-eyed American, but a black-eyed, brunette Iraqi. Both victims were pretty little girls. Both were killed by sick predators. But whereas endless speculation about the Ramsey case, to the exclusion of important real news stories, is thought incumbent in cabalnewsland, Abeer al-Janabi's death is not treated obsessively in the same way. In the hyperlinked story above, CNN even calls the little girl a "woman" at first mention, because the US military indictment did so. Only later in the article is it revealed that she was a little girl. The very pedophiliac nature of the crime is more or less overed up in the case of al-Janabi, even as looped video of Ramsay as too grown up is endlessly inflicted on us.

I believe there is a lot of truth in this statement. I remember that during the time period when the Laci Peterson case was the media's obsession, one reporter went out and found another woman who had gone missing on the very same day, and had been pregnant like Mrs. Peterson, but who had received no media coverage at all. The difference, the other woman was black and poor, not a photogenic middle class woman like Mrs. Peterson.

I've never understood the national obsession with the Ramsey case, and commented earlier on the fact that I find the media's coverage a bit disturbing. Juan Cole's statement puts that obsession in a whole new context for me.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Public Opinion on the Iraq War

From CNN:

Opposition among Americans to the war in Iraq has reached a new high, with only about a third of respondents saying they favor it, according to a poll released Monday.

Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it -- the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago.

Fact is, it's too late now.

It's unfortunate that Americans did not think through the matter more completely before being taken into war by the Bush Administration. The question marks were huge, the facts were thin, but the polls then showed that the majority supported the unnecessary war of choice.

It's time to face the fact that most of the public support for Iraq was misplaced vengence- to get "them" back for 9/11 (even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11)- and misplaced fear (the fictitious"mushroom cloud" Condi Rice kept talking about).

President Bush disregards the poll:

Despite the rising opposition to the war, President Bush said the U.S. will not withdraw from Iraq while he is president. "In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales," the president said. "Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster," he said.

In one sense, he's probably right. But, none of what he says would be true if the US had not invaded. There would be no terrorist haven in Iraq had the US not created it.

One key error in his statement. It's not "Leaving before the job is done" that is a disaster. It is the job itself that has been a disaster.


A Sad Tale of Radical Islam

In an earlier post I reflected upon some of the challenges faced by Islam at present. This article presents an example of such a challenge.

Muslims bullying women into suicide to restore 'honor'

Imagine that a teenage boy walks up behind his sister, points a loaded gun at her head and pulls the trigger. This "honor killing" is carried out in conservative Muslim enclaves that are bound to draconian beliefs. Sometimes, the woman's "offense" is dating the wrong person or behaving in too Western a way. Killing her is seen as a way to restore a family's honor.According to the United Nations, about 5,000 honor killings take place each year, most of them in the Middle East.

But alternative ways are being found to restore "honor" that keeps everyone out of jail. Instead of offering up their sons as killers, family members bully the dishonored girls into killing themselves.The U.N. reports that 36 women in Turkey have killed themselves for family honor so far this year. The deaths are called "virgin suicides."

Hostility towards women that is found among radical Islamists is odd to me, as the Quran is not especially misogynistic in and of itself. But there have developed cultural religious traditions that allow women to be treated so terribly in some sections of the Muslim world.

Just as I refered to some of the challenges faced by Christianity in earlier posts today (here and here), Muslims need to meet these challenges head on, and overcome them. As I said of Christians earlier, if all Muslims can learn to treat one another with love, then love between people of different faiths has a chance to grow- and bring peace with it.


More Faux Christianity...

Another presumably Christian Church-

Sunday school teacher dumped for being female

WATERTOWN, New York (AP) -- The minister of a church that dismissed a female Sunday School teacher after adopting what it called a literal interpretation of the Bible says a woman can perform any job -- outside of the church.

The minister of this church has it flat wrong- not just ethically, but even on the facts. Anyone who would read Paul's epistles would read of him discussing women who taught with him.

Take for example, Romans 16: 1-16 (quoted below) in which Paul mentions many women who have aided him in spreading the Gospel.
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

Also Phillipians 4:3, in which Paul writes:
3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Many scholars believe that the portions of Paul's epistles that call for women to be silent in church (specifically 1 Cor. 14:34-35, and 1 Tim. 2:9-15) were added to those epistles later- after Paul- to deal with controversys within churches. In fact, both of the readings tend to look 'tacked on' to the chapters in which they were found, not seeming to be in proper context.

Regardless, the record is clearly mixed, and it seems impossible to reconcile the 'keep women silent' statements attributed to Paul with the 'greet' female teacher statements. To chose one over another reflects a bias. It is my bias to chose the inclusive statments as this seems to me to reflect the teachings of Jesus (after all, I am a Christian, not a Paulian). Jesus calls us to love all and bring all into our community of love.

I point out cases like this and the church in Mississippi because of the quote from the Dalai Lama I posted earlier. Until we broaden our vision and are able to see all those around us as essentially the same as ourselves- despite surface differences- we will never have peace in our communities or in our world. This is a position brought home to me quite clearly from reading the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Gandhi. "To have peace, we must be peace." To be peace, we must open our arms and our hearts and begin to treat one another with love.

If we cannot love members of our own churches- because they are women, or biracial, or gay- then how will we ever be able to create love in our hearts for others in the world who are even more different from us- such as our Muslim brothers and sisters?


Creating World Peace

Internal peace is an essential first step to achieving peace in the world. How do you cultivate it? It's very simple. In the first place by realizing clearly that all mankind is one, that human beings in every country are members of one and the same family.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

2006... or 1956?

What can sometimes pass for Christianity is stunning.

Twelve-year-old Joe recently asked Jesus to live in his heart.Yet the church where Joe accepted his Savior not even two weeks before will no longer allow the biracial boy to enter.On Aug. 6, during its scheduled Sunday night business meeting, Fellowship Baptist Church in Saltillo voted not to accept blacks within the church. More specifically, the congregation also voted Joe out and said he could not return.

To his credit, the pastor of the church, the Rev. John Stevens, resigned due to the decision of church members.

A very sad introduction for a twelve-year-old boy into the Christian community. I hope some other local church steps up immediately and takes in this young man- showing him the true spirit of the faith.


While the Pilgrim Was Wandering...

A media frenzy in the US has broken over an arrest in JonBenet Ramsey case.

This is not a case/issue that I'm going to keep up with here in the blog. Just a couple of thoughts:
1. Let's remember, the media convicted her parents 10 years ago, so a healthy dose of suspicion would be wise regarding the media coverage now.
2. While this is a tragic case, the fact that it has taken the very tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, and the continued violence in Iraq out of the front pages/top stories- and in some cases out of the broadcast entirely- is a very bad sign.

I guess both of these thoughts are critical of the media.

Earlier this summer I read a book called The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl. It's a novel set around the mysterious death of Edgar Allen Poe, and an effort by the novel's characters to solve the mystery. Poe himself is often credited with having written the first detective stories. I was inspired by Pearl's book to go back and read some of Poe's detective stories (C.S.I in the 19th Century). In a story entitled The Mystery of Marie Roget, Poe has his detective C. Auguste Lupin say the following:

We should bear in mind that, in general, it is the object of our newspapers rather to create a sensation- to make a point- than to further the cause of truth. The latter end is only pursued when it seems coincident with the former.

Poe spoke a truth in 1842 that seems as if he spoke it this morning.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Off Wandering Again

Time for the Grey Pilgrim to meander off again (with family, of course) on a mini-vacation before the school year begins.

So, while I'm away...

The love and affection of the angels be to you,
The love and affection of the saints be to you,
The love and affection of heaven be to you,
To guard and to cherish you.
May God shield you on every step,
May He aid you on every path,
And may He hold you safe on every slope,
On every hill and on every plain;
On earth and on sea until we meet again.

Administration Constrained

The Bush Administration's over-reaching has now been restrained again by the courts. Earlier rulings limited the administration's plans for military tribunals. Now...

Federal judge orders end to wiretap program

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government’s warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it. The White House said it “couldn't disagree” more with the ruling.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency’s program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

I believe this is the approriate ruling (as I have discussed here). There are laws on the books to allow for wiretaps of a highly sensitive nature. If necessary, new laws could be written. When necessary to protect America, searches/wiretaps should be used- with a warrant.

I'm very pleased to read that we may be moving back towards respect for the Constitution. Fear of terrorism should not be turned into a blank check for this administration, or future administrations, to do damage to American liberties.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Iraq continues to get worse...

Civilian deaths in Iraq increase
July's toll is the highest of the war, bolstering claims that the security plan isn't working

An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures. The total number of civilian deaths that month, 3,438, is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll of January.

The rising numbers indicate that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control, and seemed to bolster an assertion many senior Iraqi officials and American military analysts have been making in recent months: That the country is already embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping into one, and that the American-led forces are caught between Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias.

Only this morning on CNN's American Morning a deputy commander at Central Command tried to tell Miles O'Brien (sorry I can't find a transcript to link to) that things are getting better in Iraq. Because there are more trained Iraqi police and army, etc. But that training isn't doing ordinary Iraqis much good as they die at an alarming rate. For example, in one month as many Iraqis were killed as were murdered in Atlanta, GA all last year.

And we're to believe that things are improving in Iraq?

I usually tell my students that the worst lie you can tell is the one you tell yourself. I still think that's true. But the magnitude of that lie is compounded when you tell it to the American people.


Momentum for a New Approach to Terrorism?

I've long disagreed with the dominant mindset that we are fighting a "war on terror." (See here, for example.) While there may be times when military action is the appropriate course of action, I've long been of the opinion that it will generally be more appropriate morally, and more effective strategically, to approach terrorism from a law enforcement perspective. I'm beginning to see some movement in this direction from different sources- a direction that was largely embraced by Sen. Kerry during the '04 campaign.

George Will, for example, takes the Bush Administration to task in an August 15 column called "The triumph on Unrealism" in the Washington Post, saying, in part...

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

In the August 13 edition of the NY Times, an article entitled "Does Calling It Jihad Make It So?" makes a similar point.

Soon after the British police announced last week that they had broken up a plot to blow up aircraft across the Atlantic, President Bush declared the affair "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists."

British officials, on the other hand, referred to the men in custody as "main players," and declined to discuss either their motives or ideology so that they would not jeopardize "criminal proceedings."

The difference in these initial public characterizations was revealing: The American president summoned up language reaffirming that the United States is locked in a global war in which its enemies are bound together by a common ideology, and a common hatred of democracy. For the moment, the British carefully stuck to the toned-down language of law enforcement.

A critical debate in America today among political candidates and among national security experts is whether five years of war declarations and war-making have helped to make the United States more secure.

The question is whether that approach, and the language that goes with it, creates a trap for the administration.

"I think that what is happening is that everything is getting magnified," said Stephen Cohen, a Mideast scholar at the Israel Policy Forum. "Just like every small crisis around the world was part of the cold war, every one is now part of the struggle between militant Islam and the United States. And that makes individual conflicts harder to solve," and an inspiration for jihad.

James Fallows [of the Atlantic Monthly] argues that the imagery of the "long war", one that has already lasted longer than the Korean conflict, is self-defeating. "An open-ended war is an open-ended invitation to defeat," he wrote. "Sometime there will be more bombings, shootings, poisonings and other disruptions in the United States. Some will be the work of Islamic extremists, some not." He added: "If they occur while the war is still on, they are enemy victories, not misfortunes of the sort that great nations suffer."

There's a lot to mull over in these paragraphs, but we would do well to spend some time thinking about what approach to terrorism is the best one. I would argue that our "war" rhetoric and mentality-

  1. Causes us to use language that alienates moderate Muslims in the world and thus makes it more difficult to contain the terrorists.
  2. Causes us to use tactics- such as our use of the military in Iraq- which seems to confirms radical Islamist propaganda about the US as a military power bent on the destruction of Islamic nations.
  3. Causes us to fuel the cycle of terrorism and violence by causing excessive loss of life through the use of military power which is rarely as precise as we would like to believe.
  4. Causes us to be less secure as we find our military bogged down in nations like Iraq against an insurgency that will never stop fighting so long as we are there.
  5. Causes us to be trapped in those countries by our own rhetoric- we cannot leave until the insurgency is quelled, but it will never be quelled.
  6. Causes us to lose the moral high ground as we lose support around the world and become seen as a nation of 'might makes right' rather than a nation of justice.

I'm hoping that we are seeing only the beginning of a rethinking of our approach to the problem of terrorism. If a staunch ally like Great Britain and a conservative like George Will can begin change the nature of the rhetoric, perhaps the Bush Administration will eventually find itself pulled along by a wave of change.


Home grown bigotry

Yesterday I wrote about the bigotry of the Holocaust cartoon exhibit in Iran. Today's entry on small-mindedness comes from closer to home.

Man Protests at Home of Muslim Candidate

BALTIMORE, August 13 - A protester staked out the home of a Muslim candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, holding a sign and wearing a T-shirt that mocked Islam. Timothy Truett sat in a folding chair Saturday on the cul-de-sac outside Saqib Ali's home in Gaithersburg with a sign reading "Islam sucks," and a shirt with the slogan, "This mind is an Allah-free zone."

I can envision political races where one's religious views are up for debate. In fact, this can be rather common in the US and entirely appropriate (consider the issue of abortion, for example). But to slander an entire faith, not the particular views of a candidate, pushes things too far. And, as I've said repeatedly, in our current world situation, news stories like this merely fan the flames that already have too much fuel in the Muslim world.

More seeds of terrorism sown.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Beijing pledges 'a fight to the death' with Dalai Lama

Pretty interesting rhetoric considering that the Dalai Lama has commited himself to a life of non-violence.

China’s new top official in Tibet has embarked on a fierce campaign to crush loyalty to the exiled Dalai Lama and to extinguish religious beliefs among government officials... Mr Zhang told senior party officials in the region that they were engaged in a “fight to the death” against the Dalai Lama... Ethnic Tibetan civil servants of all ranks, from the lowliest of government employees to senior officials, have been banned from attending any religious ceremony or from entering a temple or monastery.

The Chinese government's enmity towards and excessive focus on the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism shows, ultimately, the insecurity of the communist regime. If communism met peoples needs and aspirations, then the government would not have to force people to be atheists. Because communism falls so terribly far short of this, Tibetans and other Chinese citizens know that they must look elsewhere for the proper values towards life. They turn to faith.

China, as ruled by the communist government, remains a terrible place. Because they are such a closed society and because of the wars that take place with regularity around the world, China does not often show up on our radar screen. We should remember when we shop at places like Walmart and buy product after product with a lable that says "Made in China" that the people of China need more than our money.

It is my hope that some day people in this country will again be concerned about the repression in China, as we were briefly after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.


Bigotry Upon Bigotry

In Iran there is a new response to the offensive cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper some time back- they are displaying offensive cartoons regarding the Holocaust.

Iran Launches Cartoon Exhibit on Holocaust

The display, showing 204 entries from Iran and abroad, was strongly influenced by the views of Iran's hard-line president, Mahoud Ahmadinejad, who drew widespread condemnation last year for calling the Holocaust a "myth" and saying Israel should be destroyed.

One cartoon by Indonesian Tony Thomdean shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in its left hand and giving a Nazi-style salute with the other.

The cartoons in the Danish paper were, without question, offensive. The violent protests that took place in several countries, however, were at least as offensive, and terribly counterproductive. This cartoon exhibit is merely a continuation of that self-defeating strategy of demonstrating outrage.

The differnences between us- Christian, Muslim, Jew, whatever- can be real, but we have common ground as well. Until we begin to consistently emphasize the common ground and attempt to build bridges of love across the differences, we will continue to live in a world plagued by religiously inspired violence.

Iran is developing- after a few years of apparent moderation- into a nation of extreme intolerance. This development turns the wheel in the wrong direction, providing those nations and individuals who wish to see a more peaceful world with greater challenges.

To have peace, we must be peace, Gandhi said. Let us commit ourselves to that mission. Perhaps we can overcome the evil done by those like the people behind the exhibit in Iran.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Is this really possible?

Check out Seymore Hersh's article over at the New Yorker.

Key paragraph (with my bold added):
The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preĆ«mptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Could we possibly be considering another invasion, when we are not even able to get the situation in Iraq under control?

Over at Informed Comment, Juan Cole says:

Any US attack on Iran could well lead to the US and British troops in Iraq being cut off from fuel and massacred by enraged Shiites. Shiite irregulars could easily engage in pipeline and fuel convoy sabotage of the sort deployed by the Sunni guerrillas in the north. Without fuel, US troops would be sitting ducks for rocket and mortar attacks that US air power could not hope completely to stop (as the experience of Israel with Hizbullah in Lebanon demonstrates). A pan-Islamic alliance of furious Shiites and Sunni guerrillas might well be the result, spelling the decisive end of Americastan in Iraq.

Any questions of whether such an invasion is a good idea?

I have trouble believing it. But Hersh usually has good sources. Something to keep an eye on.


More on the morality of modern warfare

In this earlier post I discussed the question of the morality of modern war methods as it comes to the use of air and missile power in civilian areas. Relevant to that topic is this article from today's Times of India:

COLOMBO: At least 43 schoolgirls were killed in Sri Lanka's rebel-held Mullaitivu district on Monday and dozens more hurt when air force jets bombed an orphanage, the pro-rebel website reported.

War planes hit the orphanage run by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), where at least 60 girls were also wounded, the Tamilnet said. "Fir jet bombers of the Sri Lanka air force dropped several bombs on the premises of the Chinchilla children home in Vallipunam, killing at least 43 schoolgirls," the Tamilnet said.

Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan writes:

I await the international condemnation. Maybe if the Israelis had done it, someone would care.

I'm not sure quite how to feel about Sullivan's remark. Does he really want international condemnation, or would he prefer silence in order to use that silence to negate condemnation of the Israelis?

In my view, both sides deserve condemnation- international and personal. The fact that this event happened the day after the earlier post on the topic underscores my point about the fact that technology is running ahead of morality in the conduct of war. The Times article does not provide enough information for us to know whether the number of 'rebels' killed was greater or fewer than children- or even if any rebels were killed at all. Regardless, the method of conducting warfare is all too common and is deserving of condemnation whenever any nation uses it.

Will we in the US- who so often seem in awe of our 'smart bombs'- be willing to really look at this issue of the morality of military tactics which lead to such high rates of civilian casualties? There is precedent to provide hope. After Vietnam, there was an examination of military tactics that did lead to some positive changes. Perhaps after Iraq (when will 'after Iraq' be??) we will be able to think clearly and calmly about this issue and find our way to the moral high ground.


More 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

In an earlier post I wrote how I was simply stunned that people are willing to believe that our government was behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Today I read at Religion News Blog that...

The official publishing house of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has printed a new book about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that has outraged conservatives in the church and elsewhere.The book, "Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11," written by David Ray Griffin, a professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology in California, accuses the Bush administration of carrying out the attacks as a pretext for expanding America's "demonic" imperial power.

Griffin argues, among other things, that the World Trade Center towers collapsed because of secretly planted explosives -- he quotes eyewitnesses who claim that's what it looked and sounded like -- and not because airliners crashed into the buildings, causing fires.

It is sad that these sorts of attitudes- and that's what they are for the lack enough truth and evidence to be described even as beliefs- are able to attract an audience. It is even sadder that a mainstream church publishing house will back such an enterprise. While free speech rights allow the author to spin his web, free speech rights do not require that a church publishing house provide a forum for his views.

He should have to get a blog, like all the other nuts, right?


Being Generous

While practicing generosity, we should always remember how very fortunate we are to have this opportunity.
Gomo Tulku

This is something that I've not thought about much before. It is truly a blessing when we find ourselves in a position to be generous. When in that position, it means we have more than we need; we have excess to share.

All sorts of emotions can come to the surface when we are generous in some way- pride, reluctance, happiness, even resentment at times. A sense of good fortune is perhaps the best way to view our situation.

Something I will try to remember.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Are all lives equal?

Andre Glucksman of Le Figaro is quoted on Andrew Sullivan's blog...

On the scales of world opinion, some Muslim corpses are light as a feather, and others weigh tonnes. Two measures, two weights. The daily terrorist attacks on civilians in Baghdad, killing 50 people or more, are checked off in reports under the heading of miscellaneous, while the bomb that took 28 lives in Qana is denounced as a crime against humanity.... Why do the 200,000 slaughtered Muslims of Darfur not arouse even half a quarter of the fury caused by 200-times fewer dead in Lebanon? Must we deduce that Muslims killed by other Muslims don't count - whether in the eyes of Muslim authorities or viewed through the bad conscience of the west?

I can see the logic behind what he writes. It certainly does appear that the attention paid to the Qana attack, for example, would outweigh the daily attacks in Iraq that may kill as many people.

However, does the differential coverage really indicate that we don't care as much about the dead in Baghdad as in Qana? I'm not sure.

What I do believe, and I have mentioned before, is that a nation-state has a greater moral responsibility than an individual when it comes to the use of power. That does not mean we excuse the individual in any way, but we do judge the nation-state more harshly. For example, if an individual kidnaps and harms another individual, we would be outraged and would wish to see that person prosecuted. But, if a nation were to engage in the same sort of behavior- holding people and bringing them physical harm without due process of law- would we not judge this even more harshly? I think that we quite naturally do.

With power comes responsibility. In the modern military era, nations have seen a remarkable rise in the amount of military power they can impose upon an 'enemy.' As the power grows, so does the responsibility.

We have not see the exercise of responsibility keeping pace with the growth in power. From the times of WWI and earlier, the overwhelming majority of deaths in war were military deaths, with civilian deaths relatively few and far between. Since WWII we have seen a major shift in this equation, with, in many cases, modern war bringing civilian deaths that far outnumber military deaths.

I'm not convinced that nations are doing all they can in times of war to avoid civilian casualties. During the war in Iraq, for example, in an effort to kill Saddam Hussein- technically a command and control target- we dropped bombs in civilian areas knowing that civilians would be killed. Does the legitimacy of the target excuse the outcome? Maybe there are cases when it does, but I have not heard much soul searching in the US over this matter.

Of course it's much easier for some Americans to question the actions of Israel than to question the actions of our own military. But at least the question is being asked.

I saw someone from Amnesty International on CNN who said that in many wars now the casualties are up to 90% civilian and 10% military. This is an issue that needs to be closely examined and we need to begin to look at the military tactics that we could use in the place of the bombs that are not so precise as we would like to believe.

So, in response to the selection quoted- the deaths are no different as all are equally tragic. The method of the killing does, to some degree matter. After all, terrorist groups are evil organizations bent upon killing people. Do we wish to become like them? Should we not expect more from the leaders of governments around the world? Do we not want governments that seek to respect human life and protect civilian lives to the fullest degree possible?

We must remember that we must lead the world upward, not drift downward towards the lowest examples of morality.


God's Presence

From my morning reading...

When you wake up, you are aware that God created the world. When you see rays of sunlight streaming through your window, you recognize the presence of God. When you stand up and your feet touch the ground, you know the earth belongs to God. When you wash your face, you know that the water is God. Piety is the recognition that everything is linked to the presence of God in every moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Living Buddha, Living Christ

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Disconcerting News

In the last week, my family and I have traveled twice across the Mackinac Bridge. On our way back from our visit to Michigan's U.P., my boys had the opportunity to play in the water virtually in the shadow of 'Mighty Mac.' It is an amazing structure, and it allows those of us in the Lower Peninsula access to the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula.

Today I read 'Texas men arraigned on terrorism charges', and the allegation includes that they may have intended to target the Mackinac Bridge.

Vacationing children. Playing children. These are the true targets of terrorists.


Here's something I just don't understand

MSNBC has across the top of it's homepage "Breaking News" that Israel and Hezbollah will stop fighting Monday morning. But, in the meantime...

Mideast fighting rages despite cease-fire plan

More Israeli tanks and soldiers surged into southern Lebanon on Saturday, reaching the Litani River and engaging in some of the heaviest ground combat of the monthlong war just hours after the U.N. Security Council adopted a cease-fire plan.

[Israel has launched] an expanded offensive that tripled Israeli troop strength in southern Lebanon to 30,000.

The big expansion of Israel troop strength prompted Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, to declare the fight far from finished and likely to get worse. “We must not make a mistake, not in the resistance, the government or the people, and believe that the war has ended. The war has not ended,” he said.

Only a lack of a moral compass prevents leaders on both sides from immediately implementing the ceasefire. By making an effort to do as much damage as possible before the ceasefire takes affect, each side actually threatens the agreement itself. One side or the other may feel the need to respond to some provocation by the other in the hours before the end to hostilities is to take effect. One side or the other may feel that too much advantage has been gained, or that its honor is damaged somehow, and then back away from the agreement.

Most importantly, if an agreement has been reached, why wait to end fighting? There is no excuse.

Let's remember, the majority of the victims of this war have been civilians. If the war continues, even for another 36 hours, more civilians die. Now that there is an agreement that all sides have agreed to to end the war, how can more civilian deaths be justified? How can anyone possibly provide a moral argument to explain the killing of even one more child?

While I am glad that the agreement has been reached, and thankful that fighting is scheduled to end Monday, I feel that the escalation of fighting on the heels of the agreement shows how far the leadership of Hezbollah and Israel are from moral decision making.


Hezbollah Agrees

Hezbollah leader agrees to cease-fire, with reservations-Says U.N. resolution neglects to blame Israel for military 'crimes'.

The Lebanese Prime Minister has agreed to the UN resolution and the Lebanese cabinet is expected to go along.

The Israeli Prime Minister has agreed as well, and the Israeli cabinet is expected to follow his lead.

Is it possible that peace is about to break out?



From the NY Times

U.S. Ambassador Says Iran Is Inciting Attacks.

Iran is pressing Shiite militias here to step up attacks against the American-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon, the American ambassador to Iraq said Friday. Iran may foment even more violence as it faces off with the United States and United Nations over its nuclear program in the coming weeks, he added.

Not to mention the fact that Iran is behind the Hezbollah attacks- at least as the supplier of most of the weapons.

In addition to the stepped up repression in Iran of people not stringent enough in their practice of Islam- as the people in the government believe it should be practiced.

Iran is a real problem for the US right now.

One thought: Iran may be trying to put us in the most awkward of positions in Iraq- where we cannot leave unless we do so with the appearance of having been driven out and defeated. If we stay, they fuel the insurgency, we respond, and this aids in the recruitment of terrorists. If we leave, it lends credence to the belief that the jihadis can defeat us as they did the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Between the rock and the hard place.

How to manage this choice will be the responsibility of the next administration. The current administration is locked in to a policy and seems unwilling to deviate- largely out of fear of admitting a mistake. Ironically, the management of this situation may be best done by a new Republican administration. The Democrats are (1) paralyzed by divisions (witness the senatorial primary in Conn.) over the war in Iraq and (2) equally paralyzed by the fear of the "soft on defense" label that has been with them since the 80s.

The current President's low popularity may actually help the Republicans, if they retain the White House. The candidates for the office will not, most likely, come from w/in the administration (the rumbling for Sec. of State Rice aside). The Republicans can distance themselves from the current President and perhaps find a way out of the quagmire in Iraq while still providing containment of Iranian ambitions.

Without a doubt the "war of choice" in Iraq has made our situation in the Middle East more difficult and dangerous, not less. While our attention and billions of dollars have poured into Iraq, a true danger in Iran- a nation w/ chemical weapons, a developing nuclear program, and a demonstrated willingness to aid terrorist groups- is growing. As we debate the situation in Iraq through the upcoming mid-term elections and into the next presidential election, we must do so w/ Iran as the context for that debate.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Radio Program on Crisis in Islam

There's a great radio program call Speaking of Faith that covers a variety of religious topics. A high quality program. It's not available in my area on the radio, so I listen online.

There is a program in its archives called Violence and Crisis in Islam that, in a follow-up to my previous post, is worth a listen. You need Real Player (I think you can download a version for free), and it takes about an hour. If you're going to be sitting at the keyboard for a while, consider giving it a listen.


A sad reality

I frequently come to the defense of Islam in my writing. And I "call out" those that I believe are guilty of hate speech, discrimination, or self-defeating behaviors agains Muslims. Andrew Sullivan said something over at his blog that, I feel, is, as he said, a "sad truth" that must be addressed.

And the sad truth is: no religion in the world right now has as many internal problems as Islam. The Muslim faith is being used to sanction mass murder; Islam is engaged in a civil war in which some Muslims are blowing up other Muslims' mosques and holy places; Islamic regimes are hanging gays and enslaving women...

His choice of words is careful and important. He doesn't say "Islam sanctions mass murder," but that it is being used to do so, for example. This separates him- by miles- from the Glenn Beck's of the world.

And it is true that no other religion in the world "right now" is facing the sort of problems that we see in Islam. Other faiths have undergone similar problems in the past (such as the Crusades and Inquisitions in Christianity), but, at this point in our history, Islam is torn and tearing itself apart.

But, this leads all the more to the point I continually make- we must engage our Muslim brothers and sisters, and we must stop policies and behaviors that alienate them from us. Perhaps we can be of some help as the 'moderates' of the Islamic world seek to regain control of the faith from the radical Islamist elements.

I try to continually push myself towards the truth as I write here. The truth is that Islam is in crisis. But, as other faiths, including Christianity, have overcome their own crises, Muslims can do the same. We, however, have an obligation to help, not hurt, in this process. We as individuals and as societies must think and act very carefully to ensure that we do help, and do not hurt.

Right now I fear that we, in the non-Muslim world, lack this thougtfulness, fail to understand the perspective and challanges of moderate Muslims, and continue to make their job more and more difficult.

We must change course.


With apologies...

I really hated to do this, but since I've had a handful of incidents of spamming w/ this site, I've turned on the "word verification" feature for leaving comments.

This simply requires that when you leave a comment you type a word that will be shown to you on the screen. No big deal. Just a little step. A lot of blogs use it. I hope it doesn't discourage anyone from commenting.

But, since the Pilgrim does not play on-line poker, wish to schedule a prostate exam over the internet, or buy E.D. medications, I think I will use the word verification feature to cut down on the junk mail.

Your non-junk mail is still- and always will be- strongly encouraged and appreciated.




Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has accepted an emerging Mideast cease-fire deal and informed the United States of his decision, Israeli officials said Friday.

U.N. diplomats worked furiously on the cease-fire deal to deploy 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon to bring an end to the monthlong conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
The draft Security Council resolution would authorize the deployment of the 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon to support the Lebanese army's deployment to the region "as Israel withdraws."

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, would ask the U.N. force to monitor a full cessation of hostilities and help Lebanese forces gain full control over an area that has previously been under de facto control of Hezbollah militias.

But... Will Hezbollah accept the deal? Will they stop firing rockets into Israel? Are they willing to back away from the brink in order to have peace?

Further, is Iran- the source of the weaponry and the nation that has profited most from Hezbollah's attacks- willing to accept the deal? Once the war between Israel and Hezbollah stops, the world may again direct its attention to Iran's efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.

Just as it takes two to make war, it will take two to make peace.

We have more room for hope now than we've had in nearly three weeks.

So. Let us hope.


Thoreau on Nature

I had to take my copy of some of the writings of Henry David Thoreau w/ me on our trip north.

In wildness is the preservation of the world.
Henry David Thoreau (from Walking)


The Need for Dialogue

A recent poll (from BeliefNet)

Almost 40 percent of Americans acknowledge having some prejudice against Muslims, but those with Muslim acquaintances are more likely to show favorable attitudes, a new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows.

Given the fact that people are likely to under-report prejudice in polls (due to a lack of self-underdstanding or due to a recognition that prejudice is something that will be looked down upon), the number of Americans prejudiced agains Muslims is likely higer than the 39% found in the poll.

It is, in part, because people with Muslim acquaintances are less likely to be prejudiced that I have in the past called for integration- not isolation- of Mulims in the larger society. We have seen too many cases in the US and throughout the West where exactly the opposite is taking place- pushing Muslims out of mainstream culture through, for example, discriminatory policies at schools.

Another way that we isolate Muslims- by mean-spirited media attacks. For an example of this, turn to the object of my personal boycott- Glenn Beck of CNN Headline News. On August 10 he

warned that "[t]he world is on the brink of World War III" and that "Muslims who have sat on your frickin' hands the whole time and have not been marching in the streets" will face dire consequences. Beck made his comments toward Muslims who he claimed "have not been saying, 'Hey, you know what? There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. We need to be the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head.'

Very helpful, don't you think? This is the mainstream media. How much worse is it when you move a little off the path?

So, here's the plan- we threaten all the moderate Muslims saying that they either follow us in our self-defeating efforts to kill all the "bad" Muslims or we will come after them too.

Complete foolishness.

No surprise that a substantial group of Americans will admit to a prejudice against Muslims.


Return of the Pilgrim

I have finished a time wandering through northern Michigan. An experience good for the soul.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the rivers.

Psalm 24:1-2

The world of matter and nature, conceived as a created whole, is the best, clearest and most universal evidence for the knowledge of God.

When wisely trod, the path to God through Nature employs every faculty inherent in man. In Nature, beauty shines in all its pristine essence before us. It is for us to newly discover and translate this beauty to our spirits and our senses.
Flower A. Newhouse

We should perhaps be doing more- individually and collectively- to tend to the preservation of God's creation. This is our greatest stewardship obligation.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Off wandering...

Well, this Grey Pilgrim is going off to a vacation for a few days. Off to wander about some of Michigan's most beautiful (thin) places.

Until I return...

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon the fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand,
and bring you peace.

This simply stuns me...

Poll results:

More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.

Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."

Twelve percent suspect the Pentagon was struck by a military cruise missile in 2001 rather than by an airliner captured by terrorists.

I'm not going to go deeply into the psychology of conspiracy theories, but the article does speculate as follows...

University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster, author of the book Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, said the poll's findings reflect public anger over the Iraq war, realization that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and growing doubts of the veracity of the Bush administration.

My concern is how this reflects upon the capacity for thought in our nation. How can people believe these wild conspiracy theories- in the face of plentiful evidence to the contrary? I just don't understand it.

I doubt it is all politics. Perhaps a lot of the people who believe in the theories are simply anti-Bush, but I doubt that answers everything.

Conspiracy theories (CT's from this point forward) abound in this country. I know less about other places in the world, but sometimes I see a similarity in some of the theories here in the US and those we hear coming from radical elements in the Middle East who believe that the US and Israel are responsible for every bad thing that happens- anywhere in the known universe.

These CT's trouble me in part because they are so hard to overcome. CT's rely more on questions, suspicions, and doubts than any factual evidence. Read articles or listen to lectures (I had a student hand me a video of a 9/11 theorist a couple of years back, and I sat through all 2 hours of it) and what you find is a rhetorical shell game, filled with speculative questions,hints at facts, and alleged connections to equally unproven conspiracies (the tape I watched had references to FDR's role in bombing Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy Assassination). Hand a conspiracy theorist a fact, they throw another question at you. To beat a CT, you need 'proof beyond an unreasonable doubt.'

Additionally, CT's trouble me because they are so damaging to positive action. Belief in CT's fuels a cynicism that was probably nearly ripe when the person came to believe. CT's make people feel helpless to create positive change- how can we overcome the big powerful forces that are behind such great crimes? Further, CT's distract people from the real sources of problems and the real steps that can be taken to help move our nation forward.

I find these CT's a real problem in the classroom. They are, in a sense, a part of what Howard Gardner calls the 'unschooled mind.' I'm not sure he would agree with me in using his term, but these CT's are a part of the background beliefs that a lot of students bring into the classroom. They are, because of the reasons I mentioned above and simply because they have become engrained in students' minds, a serious challenge to an educator.

I'm going to have to put some serious thought to this issue heading back to school. In an earlier post (original post here, reaction to a reader's thoughts here), I discussed the importance of questioning, but not being cynical or simply a doubter. How do I draw the distinction for my students who live in an argument culture? How do I teach them to see the difference between a question for learning and a question for deceiving? How do I teach them to value facts over suspicions?

I'm open to suggestions.


Ann Coulter 2

Ann Coulter is still at it. She has previously stated her belief that Bill Clinton has homosexual tendencies, called (she said jokingly) Al Gore a 'fag', and now she continues her homophobic commentary by going after Hillary Clinton.

From Media Matters [my emphasis]:

From Coulter's August 2 column:

Q: Does Hillary Clinton have a good chance in 2008? What are her strengths and weaknesses? What did her reaction to your "Jersey girls" comments tell you about her as a potential candidate?

A: Good chance of what? Coming out of the closet? I'd say that's about even money.
Her strength is her first name; her weakness is her last.

What is the deal with her obsession with homosexuality recently?

In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, she said the following

Q:You're often described as "divisive" and "mean-spirited," yet you describe yourself as a serious Christian. Is this a contradiction?

A:I'm a Christian first and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don't you ever forget it. You know who else was kind of "divisive" in terms of challenging the status quo and the powers-that-be of his day? Jesus Christ.

I know she's joking a bit, but (1) failing to recognize that being called a mean-spiritied, bigoted Christian would be an oxymoron, and (2) comparing herself to Jesus Christ? She's going WAY out there. The answer to the question, by the way, is 'Yes, it is a contradiction.'

More from the Baltimore Sun article:

She's accused the widows of 9/11 victims of enjoying their husbands' deaths, has attacked public school teachers as "taxpayer-supported parasites" and routinely slams moderate politicians - right and left.

From one column: "Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now." On the 9/11 terrorists: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." And from last week: "I knew the events in the Middle East were big when the New York Times devoted nearly as much space to them as it did to a ... court ruling rejecting gay marriage."

Jesus would indeed be divisive now, as he was in biblical times, but not divisive due to homophobia or attacking 9/11 widows. Bigotry would not be a part of his preaching.

If you know someone who reads her articles and buys her books, see what you can do to get them to stop.