Everett's recovery: 'a gift from God'
March 9, 2008
Standing in line, they fidget in place, goose-necking over the large crowd and anxiously fingering their cell phones - one text message reads: "You'll never guess who I'm about to meet." They rehearse their lines with good reason, because what exactly are you supposed to say when you reach the front of the long line?
Sorry you'll never play football again? Congratulations on walking? I prayed every morning and every night, and you're living proof that miracles exist and because of you, I'll never quit at anything ever again?
The line winds through the bookstore and there, sitting at a table, is former Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett, who inspired tears of worry when he lay motionless on a football field and later, when barely three months had passed and he was again walking, tears of relief.
Six months have passed since Everett's backbone nearly snapped in half, and this book-signing event in a chain store marks the first time his fervent followers are seeing him up close.
By the time Bills fans finally get to him, though, it doesn't matter what they've rehearsed. The words are lost, stolen by awe, trepidation and sheer amazement, and replaced by a silent, gaping smile.
"I've never had this much attention," Everett says later.
The worship certainly isn't reserved for his football accomplishments. Everett's final career numbers: two receptions, 4 yards. The first game of the 2007 season was the last of Everett's career. On the opening kickoff of the second half, in a game against the Denver Broncos, Everett collided with another player, his head just an inch too low, and in the process suffered a fracture between the third and fourth vertebrae of his spine.
No, they're here to see a miracle. A man who some thought might not live, who others thought might not walk, and who most everyone certainly couldn't envision back in Buffalo, moving about, shaking hands and scribbling his autograph. They all want to tell him, from the grandfathers to the granddaughters, how Everett's perseverance - his miracle - has inspired them.
The miracle man
One after another, Everett signs copies of his biography, Standing Tall: The Kevin Everett Story. What these Bills fans don't realize is that though he's able to sign his name, his fingers are numb. He has no idea how tightly he's gripping the pen. He just signs. One after another, after another. He's unsure whether he will ever regain full feeling in his fingers, and tying his shoelaces can be strenuous. Buttoning his shirt is a chore. Writing his name requires concentration. But the opportunity to do these things is a gift. I ask him what he thinks a miracle is.
"A blessing, a gift from God," he says.
He appreciates everything because he knows how fleeting it can all be. When he collided with Domenik Hixon, Everett fell to the field. It was like a switch had been flipped. His mind was working, but everything else had been turned off. Everett thought his respiratory system was failing him, and breathing "felt like I was sucking air through a coffee straw."
And yet, today, six months later, he walks. A miracle man. Those aren't my words. That's what Oprah Winfrey called him on her show last month. I don't know what a miracle is. Is it something that defies reason? Or merely explanation?
Can Everett credit both God and doctors? Is the fact that he walks today a miracle of faith or a miracle of science?
"Both," Everett says.
What continually impresses me is Everett's demeanor. There's not a hint of remorse or regret. At 26, he essentially had spent a lifetime preparing for one thing: to play football. Now, as he is starting over, he refuses to allow his story to become one of despair or disappointment.
I tell Wiande Moore, Everett's college sweetheart, that I'm simply amazed at the upbeat attitude Everett and everyone around him has maintained. There must have been some bad days in there, though.
"No, not really," she says. "We just stayed positive."
Everett interrupts. "Let's quit with the lies," he says. "I was sad, depressed. I couldn't go on ... "
I quickly realize I had inadvertently asked some version of the same question three times.
"That's what everyone wants to hear anyway," Everett says with a chuckle.
I try explaining that Everett's injury - actually, his recovery - is the type that forces introspection. Seeing Everett - miracle or not - you're forced to question your own constitution. Trapped inside just your head, would you fight, grumble, moan, complain, live, die or simply feel sorry for yourself? While Everett could have easily illustrated the limits of the human body, instead he's a prime example of how limitless the human spirit can be.
Perfect medical storm
Is he a miracle, though? Experts say Everett's treatment was a perfect storm of resources. First, the Bills are one of few NFL teams with a spinal-cord specialist on the sideline. While many credit Dr. Andrew Cappuccino for his quick thinking and fast actions, league officials say a specialist isn't necessary. (Such medical care in the NFL isn't guided by uniform rules and varies from team to team. The Ravens, for example, have two general physicians, two orthopedists and three trainers at each home game, but no spinal-cord specialist.)
In addition, the Bills' staff had undergone a training drill for spinal-cord injuries just nine days before the game against the Broncos. When Everett was hit, everyone knew exactly what to do.
Most early media reports credited Cappuccino for his use of hypothermia to immediately lower Everett's body temperature. Hypothermia slows the metabolism and allows oxygen-deprived cells to survive longer.
The technique has divided the medical community, and many experts in the field have since noted that hypothermia probably wasn't a leading factor in Everett's recovery.
Dr. John McDonald is the director of Kennedy Krieger's spinal-cord injury program and was the lead neurologist who cared for actor Christopher Reeve. He says proponents of hypothermia overemphasized its impact on Everett's recovery and the real miracle that day was all the resources on hand.
"In today's world, when things are done exactly right, like what happened on that field in that first half-hour, it's a testament to the system," McDonald says.
Most spinal-cord injuries don't occur within an earshot of medical personnel. Car-accident victims, for example, typically, wait several hours before receiving an important steroid called methylprednisolone; Everett was given it within 30 minutes.
McDonald also credits Everett for taking the attributes that made him such a determined athlete and applying those to the rehabilitation process. His body and his spirit were up to the task of a major recovery.
For his part, Everett makes certain to give credit to the family and friends who surrounded him each day, especially his mother, Patricia, and Moore.
Everett and Moore had dated for a few years. She ran track at the University of Miami, where Everett played on the football team.
Three weeks into his hospital stay - before he walked but after he started feeling sensation in his arms and legs - Everett proposed marriage.
"I knew it was going to happen," she says with a smile.
Everett points out that some people question the environment.
"Why?" Moore asks.
"Because I asked you in the hospital," he says.
"So?" she says.
"People got the whole concept twisted," Everett says. "They get mixed up in the fairy tale, rose petals, some scene on a beach or a fancy restaurant. Man, things aren't like in fairy tales. The important thing isn't the rose petals, it's the two people and how they feel about each other."
Life has been busy. From Oprah's set in Chicago to the bookstore in Buffalo to an awards banquet this week in Baltimore. In between, he still does three days of rehabilitation near his Houston home.
Everett gets asked about the future every day. And football. Do you think about the game still?
"I think about it," he says. "I imagine what it'd be like to be out there, but that's all I can do is imagine. I'm not going to make myself go crazy by thinking and dwelling on it. I know my limits."
As if he were a graduating senior, everyone wants to know what he'll do next. There's no concrete answer. He has invested in a business with a friend, selling plastic sheets that guard against soap scum, and he talks about maybe opening a restaurant. But Everett knows there's something bigger for him out there.
"I meet people all the time who went to college to be engineers and now they're firefighters. Or they went to law school but now they're police officers," he says. "You've got to do what you feel, and sometimes you might have a change of heart. I'm not the first one who's had to make a big change."
But yours wasn't simply a change of heart.
"No, but I don't have a choice," he says. "You deal with it and move on."
He keeps signing his autograph. About midway through the line - after 250 autographs or so - his hand has cramped. He takes a break and Moore massages his fingers. Then more fans, more autographs, more blank expressions of amazement.
From a woman whose friend was paralyzed in a car accident. A man who saw Everett motionless and prayed for the first time in years. A mother whose son wore a sticker of Everett's No. 85 on the back of his youth league helmet.
That, Everett says, is his job now. To meet people. To show them that you can fall and that you can get up. There's a bigger purpose attached to Everett's life than football now. Maybe he's a miracle.
Maybe he isn't. Regardless, he's a source of inspiration.
"Everybody will always know about the hit," says Everett, who has watched it himself dozens of times on YouTube. "I can't take that away from people's memories. It happened.
"But this happened, too," he says, casting his eyes down toward his legs and then at either arm. "This happened for a reason."
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Everett's recovery: 'a gift from God'
January 8, 2006
By STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT
Information Asymmetries: Our book "Freakonomics" includes a chapter titled "How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?" This chapter was our effort to bring to life the economic concept known as information asymmetry, a state wherein one party to a transaction has better information than another party. It is probably obvious that real-estate agents typically have better information than their clients. The Klan story was perhaps less obvious. We argued that the Klan's secrecy - its rituals, made-up language, passwords and so on - formed an information asymmetry that furthered its aim of terrorizing blacks and others.
But the Klan was not the hero of our story. The hero was a man named Stetson Kennedy, a white Floridian from an old-line family who from an early age sought to assail racial and social injustices. Out of all of his crusades - for unionism, voting rights and numberless other causes - Kennedy is best known for taking on the Klan in the 1940's. In his book "The Klan Unmasked" (originally published in 1954 as "I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan"), Kennedy describes how he adopted a false identity to infiltrate the Klan's main chapter in Atlanta, was chosen to serve as a "klavalier" (a Klan strong-arm man) and repeatedly found himself at the center of astonishing events, all the while courting great personal risk.
What did Kennedy do with all the secret Klan information he gathered? He disseminated it like mad: to state prosecutors, to human rights groups and even to broadcasters like Drew Pearson and the producers of the "Superman" radio show, who publicly aired the Klan's heretofore hidden workings. Kennedy took an information asymmetry and dumped it on its head. And in doing so, we wrote, he played a significant role in quashing the renaissance of the Klan in postwar America.
Kennedy has been duly celebrated for his activism: his friend Woody Guthrie once wrote a song about him, and a Stetson Kennedy Day was recently declared in St. John's County, Fla., where Kennedy, 89, still lives. That is where we interviewed him nearly two years ago; our account of his amazing true story was based on those interviews, "The Klan Unmasked" and a small mountain of history books and newspaper articles.
But is Kennedy's story as true as it is amazing?
That was the disturbing question that began to haunt another Florida author, Ben Green, who in 1992 began writing a book about Harry T. Moore, a black civil rights advocate who was murdered in 1951. For a time, Stetson Kennedy was a collaborator on the book. Although Green was only tangentially interested in Kennedy's Klan infiltration - it wasn't central to the Moore story - he eventually checked out Kennedy's voluminous archives, held in libraries in New York and Atlanta.
These papers charted the extraordinarily colorful life of a man who had been, among other things, a poet, a folklorist, a muckraking journalist and a union activist. But Green was dismayed to find that the story told in Kennedy's own papers seemed to be quite different from what Kennedy wrote in "The Klan Unmasked."
In "The Klan Unmasked," Kennedy posed as an encyclopedia salesman named John S. Perkins who, in one of his first undercover maneuvers, visits the former governor of Georgia - a reputed Klan sympathizer - and ingratiates himself by offering to distribute some hate literature. A document in Kennedy's archives, however, suggests that Kennedy had indeed met the ex-governor, but not in any undercover capacity. Rather, he had interviewed him for a book he was writing - nor did this document mention any hate literature.
A close examination of Kennedy's archives seems to reveal a recurrent theme: legitimate interviews that he conducted with Klan leaders and sympathizers would reappear in "The Klan Unmasked" in different contexts and with different facts. In a similar vein, the archives offer evidence that Kennedy covered public Klan events as a reporter but then recast them in his book as undercover exploits. Kennedy had also amassed a great deal of literature about the Klan and other hate groups that he joined, but his own archives suggest that he joined most of these groups by mail.
So did Kennedy personally infiltrate the Klan in Atlanta, as portrayed in "The Klan Unmasked"?
In his archives are a series of memos that were submitted to the Anti-Defamation League, one of several civil rights groups to which Kennedy reported. Some of the memos were written by him; others were written by a man identified as John Brown, a union worker and former Klan official who had changed his ways and offered to infiltrate the Klan. "This worker is joining the Klan for me," Kennedy wrote in one memo in early 1946. "I am certain that he can be relied on."
In Kennedy's subsequent memos - indeed, in hundreds of pages of Kennedy's various correspondence from the era - he matter-of-factly attributed some of his most powerful Klan information to John Brown: one of the memos he declared "a report from my informant inside the Klan on the meeting of Atlanta Klan No. 1 on August 12 and Atlanta Klan No. 297 on August 15." As John Brown fed inside information to Kennedy, Kennedy would then relay it to groups like the A.D.L., as well as to prosecutors and journalists. It wasn't until he wrote "The Klan Unmasked," several years later, that Kennedy placed himself, Zelig-like, at the center of all the action.
Ben Green, despite months spent immersed in Kennedy's archives, could not identify the man once known as John Brown. Green did manage to interview Dan Duke, a former state prosecutor who, as rendered in "The Klan Unmasked," worked closely with Kennedy. Duke agreed that Kennedy "got inside of some [Klan] meetings" but openly disputed Kennedy's dramatized account of their relationship. "None of that happened," he told Green. In 1999, when Green finally published his Harry T. Moore book, "Before His Time," it contained a footnote labeling "The Klan Unmasked" "a novelization."
Green is not the only person to have concluded that Kennedy has bent the truth. Jim Clark, who teaches history at the University of Central Florida, says that Kennedy "built a national reputation on many things that didn't happen." Meredith Babb, director of the University Press of Florida, which has published four of Kennedy's books, now calls Kennedy "an entrepreneurial folklorist." But except for Green's footnote, they all kept quiet until the retelling of Kennedy's exploits in "Freakonomics" produced a new round of attention. Why? "It would be like killing Santa Claus," Green says. "To me, the saddest part of this story is that what he actually did wasn't enough for him, and he has felt compelled to make up, embellish or take credit for things he didn't do."
When presented with documents from his own archives and asked outright, several weeks ago over lunch near his Florida home, if "The Klan Unmasked" was "somewhat conflated or fictionalized," Kennedy said no. "There may have been a bit of dialogue that was not as I remembered it," he answered. "But beyond that, no." When pressed, Kennedy did concede that "in some cases I took the reports and actions of this other guy and incorporated them into one narrative." As it turns out, Kennedy has made such an admission at least once before. Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress, wrote a 1992 dissertation called "Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy," based in part on extensive interviews with her subject. In an endnote, Bulger writes that "Kennedy combined his personal experiences undercover with the narratives provided by John Brown in writing 'I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan' in 1954."
We weren't very happy, of course, to learn that a story we included in "Freakonomics" was built on such shaky foundations - especially since the book is devoted to upending conventional wisdoms rather than reinforcing them, and concerning Stetson Kennedy, the most conventional wisdom of all is his reputation as a Klan infiltrator.
There is also the fact that in our work we make a point of depending less on anecdote in favor of data, the idea being that numbers tend to lie less baldly than people do. But the story of Stetson Kennedy was one long series of anecdotes - which, no matter how many times they were cited over the decades, were nearly all generated by the same self-interested source.
Perhaps Kennedy's long life of fighting the good fight are all that matter. Perhaps, to borrow Peggy Bulger's phraseology, a goal of "cultural advocacy" calls for the use of "applied folklore" rather than the sort of forthrightness that should be more typical of history or journalism. One thing that does remain true is that Kennedy was certainly a master of information asymmetry. Until, that is, the data caught up with him.
Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt are the authors of "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything." Some of the documentary evidence discussed in this column is at www.freakonomics.com
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
One Man, Many Wives, Big Problems
The social consequences of polygamy are bigger than you think
Jonathan Rauch | April 3, 2006
"And now, polygamy," sighs Charles Krauthammer, in a recent Washington Post column. It's true. As if they didn't already have enough on their minds, Americans are going to have to debate polygamy. And not a moment too soon.
For generations, taboo kept polygamy out of sight and out of mind in America. But the taboo is crumbling. An HBO television series called "Big Love," which benignly portrays a one-husband, three-wife family in Utah, set off the latest round of polygamy talk. Even so, a federal lawsuit (now on appeal), the American Civil Liberties Union's stand for polygamy rights, and the rising voices of pro-polygamy groups such as TruthBearer.org (an evangelical Christian group) and Principle Voices (which Newsweek describes as "a Utah-based group run by wives from polygamous marriages") were already making the subject hard to duck.
So far, libertarians and lifestyle liberals approach polygamy as an individual-choice issue, while cultural conservatives use it as a bloody shirt to wave in the gay-marriage debate. The broad public opposes polygamy but is unsure why. What hardly anyone is doing is thinking about polygamy as social policy.
If the coming debate changes that, it will have done everyone a favor. For reasons that have everything to do with its own social dynamics and nothing to do with gay marriage, polygamy is a profoundly hazardous policy.
To understand why, begin with two crucial words. The first is "marriage." Group love (sometimes called polyamory) is already legal, and some people freely practice it. Polygamy asserts not a right to love several others but a right to marry them all. Because a marriage license is a state grant, polygamy is a matter of public policy, not just of personal preference.
The second crucial word is "polygyny." Unlike gay marriage, polygamy has been a common form of marriage since at least biblical times, and probably long before. In his 1994 book The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright notes that a "huge majority" of the human societies for which anthropologists have data have been polygamous. Virtually all of those have been polygynous: that is, one husband, multiple wives. Polyandry (one wife, many husbands) is vanishingly rare. The real-world practice of polygamy seems to flow from men's desire to marry all the women they can have children with.
Moreover, in America today the main constituents for polygamous marriage are Mormons* and, as Newsweek reports, "a growing number of evangelical Christian and Muslim polygamists." These religious groups practice polygyny, not polyandry. Thus, in light of current American politics as well as copious anthropological experience, any responsible planner must assume that if polygamy were legalized, polygynous marriages would outnumber polyandrous ones — probably vastly.
Here is something else to consider: As far as I've been able to determine, no polygamous society has ever been a true liberal democracy, in anything like the modern sense. As societies move away from hierarchy and toward equal opportunity, they leave polygamy behind. They monogamize as they modernize. That may be a coincidence, but it seems more likely to be a logical outgrowth of the arithmetic of polygamy.
Other things being equal (and, to a good first approximation, they are), when one man marries two women, some other man marries no woman. When one man marries three women, two other men don't marry. When one man marries four women, three other men don't marry. Monogamy gives everyone a shot at marriage. Polygyny, by contrast, is a zero-sum game that skews the marriage market so that some men marry at the expense of others.
For the individuals affected, losing the opportunity to marry is a grave, even devastating, deprivation. (Just ask a gay American.) But the effects are still worse at the social level. Sexual imbalance in the marriage market has no good social consequences and many grim ones.
Two political scientists, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer, ponder those consequences in their 2004 book Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. Summarizing their findings in a Washington Post article, they write: "Scarcity of women leads to a situation in which men with advantages — money, skills, education — will marry, but men without such advantages — poor, unskilled, illiterate — will not. A permanent subclass of bare branches [unmarriageable men] from the lowest socioeconomic classes is created. In China and India, for example, by the year 2020 bare branches will make up 12 to 15 percent of the young adult male population."
The problem in China and India is sex-selective abortion (and sometimes infanticide), not polygamy; where the marriage market is concerned, however, the two are functional equivalents. In their book, Hudson and den Boer note that "bare branches are more likely than other males to turn to vice and violence." To get ahead, they "may turn to appropriation of resources, using force if necessary." Such men are ripe for recruitment by gangs, and in groups they "exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior." The result is "a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."
Crime rates, according to the authors, tend to be higher in polygynous societies. Worse, "high-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through colonization or war." In medieval Portugal, "the regime would send bare branches on foreign adventures of conquest and colonization." (An equivalent today may be jihad.) In 19th-century China, where as many as 25 percent of men were unable to marry, "these young men became natural recruits for bandit gangs and local militia," which nearly toppled the government. In what is now Taiwan, unattached males fomented regular revolts and became "entrepreneurs of violence."
Hudson and den Boer suggest that societies become inherently unstable when sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females: in other words, when one-sixth of men are surplus goods on the marriage market. The United States as a whole would reach that ratio if, for example, 5 percent of men took two wives, 3 percent took three wives, and 2 percent took four wives — numbers that are quite imaginable, if polygamy were legal for a while. In particular communities — inner cities, for example — polygamy could take a toll much more quickly. Even a handful of "Solomons" (high-status men taking multiple wives) could create brigades of new recruits for street gangs and drug lords, the last thing those communities need.
Such problems are not merely theoretical. In northern Arizona, a polygamous Mormon sect has managed its surplus males by dumping them on the street --
literally. The sect, reports The Arizona Republic, "has orphaned more than 400 teenagers ... in order to leave young women for marriage to the older men." The paper goes on to say that the boys "are dropped off in neighboring towns, facing hunger, homelessness, and homesickness, and most cripplingly, a belief in a future of suffering and darkness."
True, in modern America some polygynous marriages would probably be offset by group marriages or chain marriages involving multiple husbands, but there is no way to know how large such an offset might be. And remember: Every unbalanced polygynous marriage, other things being equal, leaves some man bereft of the opportunity to marry, which is no small cost to that man.
The social dynamics of zero-sum marriage are ugly. In a polygamous world, boys could no longer grow up taking marriage for granted. Many would instead see marriage as a trophy in a sometimes brutal competition for wives. Losers would understandably burn with resentment, and most young men, even those who eventually won, would fear losing. Although much has been said about polygamy's inegalitarian implications for women who share a husband, the greater victims of inequality would be men who never become husbands.
By this point it should be obvious that polygamy is, structurally and socially, the opposite of same-sex marriage, not its equivalent. Same-sex marriage stabilizes individuals, couples, communities, and society by extending marriage to many who now lack it. Polygamy destabilizes individuals, couples, communities, and society by withdrawing marriage from many who now have it.
As the public focuses on a subject it has not confronted for generations, the hazards of polygamy are likely to sink in. In time, debating polygamy will remind us why our ancestors were right to abolish it. The question is whether the debate will reach its stride soon enough to prevent polygamy
from winning a lazy acquiescence that it in no way deserves.
*Author's note: My wording left some readers under the impression that the modern Mormon church may endorse or practice polygamy. It does not. I should have made clearer that I was referring to certain people who claim to be Mormons, not to the church or mainstream practice.
© Copyright 2006 National Journal
Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a frequent contributor to Reason. The article was originally published by National Journal.
Al-Qaeda Is Losing the War
By Alain Campiotti
Wednesday 07 November 2007
The military war launched by Osama bin Ladin has aroused a rejection response from local communities that see no way out of a bloodbath and have begun to distance themselves.
Rami Ayad was killed as an example. To frighten people. Now Gaza knows it. After the murder of this young Baptist bookseller on October 7, the city preferred to believe in the crime of a solo fanatic or mentally disturbed person. For several days now, Gazans know that Ayad was stabbed, then executed with a bullet to the head because a local radical group had condemned him to death. What group? No one says. The "Takfir" - those who grant themselves the right by fatwa to kill Muslims, the "hypocrites" (the Shiites) or, of course, the infidels? Al-Qaeda? My interlocutor, who knows, doesn't answer. But since Gaza has come to understand its significance, the Christian's murder has acted on the city like an electroshock. Sunday, a requiem mass will be said in the Roman Holy Family Church, and Hamas will come in force. The Palestinians - who have committed their own terror on the streets of Tel-Aviv - don't want to include in their ranks those radicals of global jihad who kill in Bali, Madrid, New York and Gaza, professing to do so for Palestine. Al-Qaeda has never been able to involve itself in this fight that Osama bin Ladin nonetheless describes as a priority.
And suddenly, within Islam, this Palestinian rejection is no longer an isolated phenomenon. In the Lebanese drama, the bloodiest episode was the terrible little war this summer in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared, north of Tripoli. The source of that confrontation in the country of manipulation is still not clear. On the one hand, Fatah al-Islam, a group of several hundred jihadists who came from North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, had taken over control of the camp. On the other, the fragile Lebanese army, which, from May to August, in very tough combat, killed or captured almost all the Islamist fighters. Nahr al-Bared is in the heart of North Lebanon, Sunni and conservative, which approved the army's bloody action. Fatah al-Islam referred to al-Qaeda. Its recruits came from Iraq or were in training to go there.
Iraq is precisely the third domain where something is tipping. For the West, the war over there has become routine. Five more American soldiers killed there Monday and Tuesday by roadside bombs and two dozen Iraqis executed in secret. But the news media are so used to a mechanical condemnation of the wicked occupation that a villain decided on, that they can't bring themselves to see what doesn't fit into that scenario, or can only see it as an effect of American military disinformation.
Having exhausted its arguments in 2003, and contrary to all evidence, the Bush administration presented the invasion of Iraq as a decisive confrontation with al-Qaeda. It was a lie, which has become true. The CIA itself abundantly demonstrated that the occupation was the most fertile recruitment medium for Osama bin Ladin's organization. And the Saudi, like his second Ayman al-Zawahiri, very quickly ratified George Bush: Iraq was the main battlefield. Now al-Qaeda is perhaps in the process of losing that battle, not because of the superiority of arms apposite it, but because of a rejection reaction coming from the fertile breeding medium itself. As in Gaza, as in Lebanon, and on a greater scale.
Of course, the Americans continue to lie. They would like the world to believe - and the Iraqis first of all - that the battle in Mesopotamia is being conducted against a foreign body, deadly to the country. In fact, the immense majority of al-Qaeda fighters there are Iraqis, reinforced by some hundreds of foreign volunteers pretty ready for martyrdom. If the organization initially forged by Abu Mussab al-Zarqaoui rallied to Osama bin Ladin, that's because of a community of vision with respect to ends and means. The fight was global, to eliminate Western influence and penetration of the territory of the Umma (the vast family of Islam), beginning with Iraq, by re-editing the glorious precedent of the liberation of Sovietized Afghanistan. The means were remorseless: including, as of the beginning of last year, murders of Shiites accused of collaboration with the enemy, because, as the majority, they essentially held governmental power.
The Sunni tribes, which should have been al-Qaeda's spawning grounds, had nothing to do with this global combat and in a year they had blood indigestion. The Americans helped them choose another route by inundating them with weapons and some hundreds of millions of dollars. The Sunnis still hate the occupier every bit as much, but the jihadist organization is now facing, apart from the Marines, an army of auxiliaries who obey their tribal chiefs.
That's a tactic the United States has used elsewhere - in Vietnam, for example - with results that were disastrous in the long run. But Iraq is different and the Cold War is over. Al-Qaeda does not really have a rear-country. The alliance Zarqaoui (killed in June 2006) forged had made Ramadi its capital. It lost it. All around Ramadi, broad swathes of the immense Al-Anbar Province elude al-Qaeda. Samarra and Fallujah are no longer dangerous places. American reinforcements and tribal militias are also pressuring jihadist groups farther east, and in Baghdad itself. Military losses are down, civilian losses also, it appears. Refugees have returned to the capital.
If this intelligence came from the Iraqi government and the American Embassy in their Green Zone only, it wouldn't be worth much. But the confirmation of these hangover effects comes from al-Qaeda itself. In a recording, an extract of which was broadcast by the Al-Jazeera station, Osama bin Ladin admitted that "mistakes" had been committed in Iraq. He appealed for resistance fighters to unite in the face of the common American enemy, which amounted to a confession of differences and fratricidal fights. That intervention provoked a tempest in the jihadist movement over the Internet. The Qatari station had broadcast an extract from the tape only, and militants accused it of manipulation and threatened the station. That was a reversal: up until now, al-Jazeera, very honorable and professional, had been more the target of the Americans who held it to be complicit with al-Qaeda and punished it for that.
Fissures, moreover, are appearing in the jihadist movement. The preacher Salman al-Odah, a former mentor to Osama bin Ladin, addressed an open letter to the emir in hiding, in which he reproaches him with drawing misfortune upon Muslims through the culture of martyrdom. Abdulaziz al-Sherif, a movement theoretician and al-Zawahiri intimate, publicly broke with the organization. Abdulaziz al-Ashaikh, the Saudi Grand Mufti (who, of course, is certainly not free to say whatever he wants) issued a fatwa in October prohibiting young Saudis from engaging in jihad: he does not want them to transform themselves into mobile bombs in order to achieve military and political objectives that are not their own.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, for his part, has just launched a call to arms in the Maghreb, against France and Spain, all the while praising a tiny Libyan sub-group's rallying to al-Qaeda. But these cries suddenly resemble those of a wounded animal. To the point that bin Ladin's fourth son, Omar, who dumped his father after having shared his life for four years in an Afghan camp, now prefers the comfort of the tabloids and his escapades. He considers his progenitor and his friends "crazies" who are leading Muslims into "disaster."
His father hides himself for the moment with the others Omar frequented in the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistan border, in the midst of the rebellious tribes, a convenient range for the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf. Ten years ago, al-Qaeda was in the same caves, a little farther north, preparing its declaration of war against the Crusaders and the Jews, devising its plans for spectacular attacks that would bring the enemy out of its haunts so that it could bleed it as it bled and sickened the Russians during the 1980s. Ten years later, the enemy came, but it's al-Qaeda that bleeds. And in the tribal zones that protect it, the organization cannot easily construct the liberation of the Umma from the revolts of the Pashtuns and the Baluchis, poppy-growers and Taliban, undoubtedly still covertly financed by the Pakistani secret services.
So, other spectacular attacks and great horrors? Those that wounded Europe have had no other impact than to kill. No other government will react again as the United States did after 2001. Blind violence exhausts itself over time. In a way, that's what the participants in the requiem mass Sunday in the Holy Family Church, Christians and Muslims, will be saying. Hamas, which will be in the church, has renounced suicide attacks, and, in garroted Gaza, it holds the jihadists at a distance. For now.
Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.
Polygamy, terrorism, wife-stealing, and nuclear war
By Will Offensicht
Published: October 4, 2007, 10:17 AM
All human societies are based on families, and families stand on how men and women relate to one another. All societies have laws and customs to regulate how couples mate and raise children. Traditional Islamic societies forbid any interaction between men and women who aren't married to each other. One reason Saudi women are not allowed to drive cars is that they might interact with an unrelated male; everybody knows where that could lead!
Modern Mating Dances
If men and women can't interact, how, then, do men and women decide whom to marry? They don't. In much of the Middle East and Asia, fathers decide whom their children marry; marrying for romantic love is regarded as an impractical Western notion. Comparing divorce rates around the world suggests that there's merit in the skeptical Asian view of romance-based marriage.
A father worries about economics when choosing his daughter's husband because there will be grandchildren. Having reduced his payroll by giving her to her husband, he doesn't want her back on his budget. The more desirable the daughter, the wealthier the husband he can attract and the more money he gets for selling--, oops, giving, his daughter in marriage to the lucky buyer--, oops, groom.
Some modern elements have crept into the tradition. Instead of just dealing with the parents, Japanese marriage brokers circulate resumes. I spent a couple of evenings around a Japanese kitchen table as the entire family reviewed 100 or so data packets about young men who might become the daughter's husband.
She filled out a form and sent in her evaluations. When the broker noted mutual interest, a "date" was arranged. The goal is to find the best of both worlds – parents filter resumes and young people find "safe love" by dating from pool of qualified candidates.
The mixture of Western ideas with traditional mating habits has become a staple of the film industry headquartered in Bombay, India. Many "Bollywood" plots center on a sincere, bumbling marriage broker struggling to marry off a handsome / ugly / rich / poor daughter. The crisis comes when somebody makes trouble just before the wedding. These stories reinforce the idea that the broker, the father, and the girl can count on the marriage being a done deal once the broker gets paid.
The assumption that marriages last "'til death us do part" doesn't work as well in Islamic societies where husbands may divorce any wife at any time by saying, "I divorce thee" three times. What happens then is up to the offended husband. He may send her home, he may let her stay, or he may put her out in the street with or without her children; it's up to him.
Jewish divorce law of 4,000 years ago was a much better deal for women:
"When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." (Deuteronomy 24:1-2 )
An ex-wife can't leave her husband's house to meet other men without his permission. She no longer belongs to her father so he can't help her. Even if a man could meet her, she couldn't marry because her ex-husband could reclaim her at any time so long as claiming her again didn't put him over the four-wife limit specified in the Koran.
Under Jewish law, her ex-husband had to give her a document which certified her eligibility to marry. He had to put her out of his house so that she could meet another husband, and he had no further claim on her ever again.
Islamic law limits a husband to a maximum of four wives at a time. Sheik Mohammad bin Laden, who founded the largest Islamic construction firm, is said to have had at least 54 children. To Muslims, wife's names aren't worth writing down so we don't know whether he had 20 or 22 wives, but he was meticulous about not being married to more than four at once. Osama bin Laden of 9-11 fame was the only son of Mohammad bin Laden's tenth wife.
Given that his construction firm grossed $5 billion per year, the Sheik could support any number of ex-wives, but that was up to him.
The American custom of a wealthy man dumping his spouse for a younger, more fertile "trophy wife" is similar to Islamic custom but the Islamic system is easier for men. When he replaced Ivana with Marla Marples, Donald Trump couldn't just say "I divorce thee," he needed lawyers and Ivana got some money. Not only that, American law meant that Mr. Trump had to be content with one trophy wife at a time, he couldn't have four at once as the Sheik could.
Prudent American men use prenuptial agreements to limit the future cost of dumping trophy wives. Islamic law gives a wife no legal rights, but a father can negotiate a prenuptial agreement committing the groom to support her and her children after divorce. Although her husband is free to divorce her at any time and she has no legal rights, his contract with her father -- being an agreement between men -- is enforceable. If a daughter is desirable enough, her father can give her some protection through a prenuptial agreement, but what happens if the prospective groom says, "I'll pay 10 camels for her without a prenup, but only 5 if you insist that I promise to feed her if I have to divorce her"?
Islamic polygamy creates situations where terrorism flourishes.
Polygamy and Terrorism
Polygamy puts awful strains on society. Let's assume that only 1 Muslim man in 10 can afford the statutory 4 wives and that other men can only afford one. In a town of 200 people, 100 men and 100 women, the 10 richest men take a total of 40 women by offering more money to the girl's fathers. That leaves 60 women for 90 non-rich men. If each rich man takes only 4 women out of the marriage pool, 30% of the men find no wife at all.
The actual situation is worse because super-rich men like the Sheik marry more than 4 women. He'll divorce surplus-wives as necessary for the bureacracy's sake, but he'll keep an ex-wife confined to the house so she'll be available for "creature comforts" in case of emergency. The super rich man takes 20 women; the 9 rich men take 36 so the richest 10 men take 56 wives. That leaves 44 women for the remaining 90 men; about half the men have no chance to marry.
People who find it hard to believe that there could be enough rich people to make that big a difference haven't thought about the oil money. The Saudi royal family, for example, has about 4,000 princes. There are reports that each prince gets a monthly allowance of $250,000. A cash flow of $3 million per year could support at least 20 wives. 20 wives for each of 4,000 princes is 80,000 women, leaving 76,000 men with no marriage prospects.
Saudi oil money paid for the construction work which gave Sheik Bin Laden his fortune and funded his harem. Saudi Arabia is the wealthiest country in the Middle East so the problem of men not being able to find wives is at its worst there. Sure enough, most of the 9-11 perpetrators were Saudi citizens.
Having too many unattached men is dangerous for any society. In the US, married men pay less for auto insurance than unmarried men because being linked to a woman stabilizes a man. Some historians claim that women drive civilization. As President Reagan said, "I happen to be one who believes that if it wasn't for women, us men would still be walking around in skin suits carrying clubs." The urge behind central heating, home appliances, and other civilized comforts is a man's drive to take care of his wife and make her comfortable enough that she likes being his wife. If a man owns his wife he doesn't need to act civilized and men who can't have a woman don't care about being civilized.
The New York Times documented the side effects of women shortages due to American polygamy in a recent article:
"Over the last six years, hundreds of teenage boys have been expelled or felt compelled to leave the polygamous settlement that straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Disobedience is usually the reason given for expulsion, but former sect members and state legal officials say the exodus of males -- the expulsion of girls is rarer -- also remedies a huge imbalance in the marriage market. Members of the sect believe that to reach eternal salvation, men are supposed to have at least three wives."
The Times puts it well, "huge imbalance in the marriage market." Victims of American polygamy can leave home to find wives. Muslim men can't because neighboring countries have the same customs. Men with no attachment to society become terrorist cannon fodder; a successful suicide bomber is guaranteed 75 virgins in the afterlife. If the only way to get a woman is to commit suicide, so be it.
Any woman who's been pursued by an obsessed man she doesn't want understands how strong a man's drive for a woman can be.
Some women believe that if women are in short supply, their value goes up and they're treated better, but the genders are too far out of balance in the Middle East for this to work smoothly. As pointed out by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada,
"In some areas the gender imbalance is so marked that women are kidnapped and sold as wives."
If women are too valuable, the temptation to steal them becomes so great that they can't walk around without being "swept off their feet" and ripped off. That's another reason the Saudis don't let women drive cars -- carjacking easily turns into wifejacking.
Polygamy and Wife Stealing
Newspapers report that Palestinian suicide bombers who blow themselves up to kill Israelis come from the lower ranks. In the National Review October 8, 2007, p 36, an assistant to General Petraeus explained that instead of committing suicide to get women in the afterlife, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leaders use force to get women here and now:
"AQI killed a sheik over his refusal to give daughters of his tribe to them in marriage, which created a revenge obligation (tha'r) on his people who attacked AQI."
AQI needs local cooperation to stay hidden from the Americans, but their drive for women is stronger than their desire to keep the locals happy. Most AQI leaders come from Saudi Arabia where establishment types not only get all the oil money, they get all the women, too. Killing a sheik and taking his women won't win Iraqi "hearts and minds," but since they can't afford the bride price, the only ways AQI can get women are murder or suicide. Murdering your prospective in-laws is a new twist on "shotgun wedding." As Willy Sutton put it, "You get further with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."
Getting a discount on the bride price by murdering the bride's parents was such common practice in the Middle East that Jewish law regulates the practice:
"When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, and seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her." (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
The Jews couldn't just work their will on a captive female, Moses wrote down rules:
First, she first shaves her head, cleans her nails, and gets rid of her clothes; that's the traditional way to get rid of body lice. Even today, shaving kids' hair is the standard way to cure head lice in certain American neighborhoods.
Second, she gets a "full month" to mourn her parents. This gives the man time to come down from his adrenaline high. I didn't win my wife by killing her parents, but I suspect that conquering a woman this way would be as exciting as having my team win the championship. Even in civilized parts of America, victorious sports fans can get rowdy, the Red Sox World Series comes to mind. Letting the man cool off for a month means she's less likely to get hurt when he "goes in unto her."
Third, Moses' law says that if the man does take her, she's no longer a slave, she's no longer property - the man cannot sell her. If the man doesn't want her any more, he has to set her free as required as noted above. Having sex with her promotes her from slave to wife.
Taking a woman gave her certain rights. If a man raped or seduced a woman, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 said he had to pay a fine and marry her. He also lost his right to divorce her.
Given the sexual forces involved, militant Islam will be a tougher opponent than communism ever was. By saying God did not exist, communists gave up religion as a tool to motivate people. Women were equal under communism, so they couldn't be given as rewards to the faithful. The only reward communists could offer was power.
Al Qaeda offers its followers power and religious satisfaction, of course, but it also offers the chance to find a wife or wives. If Al Qaeda wins in Iraq, they'll have oil money with which to reward their followers and they can award them wives by killing Iraqi men. What motivates men more, God's approval, money, power, or access to wives?
Gender imbalance fuels terrorism in the Middle East, and it could have more serious consequences.
Polygamy and Nuclear War
Gender imbalance might lead to nuclear war. Pakistan, a nuclear power, has an unstable government and a Muslim majority where polygamy and poverty flourish. If radical Islamics take power in Pakistan, they might start a war with India or China to get rid of unattached men who would otherwise cause them trouble.
Chinese gender imbalance could also lead to a nuclear exchange. An Economist book review noted an unexpected shortage of women:
"Some big numbers are so frightening that a habitual reaction is to ignore them, deny them or optimistically assume that they are already dwindling. One such figure was produced in 1990 by Amartya Sen, who later won the Nobel Prize for economics. More than 100m women, he claimed, were missing. Demographers have since quibbled with the arithmetic, but not with the underlying argument: that, in many countries, especially in Asia, there are fewer women than there should be, assuming normal patterns of birth and longevity."
The Wall Street Journal explained the shortage. "China's One-Child Mistake" WSJ Sept 17, 2007 p A17 says,
"Under normal circumstances, about 103 to 105 baby boys are born for every 100 baby girls. Shortly after the advent of the one-child policy, China began reporting biologically impossible disparities between boys and girls – and the imbalance has only continued to rise. Today China reports 123 baby boys for every 100 baby girls. … How will China cope with the sudden and very rapid emergence of tens of millions of essentially unmarriageable young men?"
Twenty-three out of 100 Chinese men can't find wives; that's close to the minimum estimate of the wife shortage due to Muslim polygamy. Chinese place immense value on sons because a) they carry on the family name and b) sons support their parents when the parents get old. Chinese trust their government to take care of them less than Americans trust their government to pay off on Social Security; they prefer sons to daughters strongly enough to murder enough girls to upset the gender balance, that's what "pro choice" means in China.
When their government got serious about enforcing the "one child" policy, Chinese used infanticide, murder, or abortion to get rid of girls in favor of boys. The Wall Street Journal counts "tens of millions of essentially unmarriageable young men," the Economist states that there are 100 million fewer Asian women than normal birth rates suggest that there should be. Either way, it's a problem.
What will the Chinese Government do with millions of surplus men?
In 1860, the Imperial Russian Government forced the Chinese to give up control of "Outer Manchuria." The British returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, but the Chinese are acutely aware that Russia has not given back Manchuria.
Russian life is so unpleasant that women are refusing to have babies at all and the Russian population is dropping. Very few Russians live in Outer Manchuria. Just south of the border, Chinese masses teem. What if Chinese men simply start walking across the border? What could the Russians do? General MacArthur, once the ranking US expert on war, said, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."
MacArthur's men suffered from "human wave" attacks in North Korea. The Chinese had one rifle for every 10 men. They'd line up and charge the American machine guns. When the guy carrying the rifle died, the next man picked it up and the line marched on. The Americans killed Chinese until they ran out of bullets, then they died to the last man.
MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese but Truman wouldn't let him. The President won the argument and fired MacArthur, but MacArthur had a point – how do you stop millions of Chinese without nukes? Would the Russians go nuclear to keep Outer Mongolia?
There's no way to replace millions of Asian girls who were killed or aborted 15 - 20 years ago. The WSJ suggests that the Chinese government abandon the "One Child" policy, but fear of famine is too deeply embedded in the Chinese psyche for them to let the population grow at its natural rate.
The Washington Post has reported how much trouble women had getting men to stop putting posters of women in locker rooms. Can anyone imagine rich, powerful Muslim men giving up their right to marry four wives at a time and to keep ex-wives around as spares? As the National Review article cited above put it, "You can imagine the tribes' reaction if the next thing they hear from us after Al-Qaeda is gone is, 'Hi, we're from the United States government and we're here to liberate your women.'"
Muslims send surplus men to Iraq to be killed by the American army, but that's only a short-term solution. Bin Laden contributed to the problem by having 5 wives. What if he wins and turns the entire world into a Muslim state? What will he do with all the surplus men when he doesn't have any enemies left to kill them off for him?
Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name. Read other Scragged.com articles on marriage, Islam, terrorism, Osama Bin Laden, polygamy and nuclear war
Monday, March 10, 2008
Christian, Muslim, Jew
Franz Rosenzweig and the Abrahamic Religions
Copyright (c) 2007 First Things (October 2007).
Franz Rosenzweig is widely regarded as one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the past century. Best known for The Star of Redemption, published eight years before his death in 1929 at the age of forty-three, he began a new kind of dialogue between Judaism and Christianity when he argued that the two faiths complement each other: Christianity to propagate revelation to the world, and Judaism to “convert the inner pagan” inside each Christian.
Less often mentioned, however, is Rosenzweig’s analysis of Islam, a religion he regarded as a throwback to paganism. Indeed, Rosenzweig predicted a prolonged conflict of civilizations between Islam and the West. “The coming millennium will go down in world history as a struggle between Orient and Occident, between the church and Islam, between the Germanic peoples and the Arabs,” he forecast in 1920—in part because Islam is “a parody of revealed religion,” while Allah is an apotheosized despot, “the colorfully contending gods of the pagan pantheon rolled up into one.”
Rather than three Abrahamic religions, Rosenzweig saw only two religions arising from the self-revelation of divine love, with Islam as a crypto-pagan pretender. He was no Islamophobe, observing that Islam during certain eras evinced greater tolerance and humaneness than Christian Europe. But he was emphatic that truly foundational differences distinguish Judeo-Christian religion from Islam.
Contemporary academic thinkers almost universally eschew Rosenzweig’s view of Islam. But it makes no sense to affirm Rosenzweig’s depiction of the unique bond between Jews and Christians—their response to God’s self-revelation through love—while ignoring what makes this bond so different from other human responses to the transcendent. In Rosenzweig’s theology, the soul’s awareness of God begins with his love, and from this arise both faith and authentic human individuality. The existential condition of being loved is what uniquely characterizes Christian and Jew, as opposed to the pagan, for whom God must remain hidden.
At first glance, Rosenzweig’s characterization of Islam as pagan appears strange, for we habitually classify religions according to their outward forms and identify paganism with manifestations of polytheism or nature worship. Insisting on the uniqueness of Allah and suppressing outward expressions of idolatry, Islam appears the opposite of a pagan religion. Rosenzweig, however, requires us to see faith from the existential standpoint of the believer, who in revealed religion knows God through God’s love. For Rosenzweig, paganism constitutes a form of alienation from the revealed God of Love; Allah, the absolutely transcendent God who offers mercy but not unconditional love, is therefore a pagan deity.
All humankind acknowledges the divine, Rosenzweig insists in The Star of Redemption, because humans are mortal. From the fear of death arises the perception of the transcendent; and, in the pursuit of eternal life, one proceeds to life, as he avers in the book’s final words. The path to human life, however, requires a life outside time—that is, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Man cannot abide his mortal existence and the terror of death without the prospect of eternal life. Rosenzweig’s existential theology looks through the patina of received doctrine to the spiritual life of the congregation and its attempt to create for itself a life beyond the grave. How different faiths—different modes of living—address the fear of death creates a unique vantage point from which to understand how profoundly Christianity, Judaism, and Islam differ from one another.
Rosenzweig’s existential theology is embedded in what he calls a sociology of religion. He considers not only the individual’s response to the fear of death but also, and more important, the response of entire peoples to the threat of extinction. It is not only our own death that we fear—under some circumstances we may not fear it at all—but rather the death of our race, our culture, our language, and with them the death of the possibility that some trace of our presence on earth will persist through our successors.
Perhaps Rosenzweig’s most influential claim holds that the Jew “converts the inner pagan” inside the Christian, such that the living presence of the Jewish people creates a counterweight to the Gnostic impulses in Christianity. “Before God stand both of us,” he wrote, “Jew and Christians, laborers at the same task”:
It is only the Old Testament that enables Christianity to defend itself against [Gnosticism], its inherent danger. And it is the Old Testament alone, because it is more than just a book. The arts of allegorical interpretation would have made short work of a mere book. If, like Christ, the Jews had disappeared from the world, they would denote only the Idea of a People, and Zion the Idea of the midpoint of the world, just as Christ denotes only the Idea of Man. But the sturdy and undeniable vitality of the Jewish people—to which anti-Semitism itself attests—opposes itself to such “idealization.” That Christ is more than idea—no Christian can know this. But that Israel is more than an idea, the Christian knows, because he sees it. . . . Our presence stands surety for their truth. [All translations from Rosenzweig are my own.]
In the post-Holocaust world, after neopaganism nearly conquered Europe, Rosenzweig’s contention that Christianity requires the presence of the Jews found great resonance. Yet his formulation stems from a theological sociology with broader application. Pagans, Rosenzweig explained, have only the fragile and ultimately futile effort to preserve their physical continuity through blood and soil. Their hope for immortality takes the form of a perpetual fight for physical existence, which one day they must lose. Rosenzweig’s sociology of religion thus offers unique insights into the origin and nature of civilizational conflict when he argues that a pagan people, ever sentient of the fragility of their existence, are always prepared to fight to the death.
It is hard to dismiss Rosenzweig’s view of Islam as an expression of Jewish prejudice, for he also rejected Zionism and celebrated the virtues of a Judaism removed from the temporal constraints of nationhood. He formed his view of Islam during the First World War as a German soldier (and an ally of Muslim Turkey), long before Arab-Jewish conflict was a concern to most Jews. Indeed, Jews of Rosenzweig’s generation tended to view Islam as more hospitable to Judaism than Christianity.
Like Martin Buber, with whom he translated the Hebrew Scriptures into German, Rosenzweig remains a rallying point for non-Zionist Jewish universalism, attracting the sorts of admirers who most desire reconciliation between the State of Israel and its Muslim adversaries. By the same token, the embrace of Zionism by all mainstream Jewish currents after 1948 makes Rosenzweig something of an anomaly to Jewish thought today.
Still, it is misguided to dismiss Rosenzweig’s analysis of Islam as a matter of secondary interest, for he stated plainly that his critique of Islam was quite as important to his thought as his presentation of Judaism. In his essay “The New Thinking,” he wrote that the Star of Redemption “is not a ‘Jewish book’ at all. . . . It does deal with Judaism, but not any more exhaustively than with Christianity and barely more exhaustively than Islam.” Nonetheless, the Rosenzweig scholars who bother to address the issue tend to dismiss his discussion of Islam as “troublesome” or as “an embarrassing prejudice.”
Only one extant monograph addresses Rosenzweig’s analysis of Islam in depth—a German-language collection of his writings with introductory essays by Gesine Palmer and Yossef Schwartz, in which Schwartz claims that Rosenzweig wasn’t really writing about Islam at all but rather about a Hegelian construct that Rosenzweig confounded with Islam. That seems an odd assertion, considering that Rosenzweig formed his view of Islam in part through direct contact with Muslims in Macedonia during the war, and he wrote about his experience in a letter reproduced in Palmer and Schwartz’s own volume.
None of these scholars address the definitive aspect of Rosenzweig’s analysis, what he called the “sociological basis” of religion. Although most of Rosenzweig’s comments about Islam are found in book two of The Star of Redemption, it is book three, his portrayal of the encounter of the peoples with mortality, that establishes the context—for it is there that he explains the “pagan world of fate and chance,” which applies to paganism’s manifestation in Islam. Although Palmer and Schwartz have collected every passage that mentions the word Islam in Rosenzweig’s work, they exclude his striking portrayal of pagan society. In short, they excise the context in which to understand his assertion that Islam is a mode of paganism.
Early in The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig argues that pagan society cannot foster authentic human individuality but dissolves the individual into an extension of race or state. “For the isolated individual, his society is the society,” he writes.
In the thoroughly organized State, the State and the individual do not stand in the relation of a whole to a part. Instead, the state is the All, from which the power flows through the limbs of the individual. Everyone has his determined place, and, to the extent that he fulfills it, belongs to the All of the State. . . . The individual of antiquity does not lose himself in society in order to find himself, but rather in order to construct it; he himself disappears. The well-known difference between the ancient and all modern concepts of democracy rightly arise from this. It is clear from this why antiquity never developed the concept of representative democracy. Only a body can have organs; a building has only parts.
Written before the consolidation of communist power in Russia or the creation of the European fascist state, this passage was prescient, for it characterizes the modern neopagan state as well as the heathen societies of antiquity. It is also the starting point for Rosenzweig’s characterization of Islam as pagan and Allah as an apotheosized despot. He begins, in other words, with a general characterization of pagan society as a “thoroughly organized” society in the absence of God’s self-revelation through love, and then he considers Islam as a specific case of a paganism that parodies the outward form of revealed religion.
“In an authentic confession of faith,” he argues, “there always is this testimony, namely that one’s personal experience of love must be more than the experience of just one individual; that He whom the soul experiences in its love cannot be simply an illusion or a self-deception of the beloved soul, but that He actually lives.” And so God “achieves through the witness of the believing soul a tangible and visible reality beyond Hiddenness, beyond his Hiddenness, which he possessed in a different way in heathendom.”
By the same logic, Islam’s confession of faith cannot be a confession of faith at all: “Islam’s confession, ‘God is God,’ is no confession of faith, but a confession of non-faith [ein Unglaubensbekenntnis]. It confesses in this tautology not a revealed God, but a hidden one. Nicholas of Cusa says rightly that a heathen, indeed an atheist, could profess the same.”
Revelation, according to Rosenzweig, occurs through the soul’s awareness of God’s love, and human individuality arises from the soul’s response to being loved. In pagan society, where God remains unrevealed, the individual exists only as an organ of the collective of state or race. The pagan’s sense of immortality therefore depends solely on the perpetuation of his race, and his most sacred act is to sacrifice himself in war to postpone the inevitable day when his race will go down in defeat.
Rosenzweig’s spiritual characterization of pagan society is the starting point for his sociology of religion: an understanding of the response of whole peoples to mortality and transcendence. Uniquely among the peoples of the world, the Jews believe that a covenant with the Creator of Heaven and Earth makes them an eternal people. Not so the Gentiles, Rosenzweig writes:
Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed toward a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customers have lost their living power.
He adds: “Because it trusts only in its self-created eternity and upon nothing else in the world, [the Jewish people] really believes in its eternity, while the peoples of the world in the final analysis reckon with their own death, just as does the individual, at some point, be it ever so remote.” And further: “War as it was known to the peoples of antiquity was in general only one of the natural expressions of life, and presented no fundamental complications. War meant that a people staked its life, for the sake of its life. A people that marched to war took upon itself the danger of its own death. That mattered little as long as the peoples regarded themselves as mortal.”
Islam, Rosenzweig continues, transforms the defense of the homeland into an offensive against the prospective enemies of the homeland, such that Europe had to defend itself against the “encroaching heathenism of the half-moon.” Military incursions, to be sure, are not the likeliest form of attack on traditional society in the twenty-first century; the infiltration of popular culture and the encroachment of the global marketplace pose an existential threat to some traditional societies as dire as conquering hordes. It is against such new threats to pagan culture that Islam spills the blood of its sons on the soil of their homelands today.
For Rosenzweig, holy war is the sine qua non of Islam, precisely because war is the most sacred act of pagan society in general. As he writes:
The concept of the Path of Allah is entirely different than God’s path. The paths of God are the disposition of divine decrees high above human events. But following the path of Allah means in the narrowest sense propagating Islam through holy war. In the obedient journey upon this path, taking upon one’s self the associated dangers, the observance of the laws prescribed for it, Muslim piety finds its way in the world. The path of Allah is not elevated above the path of humankind, as far as the heaven stretches above earth, but rather the path of Allah means immediately the path of his believers.
For this reason, God’s special love for the weak and defenseless that characterizes the God of Jews and Christians is inconceivable in Islam: “Unlike the God of faith, Allah cannot go before his own [people] and say to their face that he has chosen them above all others in all their sinfulness, and in order to make them accountable for their sins. That the failings of human beings arouse divine love more powerfully than their merits is an impossible, indeed an absurd thought to Islam—but it is the thought that stands at the heart of [Jewish and Christian] faith.”
Franz Rosenzweig was quite prepared to believe that Islam was more humane and tolerant than Christianity during some of its history. But that historical fact remains beside Rosenzweig’s point, for he sees Islam as the path of obedience: “The path of Allah requires the obedience of the will to a commandment that has been given once and for all time. By contrast, in [Judeo-Christian] brotherly love, the spore of human character erupts ever anew, incited by the ever-surprising outbreak of the act of love.”
Traditional peoples fight to the death, even in the knowledge that one day they must lose their existential fight for existence. The pagan’s personality is an extension of race and state, in Rosenzweig’s view; therefore, it dies with the death of his society. He risks nothing by sacrificing his life to preserve his society. Rosenzweig’s sociology helps us to make sense of contemporary conflicts. Rarely if ever in recorded history has suicide played the central role in military conflict that it does today in the Islamic world. The explanation for self-destructive behavior on a grand scale is that the spiritual death ensuing from the dissolution of traditional society bears with it greater fear than the fear of physical death.
The scholar Gil Anidjar complains that “Islam simply disappears from Rosenzweig’s argument” in book three of The Star of Redemption, the sociological section that portrays Jews and Christians in their striving for eternal life. In fact, the third book contains Rosenzweig’s definitive characterization of Islamic life. The Christian and Jewish liturgical years, he explains, recapitulate a journey to redemption. His chapter on Jewish life begins with the blessing recited multiple times during the reading of the Torah at the Sabbath service: “Blessed be He who planted eternal life among us.” That introduces Rosenzweig’s elaboration of the Jewish idea of eternity in the physical continuity of an eternal people. The Sabbath is the foundation of Jewish life, the day on which the Jew eschews earthly endeavor and enjoys as it were a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven: “In the circle of weekly sections, which annually run through the entire Torah, the spiritual year is traversed, and the steps of this course are the Sabbaths.”
Judaism for Rosenzweig is a self-sustaining eternal fire, nourished by the physical continuity of the Jewish people. Christianity is a perpetual journey toward salvation, directing these rays outward. The lives of Christian and Jewish communities, as experienced through the liturgical calendar, express the world’s own journey toward redemption. Yet Islam lives in the perpetual present of prehistory:
Islam also makes the world in its individuality into an object of redemption. The path of Allah leads his believers into the real peoples of real epochs in time. But how does it think of these peoples and epochs? In the [Judeo-Christian] Kingdom they come forward in a continuous, if incalculable, augmentation of life. . . . In Islam, by contrast, all worldly individuality stands under the sign of prehistory, that is, negation. It is always new, and never something that develops gradually. Here every epoch in time stands in immediate relation to God, and not merely every epoch, but all individuality in general. . . . Historical epochs therefore are placed in no relation whatever to each other; there is no growth from one to the other, no “Spirit” that goes through all of them and unifies them.
In the case of Islam, Rosenzweig concludes, “the concept of the future is poisoned at its root.” Only through the action of God in history, through the growth of the kingdom in contrasting epochs, he argues, is it possible to recognize the “gift of eternity” in the present moment. Sacred time, the content of the Jewish and Christian liturgical calendars, does not exist in Islam, Rosenzweig concludes in his “last comparative glance” at Islam in book three.
Rosenzweig’s treatment of the response of peoples to the prospect of national mortality constitutes one of his most original contributions, informing his understanding of paganism in general and Islam in particular. “The God of Mohammed,” he writes, “is a creator who well might not have bothered to create. He displays his power like an Oriental potentate who rules by violence, not by acting according to necessity, not by authorizing the enactment of the law, but rather in his freedom to act arbitrarily. By contrast, it is most characteristic of rabbinic theology that it formulates our concept of the divine power to create in the question as to whether God created the world out of love or out of righteousness.”
Allah’s creation is, for Rosenzweig, a mere act of “magic.” Muslim theology “presumes that Allah creates every isolated thing at every moment. Providence thus is shattered into infinitely many individual acts of creation, with no connection to each other, each of which has the importance of the entire creation. That has been the doctrine of the ruling orthodox philosophy in Islam. Every individual thing is created from scratch at every moment. Islam cannot be salvaged from this frightful providence of Allah.”
With his mention of “orthodox philosophy in Islam,” Rosenzweig is referring to the eleventh-century normative theology of al-Ghazali, still recognized as the preeminent Muslim theologian. Rosenzweig’s objections to al-Ghazali are rooted in the critiques made by Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, there is a striking parallel between Rosenzweig’s restatement of the medieval critique and Pope Benedict XVI’s discussion of Muslim theology at Regensburg on September 12, 2006.
As all the world now knows—after riots and protests broke out across the world—Benedict quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologue: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The pope continued:
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God,” he says, “is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.” . . .
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. . . . The editor [of the Greek text from which Benedict is quoting], Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.
What are we to make of this? Benedict went on to insist that “God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.” And this, indeed, suggests that Rosenzweig’s existential theology, which proceeds from the soul’s experience of love in God’s self-revelation, can find its way back to agreement with the medieval Christian and Jewish refutation of al-Ghazali.
Rosenzweig’s analysis of foundational differences between Judeo-Christian religion and Islam holds more than historical interest for us today. The challenges of theological dialogue with Islam noted by Benedict XVI among others should alert us that an existential divide separates the Judeo-Christian West and Islam. Rosenzweig is provocative, perhaps even disturbing, in his treatment of Islam. But it seems unlikely that we will make sense of the civilizational debate with Islam without grappling with the issues that he raised almost a century ago.
Spengler is a pseudonymous essayist for the Asia Times Online.
Mar 11, 2008
Should Islam be blamed for 'barbaric' acts?
Al-Jazeera television on March 9 apologized to viewers after a talk-show guest, Syrian-American psychologist Dr Wafa Sultan, described as "barbaric" the response of Muslims to a Danish newspaper's cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed. "The Muslims' barbaric reaction added to the value of these cartoons. It simply proved their rightness," said Dr Sultan on the Qatari network. "The Muslim is an irrational creature, and the things he learned overpower his mind and inflame his feelings. That is why these remarks have turned him into an inferior creature, who cannot control himself and respond to events in a rational way."
Despite the network’s hasty apology, Dr Sultan’s presence on the show is a sign of the times. The issue of Muslim "barbarism", including honor killings and other forms of violence against women, has risen in prominence in Europe's political agenda. The question appears to be: Do Muslims commit barbaric acts because they are bad Muslims or because they are good
Muslims? Does Islam as such promote barbarism or suppress it? Within the vast collection of hadith, or apocryphal sayings of Mohammed, are to be found explicit support for female genital mutilation and wife-beating. Are such barbaric acts a residue of traditional society that persist despite Islam, or because of it?
I shall argue that this is the wrong question, for Islam by its nature cannot be separated from primitive life.
Many Muslims protest that Islamic law does not sanction honor killings, and that other ethnic groups (eg, Hindus and Sikhs in Britain) are guilty of the practice. Honor killings are a repulsive aspect of traditional society. We first hear of such an act in Genesis 34, when after Jacob’s daughter Dinah was seduced by a man of Shechem, after which his sons Simeon and Levi instigated the slaughter of the town’s men. But Jacob denounced the act and still reproached his sons for it from his deathbed.
The Hebrew Bible reports the practice of honor killing, but abhors it. Muslims remain divided on the subject. Strictly speaking, it is true that Islamic law forbids a Muslim family from killing an adulteress or a woman who has had relations with a non-Muslim man. But that is only because Islamic law specifies that Islamic courts, rather than families, should supervise the killing. It is not that women (and sometimes men) should not be killed for the crime of illicit sexual relations, but rather that the Islamic courts should arrange the killing.
For this reason, Islamic law views quite leniently honor killings that accomplish what the courts would have done given the opportunity, and many Islamic commentators do not see why families should wait for the courts at all. Until recently, Jordan gave "honor" killers sentences of as little as six months under Article 340 of the Jordan Penal Code, which stated: "Anyone catching his wife or one of his immediate family in a flagrant act of fornication with another person, and kills, injures or harms both or either of them, will benefit from the exculpating excuse ..."
Jordan's King Abdullah succeeded in revising this language, but as the Associated Press reported last year, "attempts to introduce harsher sentences for honor killings have been blocked in Jordan's parliament, where the predominantly conservative Bedouin lawmakers argue that lesser penalties [than honor killings] would lead to tolerating of promiscuity."
Islamic clerics, to be sure, tend to favor the idea that they rather than families should do the killing. According to a traditional ruling cited by Dr Mohammed Fadel and frequently posted on Islamic sites,
The prohibition against applying a legal penalty without legal authority (bi ghayri sultan) and without witnesses; cutting off the means to shedding the blood of a Muslim based merely upon the claim of his accuser, the one seeking the shedding of the accused's blood. [In this case] the truth of the claim would be known only by [the accuser's] own statement and Allah, may He be glorified and sanctified, has made the life of a Muslim a precious thing, and has made the sin in taking it great as well. Therefore, it [legal punishment] is permissible only under the conditions in which Allah has permitted it. [Application of legal punishments] is exclusively for the government so that it may apply that which Allah has commanded in His book or on the tongue of His Prophet.
There is no question that flogging and execution of adulterers is mandated by the Koran (eg, Sudra 4:15). As I observed in another context, this point is so clear in Islamic law that Professor Tariq Ramadan refused to condemn the practice in a televised debate with then French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
All Islamic commentary on the subject, though, applies to the behavior of Muslims in a country under Islamic rule in which the only only law is Islamic law. If no Islamic courts are available, what should an individual Muslim do? Is it then permissible to take the law into one's own hands? We have no clear record of Islamic jurisprudence on the subject, for only in recent years have large numbers of Muslims come to live in non-Muslim countries. But the reticence of Islamic clergy in the West to denounce honor killings is noteworthy. Western apologists for Islam who attempt to distinguish between the religion and primitive practices constantly stub their toes against Muslim authorities who insist that honor killing, genital mutilation, and stoning of adulterers is mandated by Islam.
The death penalty for adultery is typical of primitive society (it is of course found in the Hebrew Bible), but extremely rare in the Jewish Commonwealth during the historical era. In Hillel's time, a generation before Jesus, the saying was that a court that handed down one death sentence in a century was considered a hanging court. Jesus' mercy towards the adulteress reflected a wide body of Second-Temple opinion.
The crucial issue is why the practices of primitive society perdure in the Islamic world while they have been eliminated in the Judeo-Christian world. The practice of genital mutilation, surely one of the most barbaric customs in the world, is still defended by Islamic clergy. The website Islam Online has the following to say on the subject:
Before delving deep into the question of female circumcision, we would like to make it clear that 'female circumcision' means removing the prepuce of the clitoris, not the clitoris itself.
As for the Shariah stance on female circumcision, it’s a controversial issue among the Muslim scholars and even doctors.
In response to the question, the eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:
Actually, this is a controversial issue among jurists and even among doctors. It has sparked off fierce debate in Egypt whereby scholars and doctors are split into proponents and opponents.
However, the most moderate opinion and the most likely one to be correct is in favor of practicing circumcision in the moderate Islamic way indicated in some of the Prophet's hadiths - even though such hadiths are not confirmed to be authentic. It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a midwife: 'Reduce the size of the clitoris but do not exceed the limit, for that is better for her health and is preferred by husbands.' The hadith indicates that circumcision is better for a woman's health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband. It’s noteworthy that the Prophet's saying 'do not exceed the limit' means do not totally remove the clitoris.
And Livingislam.org defends wife-beating as follows:
The basic rule (asl) is strict prohibition, followed by dispensation (rukhsa) as explicited by the Prophet in the hadith below, which al-Shafi`i took for his evidence in his ruling:
The Prophet said: 'Do not hit the maidservants of Allah!' (la tadribu ima' Allah). Then Umar (RA) came to the Prophet and said [NB: by way of exaggeration, cf Awn al-Ma bud]: 'The women are rebelling (dha'irna) against their husbands!' So the Prophet gave a dispensation (rakhkhasa) to beat them.
Not all Islamic countries practice female genital mutilation, to be sure, and some non-Islamic African countries do so. The custom is neither universal in Islam nor unique to it.
Nonetheless, the ubiquity of traditional practices that the civilized world long has repudiated underscores the fundamental difference between Islam on one hand, and Judaism and Christianity on the other. No Christian court has condemned a woman to death for adultery; although the death penalty for adultery is found in the Book of Leviticus, there is no record of such a sentence by any Jewish court. Although elements of traditional practice are found in ancient Jewish law, the entire purpose of the Jewish code is to separate Israel from the pagan practices of its neighbors. "Holiness" in Hebrew shares a root with the word for separation. The practices of traditional society throughout the Hebrew Bible are regarded as an abomination. By electing Israel, God removes it from the traditional world.
Christianity rejects traditional society all the more emphatically. To become a Christian, every individual must repudiate ethnicity and be reborn into a spiritualized Israel. The reborn Christian belongs not to a tribe, but to the people of God.
Franz Rosenzweig, the great German-Jewish theologian, qualified Islam as a parody of revealed religion. On the surface Islam mimics Jewish more than Christian practice; Muslims pray five times a day while the Jews pray three times, males are circumcised, a similar dietary code prevails, and so forth. But the inability of Islam to rid itself of the most barbaric practices of the primitive world at the beginning of the 21st century is a hallmark of a parody. The resemblances are strictly on the surface. The primitive world persists in Islam under the Abrahamic veneer, because the religion never offered a challenge to it. A small people to repudiate the practices of the pagan world, but a religion that absorbs countless peoples by conquest must accept them with their customs more or less intact.
In another respect, Islam parodies Christianity. Unlike Judaism, which seeks to separate Israel from the traditional practices of the surrounding peoples, Christianity proposes to incorporate all of humanity into the new People of God, by effecting an inner transformation of every individual. By this transformation, Christians believe, all of humanity can become holy. Islam offers a universal religion not of inner transformation but of obedience. Precisely this form of surface universalism ensures that Muslims carry the baggage of traditional life into the new religion, for it offers no point of departure from traditional society.
For this reason it is meaningless to ask whether Islam opposes or promotes the practices of traditional society, for its method of expansion is to absorb whole the societies within its power. As a universal religion, it can only universalize the aspirations of the tribes it assimilates, rather than transform them. At its worst, Christianity makes compromises with the pagan heritage of its converts, which is why Sicilian Catholics killed for honor until recently; at its best, Islam embodies this pagan heritage, which is why it cannot rid itself of barbarism today.
For more extensive discussion, I refer the reader to my essay Christian, Muslim, Jew in the October 2007 issue of First Things.
(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
March 10, 2008
Terrorists, Marxists, Leftists and the Democrats
By Lance Fairchok
Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chavez is rattling his sword, deploying troops, and hoping to distract his increasingly agitated populace from the domestic policies that are dragging Venezuela deeper into the poverty and dysfunction of socialism. It is inevitable that as the economy declines, shortages spread, food become scarce, and crime skyrockets, a foreign enemy will be found to blame for the woes Chavez' absurd policies cause.
Chavez is angry because some Marxist terrorists he was fond of died in a Colombian raid. You see, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) provided money to the tune of 150,000 dollars to Chavez while he was imprisoned after a failed coup attempt in the early 90's. Their relationship is a cozy one, and now that he has power, he has become their benefactor, earning the affectionate code name of "angel," and funneling millions of oil dollars into their revolutionary coffers.
Colombia, a nation long suffering the depredations of this vicious Marxist narco-terrorist gang, struck out successfully at some of its leaders, harbored in neighboring Ecuador. They were able to kill Raul Reyes, the number two military commander of FARC, a man with the blood of an untold number of innocents on his hands.
Reyes was not a nice man. His resume includes the kidnapping hundreds of civilians, including tourists, participation in village massacres and terror bombings. Many of his victims were executed after they were kidnapped. Some were killed to prevent their rescue by security forces. Some where tortured. Reyes was sentenced in absentia for a long list of brutal crimes: the deaths of 13 policemen and 18 soldiers, the murder of a judge, a physician, three judicial officials, the ex-minister of Culture Consuelo Araújo, congressman Diego Turbay and his mother, catholic monsignor Isaías Duarte, Governor of Antioquia Guillermo Gaviria, former minister Gilberto Echeverri, and a dozen members of the Valle del Cauca Assembly. He was behind a nightclub bombing that killed 36 people in Bogotá. The list of victims that lay uncounted and unrequited in jungle graves will certainly be just as long. By every definition of justice and every concept of decency, Reyes should have been killed long ago.
The FARC is not a liberation movement, nor are they "Freedom Fighters." They are nothing more than smugglers, bandits and thieves whose modus operandi uses bombings, assassination, cocaine trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking and terror. FARC has its ideological roots in the Marxist revolutions that gave us the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Sendero Luminoso in Chile and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. To understand the meaning of the word evil, merely glance at the history of these groups.
With the help of Chavez, FARC is attempting to legitimize and mainstream itself, much as the genocidal PLO transformed, with the aid of useful idiots like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, from criminal terrorists to pseudo-statesmen. Democrats in Congress, succumbing to lobbying from FARC sympathizers and Marxist apologists, are stalling military aid and a free trade agreement. Undermining a close ally, in a despicable attempt to undermine President Bush and any success he might claim in South America. The Colombian people be damned, and the consequences, well, when are they ever a concern? The long view is an anathema to the left.
Chavez, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Ecuador's Rafael Correa demand the UN sanction Colombia for attacking its mortal enemy, calling it "fascist" and "criminal." Chavez described the raid as "cowardly murder, all of it coldly calculated." United by their populist Marxist ideology, and having made the pilgrimage to Havana to receive the blessing of Castro, all three leaders provide material support to the terrorists of FARC, actively undermining the safety and security of the Democratic nation of Colombia who is a major trading partner of all three.
The Venezuelan government has funneled support to radical groups in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. A sizable weapons shipment from Venezuela was recently uncovered in Veracruz, likely en route to leftist Mexican guerrillas. South America's axis of evil seeks out the like minded, reaching out to Syria and Iran, and letting Hezbollah operate freely in their countries. Flush with renewed ideological vigor, Venezuelan oil revenues and the drug activity Chavez coordinates the new Socialist hegemony will likely plunge South America into decades of violence and upheaval.
Chavez has purchased 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles from Russia, the modernized AK-103 as well as the license to produce the rifle and its ammunition in Venezuela. It will only be a matter of months before terrorists, rebels and drug gangs all over the region have the new fully automatic Kalashnikovs or Venezuelan surplus weapons. Soon after will come explosives and rocket propelled grenades.
A member of the cult of Che Guevara, Hugo Chávez' revolutionary ideology will inevitably spread from the barrel of a gun, and before he topples, the destruction and misery he causes will condemn much of South America to economic and social ruin. The American left, blind as always to the horrors visited upon the world by this misbegotten ideology, will enable and support the death of not one, but several democracies.
Found on a laptop in the terrorist camp and released by Colombian security services, a series of letters between FARC hierarchies confirms the substantial support of FARC by Hugo Chavez. A passage from one letter is particularly troubling:
"The gringos will ask for an appointment with the minister to solicit him to communicate to us his interest in discussing these topics. They say that the new president of their country will be Obama and that they are interested in your compatriots. Obama will not support "Plan Colombia" nor will he sign the TLC (Colombian Free Trade agreement). Here we responded that we are interested in relations with all governments in equality of conditions and that in the case of the US it is required a public pronouncement expressing their interest in talking with the FARC given their eternal war against us." Raul Reyes, FARC Terrorist Commander
Some very foolish and self-important persons feel they can represent themselves as emissaries of a new US administration to the despots and terrorist groups in South America. They may or may not have been speaking with Obama's blessing. That they talked to FARC at all, and it is not loudly condemned, is chilling. The US has had several congressional delegations visit the region recently. Who was on them? The arrogance and stupidity of so undermining our elected government boggles the mind. Whether it is visiting terror states with American blood on their hands or treating with murderers who currently hold American hostages, it is the sheerest folly and must be denounced and brought into the light of day.
Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, is a determined and capable leader. He has done much to rebuild his war torn nation. His approval rating is an unheard of 80%. He has taken the countryside from guerillas and drug traffickers; the murder rate is less than half that of a decade ago, kidnapping is becoming rare and brutal thugs, from both sides of the political spectrum are brought to justice. He has demobilized 30,000 militia members. The economy is booming. FARC is loosing ground, attacked by police, citizens outraged by their cruelty and a reformed and capable military. Their safe havens are no longer safe. Mr. Uribe is a defender of freedom and democracy that deserves our profound respect, our support and most of all, our loyalty.
Facing imminent defeat, the Marxist killers are using other tactics, the tactics of deceit and disinformation. They are tapping into the gullible left in the United States to influence policy. Using their own words to charm the vain and muddled leadership of the Democrats and appealing to their various ideologies, FARC has succeeded in straining US-Colombian relations and undermining US support for the Colombian Free Trade agreement and military aid. Singing in harmony with the activists of the lefts largest causes such as unions, the MoveOn.Org/Clinton/Soros alliance and everyone else from enviro-fanatics, the NAACP, and Code Pink, they have played Pelosi's party for the fools that they are.
Colombia will survive. They have been born of the fiery crucible of South American nationhood, uniting as few nations do behind a capable and enlightened leader, a leader that does not promise utopia, but actual prosperity and security. They get it.
If we let the Democrats undermine our alliance with Colombia to appease the far left, no international agreement is safe. Foreign policy becomes just another political tool and our alliances merely matters of political convenience. If we abandon Colombia, as we abandoned Vietnam, we simply will not be trusted. But then, if you believe Hugo Chavez is good for Venezuela you should not be trusted with running a boy scout troop. If you think talking to FARC will get hostages released and atrocities stopped, you are a fool.