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World Association of International Studies

Post Gaza Crisis; Thoughts on the Quran
Created by John Eipper on 08/01/14 12:21 AM

Previous posts in this discussion:


Gaza Crisis; Thoughts on the Quran (Enrique Torner, USA, 08/01/14 12:21 am)

I have been silent about the Israel-Palestine conflict for quite a long time already, but it finally has reached a point when I feel compelled to present my thoughts on this subject, which is just part of the global conflict between Islam and all the other religions, especially Christianity and Judaism.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, the European Union, Jordan, Egypt, and Japan; in Iran, Russia, Turkey, China, and many Muslim countries it is not considered such, according to Wikipedia. Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, and was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Again, according to Wikipedia, ironically, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a terrorist organization by Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. However, as we all know, the US has supported the Muslim Brotherhood, providing them with all kinds of military help. The Gatestone Institute, today, had an article which stated that John Kerry is trying to save Hamas and restore the Muslim Brotherhood (see http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4557/john-kerry-hamas ). Does this make any sense at all? I think the world has gone insane.

If we put this conflict in its general, global conflict, as I said earlier, all these conflicts are based on the fact that the Quran teaches that Muslims must either convert unbelievers or kill them. Just recently, on TV they were showing how Christians in Iraq are being forced by Muslims to either convert, pay a tax, or be killed, so many of the Christians there (and in other countries) are fleeing. These Muslims, who are called on television "radical Muslims," are in fact obeying the Quran's commands, as it is clear in the following quotes:

"The disbelievers should not think they have won; they cannot escape. Prepare against them whatever forces you [believers] can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off [these] enemies of God and of yours, and warn others unknown to you but known to God. Whatever you give in God's cause will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged." (surahs 8:59-60)

"You who believe, fight the disbelievers near you and let them find you standing firm: be aware that God is with those who are mindful of Him." (surahs 9:123-124)

(From "The Qur'an", a new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. Oxford World's Classics, 2010.)

There are other surahs that I could quote to support this, but I will spare you from more. Also, as everybody knows, any Muslim who converts to another religion has to be put to death. However, anybody can convert to Islam without being threatened! What the media and most politicians call "radical Muslims" are called by scholars "fundamentalist Muslims." These Muslims are the only ones who follow the Quran as Muhammad did, and are a minority. The majority of Muslims around the world (in the East and the West) are secular Muslims, meaning that they believe the nice parts of Islam, but reject the call to jihad. The third type of Muslims are the "traditional Muslims": these Muslims study Islam, know it, and practice it, but reject the concept of Jihad for several reasons: to get along with other people, for fear of consequences, etc. This group's size is between the other two. Most people think that Muslim terrorists are deviating from Islam, but they are mistaken: they are following the Quran literally, just like "fundamentalist Christians" follow the Bible literally, too. The term "radical Muslim" is a misnomer and is deceiving the whole world.

The stumbling block here is the massive misunderstanding of the Quran, intentionally or because of ignorance. The Quran has surahs that speak of brotherly love between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also has surahs that speak of converting the non-Muslims or murdering them. This seems contradictory, as are contradictory many other concepts in the book. The way to overcome this apparent contradiction is by the concept that Muslim scholars call "naskh." "Naskh" is based on the fact that the Quran was revealed to Muhammad at different times over a period of about twenty-two years. Some parts of the Quran came later, and some parts came earlier. To solve the contradiction, they decided that new revelations would override ("naskh" previous revelations. The problem is that the Quran doesn't follow a chronological order, so, if one reads the Quran, he or she will read contradictory statements in same or different sections, without making any sense. When Muhammad was in Mecca, Allah's revelations spoke of harmonious relationships among peoples; after he fled to Medina because of persecution, Allah's revelations included surahs regarding Jihad. "Naskh" solves the contradictions.

So, in essence, what we are seeing is the Middle East is very simple: Muslims want to convert or kill Jews and Christians (mainly) until the whole world is Muslim: Jews (Israel) just want to survive in peace in their own land, while Palestine (Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.) wants Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. How can there be peace? There can't be until "fundamentalist Muslims" either disappear or are submitted, either by "secular" or "traditional" Muslims, by the rest of the world, or a combination of both. And all that Jews and Christians can do is defend themselves however they can. However, in the case of Israel, this is very difficult when you have so many countries trying to prevent them from using force to defend their own lives and country. Global political pressure against Israel will not lead anywhere; the pressure has to be placed on the other end.

I hope this clarifies this global problem. I have been researching Islam for a couple of years now. If anybody would like me to provide bibliography to support my statement, I'd be glad to give them to you: I've read a lot of them. Sorry for being so long, but it was hard to be more concise. Thank you for your attention and patience.

JE comments: The problem with reading any holy book "literally" is that it is rife with contradictions, as Enrique Torner points out. What about the Quran's injunction to respect the "peoples of the Book"--meaning, Jews and Christians?

I'm quite sure that Enrique's post will inspire a comment from Vincent Littrell.

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  • Gaza Crisis (Carmen Negrin, France 08/01/14 8:38 AM)
    In response to Enrique Torner (1 August), isn't the religious problem just an excuse? Christians in the 15th century also "persecuted" (burnt among other things) non-Christians, even those who had converted.  (Conversos or marranos were suspected of not being converted enough!)

    One cannot expect to ever get rid of such extremists. The matter it seems to me much more down to earth: land, water, work, sharing or not, the return of the refugees, the endless expansion of the Israeli colonies. Palestinians have lost almost everything and have only their dignity/pride (a very essential matter in that part of the world) to fight for. As long as all this is not taken into account, no agreement will stand.

    JE comments:  "Down-to-earth" suggests that the problem is secular in nature.  Does this also mean that a secular solution will be enough?  Or by now, is it too late?
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    • Is a Secular Solution Possible in Israel/Palestine? (Carmen Negrin, France 08/02/14 1:59 AM)
      In response to John E's question, faith is blind...and right now there are two religious governments facing each other in Israel/Palestine. The problem can only be solved in a secular manner, but although it is hopefully never too late, it will take will from both sides--the will to keep religion out!

      JE comments: This solution convinces me, and (dare I say) it's especially logical from a French perspective. But can religion ever be separated from the secular in the Middle East?  Secularism in itself is a "Western" construct.

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      • Thoughts on Gaza Crisis (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/03/14 1:37 AM)
        Wow, a man goes on a short vacation and all sorts of interesting discussions happen in his absence. As Carmen Negrín said (2 August), "faith is blind"; it appears that it's also mostly stupid. Further, the lack of strong leadership from the Western powers and their catering to Israeli ambitions make things totally hopeless.

        It is difficult to disagree with the statements by Eugenio Battaglia (2 August), which takes Israeli/Likud policies to task. On the other hand, many good Jewish leaders are critical of the policies of Netanyahu and his party. Don't forget to separate Israeli right-wing extremists who have killed great Jews like Rabin from the many Israeli and US Jewish people against the IDF atrocities against Palestinian civilians and children.

        Some Israeli leaders believe Netanyahu is a liar (just as someone recently posted about the opinions of Sarkozy and Obama), and does not seek peace with Palestinians. The Israeli right wing in power today wants the whole enchilada, piece by piece. They seem to be right, and the US government is playing along.

        JE comments:  Not sure what to add here, but I hope Tor Guimaraes had a great vacation.  We've had a wonderful time in Poland, and return home on Wednesday.
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        • Toughts on Gaza Crisis (John Heelan, UK 08/04/14 1:46 AM)
          I fear that Tor Guimaraes is correct (3 August) when he comments: "The Israeli right wing in power today wants the whole enchilada, piece by piece."

          It appears that Netanyahu's strategy is to continue bellicose action until Israel has eliminated Hamas completely and occupied Gaza "to protect Israel." The world stands, watches and wrings its hands, except the US--Israel's cash cow--where AIPAC and the fify-one organisations comprising the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations (COP) ensure that the US politicians and public receive only positive PR about Israel's role in the conflict.

          JE comments:  Claims that the United States is Israel's "satellite" are very common in Europe, Latin America, and especially the Middle East, although they are denied inside the US with equal vehemence.  We're seeing this distinction played out on the pages of WAIS.

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  • Violence in Gaza and Sacred Texts (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/02/14 1:02 AM)
    With reference to the excellent post of Enrique Torner (1 August), I have a few comments.

    J. J. Rousseau wrote that "God created the man in his own image and the man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment."

    Therefore, we should be very careful in evaluating the so-called Sacred Books written by men in the old times.  The poor fellows, even if they wrote with a religious inspiration, wrote according their crude cultures.

    It is beyond doubt that Islam spread through the world from Spain to Constantinople, from the Sub-Sahara to the Philippines, only thanks to the sword and not by preaching.

    But the first conquest (and the present one too?) of Palestine was carried out with the complete genocide of the local peoples. Some pages of the Old Testament are horrible, worse than pages of other books that we now have contempt for. When I was a kid, the Catholic priests used to say that the Old Testament might be read but only under the supervision of a wise priest. They were absolutely right.

    The God of the Old Testament is the most improbable Merciful God, Father of all mankind, that one can imagine. Furthermore the famous Ten Commandments originally were only for the Jewish people and not for the other peoples who deserved, at the very best, only contempt.

    Having said all this, we are now facing the revival of an extremist Islam. There are too many reasons why we have reached this terrible situation.

    From 1945 all Western policy toward the mainly Islamic States has been made in an erratic way. Sometimes the extremists were supported, if it was in Western interests. Al-Qaeda was invented in Afghanistan in 1980s just to fight against the USSR.

    By the way, the famous Marble caves of the Apuania, which for 3000 years provided the material to build temples, churches, amphitheaters (and the exterior of the former Amoco building in Chicago), and beautiful statues, were sold to foreigners, the good friends of George W. Bush, the Bin Laden family.

    The West has destroyed secular states in Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Even if they were not democratic in the "Western" sense, they were granting prosperity and religious freedom. The Western sanctions following the first Iraq war are said to have caused the deaths of hundred of thousands of children.

    Finally the racist state of Israel, ignoring 73 UN resolutions against its brutal policies, has created millions of displaced people, starting in 1947-'48. The West Bank has been under a brutal occupation for 47 years and completely colonized, while the Gaza Strip is only a huge concentration camp without ways out and supplies coming in.

    The Jewish Daily Forward two or three days ago wrote about the goodness of the Israeli Authorities that had allowed ten tons of supplies to enter into Gaza Strip. This is the equivalent of five grams for each inhabitant. In my hometown tomorrow there will be a collection of medicines for Gaza, but who knows if they will be allowed to enter.

    In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli retaliation is in the order of 100 to 1 and even more. In Italy a German officer who had carried out a retaliation of 10 to 1, which was allowed by international law at that time, received a life sentence and the Jewish Community did not allow him a normal funeral.

    Therefore if the West and its masters do not change their policy we will really face new wars apparently between Christians and Muslims. What some fellows wrote many years ago in the Sacred Books has nothing to do with that, but these texts will be used anyway for war propaganda.

    It is very telling that in our Western news the Israeli "put in jail" thousands of Palestinians, but the Palestinians "abduct" one Israeli.

    JE comments:  I'm curious about the international law that allowed (allows?) a 10 to 1 retaliation for partisan violence.  This has a decidedly Old Testament ring to it.  Here in Poland, the occupying Nazis usually chose a 100- or 200-fold approach to collective punishment.

    As I see it, History will judge meddling in the Middle East according to the following question:  why couldn't the "West" predict that destroying secular authoritarian regimes would not serve their long-term interests?

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    • Violence and Sacred Texts (John Heelan, UK 08/02/14 5:16 AM)

      In response to the posts of Enrique Torner (I August) and Eugenio Battaglia (2 August) on the roles of religions in the chaos of the Middle East, I suggest it is a fruitless for the participants and their supporters to argue, "My religion is truer than yours," and/or "Your religion is more brutal than mine." Each cherry-picks the relative "sacred books" (sic!) to prove their points.

      Why should hideous conflicts be justified by words--based on tribal myths collected more than two millennia ago and constantly reinterpreted by vested interests in the intervening two thousand years to justify then contemporary shifts in powers and politics--continue be believed to justify today's political conditions?  We see this approach with Israel's Eretz Yisrael aims: we see this underlying the objective to eliminate Israel in Hamas's constitution: we see this in the support of fundamentalists Christian hoping the Rapture will come in their lifetimes.

      The basic problem, in my view. is like that of Northern Ireland, the violence of multiple decades has resulted in the conflict is being continued by later generations persuaded by their elders to use religion as a crutch. The problems will continue until that nexus is broken.

      JE comments:  In Northern Ireland it was broken, as in the Basque Country (although admittedly, religion did not play a role there).  Are there lessons from those places that can be applied to Israel/Palestine?

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      • Violence and Sacred Texts (Vincent Littrell, USA 08/03/14 1:53 AM)
        Keeping the focus of this thread on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to me seems a fruitless endeavor when the root of that conflict is religious intransigence, which requires a broader problem-solving mechanism than what we've seen in human history. The problems we face as a global community require mechanisms with no precedent.

        I agree with the thrust of what John Heelan wrote in his post of August 2nd, but John doesn't explain how that nexus of religion being used as the crutch of violence is to be broken.

        I'll move this discussion beyond the Israeli/Hamas fight, as all of this violence in the name of religion we are seeing is part of a broader problem related to the erosion of authentic spirituality of religion in general. Authentic spirituality is the basis of all true religion. Without this, a religion cannot establish itself as a new world religion or maintain itself as a flag standard of the highest examplars and teachings of universal morality over time. The authentic spirituality of the world's religions is eroding. We see this erosion in the losses of authority and cohesion in the great religions of the world. The spiritual precepts of these great religions' founders become distorted increasingly and more rapidly in today's global village. What is to be done?

        As a start to stopping violence in the name of religion, the solutions require secular governments and institutions working hand in hand with religions and their associated institutions to urgently interdict this rapidly worsening problem. Violence in the name of religion, religious extremism, and religious fanaticism are all taking humanity together down a dark road. It will take secular and religious leaders willing to be transformative and to build mechanisms that can address these problems. Nothing exists today that can do this, therefore they have to be built.

        Secular governing and educational institutions have to provide the space for dialogues on religious violence and religious fanaticism. In the West this is done at educational institutions to some degree already, but the scale must increase. At the highest level, decisions arrived at from these dialogues must have the support of a majority of both secular and religious leaders. Then they must be enforced. There must be a coercive element to these decisions. I imagine that the UN would have to be involved.

        These high dialogues, for example, must include the issues of how religions interpret scripture in light of modernity and the global interconnectedness that is the reality of today. How are religious scriptures interpreted in light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)? The UDHR itself needs revalidation and strengthening to be more than just a moral document but a representation of internationally sanctioned enforceable standards. Only world leaders of governments and religions can do this effectively.

        With Islam in particular, questions need to be discussed at the highest levels as to why the great religion of Islam has imploded as it has. Solutions must be arrived at and then implemented. This would be a lengthy process requiring world leaders and world religion leaders to delegate such discussions to the right people.

        Islam in political terms is collapsing on itself at a breathtaking speed. I have long studied Islamic spirituality and have been attracted to the luminosity of the high ethics and beauty of advanced Islamic thought. Yet I am amazed at the speed of Islam's implosion just in the last decade. How do we work to get the mainline Muslim orthodoxy masses to not accept the harsh and destructive interpretations propounded by the modernist puritanicals and ossified traditionalists of both Sunni and Shi'a Islam? How do we get them to look at Qur'anic scripture through a different lens? How can the spiritual truths of high Islamic spirituality be strengthened with Muslims themselves? How do we get Muslim leaders to broadly discuss the issues igniting Islamic sectarianism (to include historical perceptions of the time of the Prophet Muhammad himself) and to bring spirituality back into play in the discussions?

        The first line of the first Surah of the Qur'an states, "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful." This line headlines 113 of 114 Surahs of the Qur'an! What of that? What about the issue of abrogation of verses (alluded to by Enrique Torner) that tears at the vitals of Islamic theology (when not being suppressed by ossified jurisprudence)? These are the questions that serious leaders of the world's great secular institutions have to grapple with. I absolutely believe interfaith dialogues of even higher profile with the aggressive public support of world secular leaders, more than ever before, have to be a part of this.

        Dare we imagine a US president, a Secretary-General of the United Nations, a Russian President, a President of China, a President of Brazil, the Prime Minister of England (or even the Queen of England as head of the Church of England), the Presidents of the European powers and the highest officials of the European Union, the Prime Minister of Japan and other Asian countries to include India's Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Israel, the President of Iran, etc., sitting in a conference auditorium with the Sunni Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University and leaders of other Sunni institutions of learning, various Grand Ayatollahs of Shi'a Islam, the Pope, the high leaders of Orthodox, Protestant and Coptic Christianity, the most prominent Rabbis of Israel and other Jewish communities, the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders, Hindu leaders, even dare I say it a representative of the Baha'i Faith approved by the Baha'i Universal House of Justice, hashing out an outline for a conference of top delegates to grapple with the problem of religious extremism? Such has to happen I think. It would take tremendous, even stupendous diplomacy and transformational leadership to make it happen, but something like that must occur.

        Until the secular and religious leaders of the world take these issues of religious fanaticism seriously and openly consult to arrive at enforceable solutions for these horrifying violences occurring in the name of religion, the things we see now will seem like child's play to the horrors we'll see in the future. Currently the statesmen and leaders of the world are failing the peoples of the world. It will only get worse until they start being world leaders in fact.

        JE comments:  It would be an unprecedented act of diplomacy, but shouldn't Vincent Littrell's proposal be given a chance?  Perhaps only something of this magnitude would be able to succeed.
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        • Can the Nexus of Religion and Violence be Broken? (John Heelan, UK 08/03/14 12:21 PM)
          As always, Vincent Littrell writes informed comments on religious matters (3 August). Vincent asks me how the nexus of religion and violence could be broken. I wish I knew. I fear the link between religion and political leadership has become too strong over the last three millennia to be eradicated. Perhaps it should not be entirely eradicated anyway: as in gardening, keep the good bits and burn the bad bits. As Vincent rightly implies, religious extremism is the bad bit. Yet, this bad bit will survive unless the moderate members of religious communities expel the extremists from those communities.

          The experience of UK mosques is that such action is much easier said than accomplished. The vast majority of UK Muslims are moderates, but a small layer of extremists continues to exist, spreading its poison, just like Japanese Knotweed in gardens. The only way to get rid of the latter is to pull it out and burn it. Leaving the merest trace runs the risk of its reflowering. This is also true of religious extremism.

          JE quoted the Northern Ireland experience, yet there are still regular outbreaks of religious intolerance and violence in the province, despite the Good Friday Agreement having been signed by all parties more than sixteen years ago.

          So in a utopian world, how could the nexus of religion and violence be broken? Firstly by disqualifying religious leaders from taking up political leadership positions (including unseating the 26 bishops in the UK House of Lords), secondly, by banning donations by all religious organisations to political parties (even those disguised as PACs), thirdly, by moderate majorities in synagogues, mosques, churches, temples, gurdwaras, etc., expelling extremists (perhaps being encouraged to do so by threats of losing tax exemptions), fourthly by stopping the practice of political meetings commencing with "prayers" that reinforce the religious overview and, not least, political candidates having to reveal their religious affiliations in their "Register(s) of Interest," so the electorate can judge not only their political ideological leanings but also their religious bent.

          Will it happen? Of course not! There are too many entrenched vested interests and historic mores that will obstruct it! So, like the poor (and Japanese Knotweed), I fear that religious violence will always be with us one way or another.

          JE comments:  At what point in history was there the least religious violence?  I'm going to say the Cold War, as very few of the regional proxy wars of that time had a connection to religion (unless you call Marxism-Leninism a "religion").  Afghanistan in the 1980s became a religious war, and we are still paying the price.
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        • Can the Nexus of Religion and Violence be Broken? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/03/14 12:40 PM)
          I agree with the first part of Vincent Littrel's post of 3 August; namely, "the erosion of authentic spirituality of religion in general... We see this erosion in the losses of authority and cohesion in the great religions of the world. The spiritual precepts of these great religions' founders become distorted increasingly and more rapidly in today's global village."

          There are reasons why this is happening. First, organized religions are based on myths and superstitions rather than seeking the truth about the Universe (God) through the scientific method. Second, all organized religions seem to have the bad habit of saying one thing and often doing/abetting the opposite behavior. Third, all religions have been and are more about power than spirituality.

          Vincent proposes that "it will take secular and religious leaders willing to be transformative and to build mechanisms that can address these problems. Nothing exists today that can do this, therefore they have to be built."

          I doubt we can find any politicians willing to sacrifice their precious careers for improving interfaith relations. The opposite seems more likely, they talk to the religious minds only to get their vote, or worse: they are one of the fanatics.

          Finally, Vincent seems to pick on Islam while condoning extremism in other religions. Vincent wrote: "the great religion of Islam has imploded ... Islam in political terms is collapsing on itself at a breathtaking speed." That is true of all organized religions for the reasons I have outlined above. Christianity and Judaism may hold the moral high ground, but only in the minds of their respective proponents. History is replete with examples of Christian and Jewish moral collapses. And Vincent has asked us to stop discussion of the Israeli/Likud moral collapse. This will only further enable their behavior against innocent Palestinians around them.

          JE comments:  Vincent Littrell wasn't urging us to stop discussing Israel/Palestine.  His point was that the problem of religious intolerance is of a far wider scope.

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          • Can the Nexus of Religion and Violence be Broken? (Luciano Dondero, Italy 08/04/14 1:28 AM)

            This has been a fascinating discussion on religion in WAIS. Very passionate and informative post by Vincent Littrell (3 August). But I have to agree with Tor Guimaraes's points, with one exception, where he wrote: "Christianity and Judaism may hold the moral high ground, but only in the minds of their respective proponents."

            I'm neither Christian nor Jewish nor anything else in-between, but both religions were significantly curtailed by the advances of science and its repercussions on society--in Marxist parlance, "they underwent a bourgeois democratic revolution." Islam did not.

            Regarding JE's point about the Cold War, I'm afraid he doesn't take into account all the "Christian anti-communist" speeches, organizations and so on that did their best to inject their venom into the fray.

            But this had been already thwarted by reality, in the guise of the Sputnik's beeps in 1957. This prompted a turnaround in scientific teachings in the US, which has produced many fine things, and against which the Creationists are fighting an upward struggle nowadays.

            Finally, may I raise a doubt about the religious content of the Middle East conflict, at least from the Jewish angle?

            Because if I were a true and blue Jewish fanatic, I would want to nuke Rome, Berlin, Warsaw, Paris, Moscow--various centers of the Christianity which oppressed and murdered the Jews! Doesn't "Gott mit uns" ring a bell?

            Obviously I would try and make it look like someone else did it, and not the IDF.

            JE comments: Goodness, I'm glad Luciano Dondero is not a true and blue Jewish fanatic!  I trust this was a rhetorical point, and that Luciano was arguing that the Gaza conflict is not religious, at least from Israel's perspective.  It's a secular, "bourgeois-democratic" struggle against...Islam?

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  • Thoughts on the Bible (Massoud Malek, USA 08/02/14 1:49 AM)
    On August 1, in his post titled "Thoughts on the Quran," Enrique Torner wrote:

    "You who believe, fight the disbelievers near you and let them find you standing firm: be aware that God is with those who are mindful of Him (surahs 9:123-124).... Quran teaches that Muslims must either convert unbelievers or kill them... Just recently, on TV they were showing how Christians in Iraq are being forced by Muslims to either convert, pay a tax, or be killed.... Muslims want to convert or kill Jews and Christians (mainly) until the whole world is Muslim."

    Was Jesus really a pacifist? Let us compare the above verses of Quran with Matthew 10 in the Bible.

    Jesus Sends out the Twelve

    1: Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. Then he sent them out with the following instructions:

    9: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel."

    11 - 15: "Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."

    34 - 35: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."

    37 - 39: "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."

    Jesus is telling his twelve disciples that he didn't come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword (repeated in Luke 12:51); and whoever loses their life for his sake will find it (repeated in Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Luke 17:33, and John 12:25). The Bible is full of redundancy; often the same verse is repeated over and over.

    Here are some of the verses in Quran that people who consider Islam as a violent faith, decide to ignore:

    "You shall not kill any person--for God has made life sacred--except in the course of justice (Surah 17:33). "You may fight in the cause of God against those who attack you, but do not aggress; God does not love the aggressors" (Surah 2:190). You have your religion and I have mine (Surah 109:6). "This is the truth from your Lord, then Whoever wills let him believe, and whoever wills let him disbelieve" (Surah 18:29). "You shall resort to pardon, advocate tolerance, and disregard the ignorant" (Surah 7:199).

    According to Quran, a jihadist is someone who defends his or her family, neighborhood, town, or country. Our soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan because a few terrorists attacked us on September 11, 2001 and killed about 4,000 innocent people. Over 4,000 Americans, mostly soldiers, were killed in Iraq because our politicians wanted to convert a dictatorship into a democracy. When was the last time a Muslim nation sent jihadists to a country to convert its Jew or Christian citizens into their faith? The terrorists of ISIL are not obeying the Quran's commands; they are just terrorizing Iraqi Muslims and Christians.

    In 1992, I asked my cousin about how she felt when both of her sons fought in the Iran-Iraq war. Her response was, "I couldn't ask my neighbors to send their sons to fight for my land."


    Matthew 10: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+10

    Jihad: http://www.quran-islam.org/articles/part_3/the_concept_of_jihad_(P1360).html

    JE comments:  We're back to the problem of literal readings, whether they be from the Bible or the Quran.  Both texts carry messages of peace and of war.  Take your pick. 

    I hope Massoud Malek's cousins safely returned from the horrific Iran-Iraq war.  If it's not prying too much, could he tell us a bit about their experience?

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    • Thoughts on the Bible (Enrique Torner, USA 08/05/14 12:30 AM)
      I am very glad that my post on the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Quran raised so many comments. WAISers raised many great questions and offered wonderful suggestions. I wish I could address all the questions and comments, but I'm afraid it would take volumes! So I will try to go over the ones that I think deserve especial attention.

      John Eipper started raising the difficult but important question of whether to take a concept literally or figuratively. The main principle to follow is to compare the concept with the context, both within the passage, and within the whole book. If the literal meaning is consistent with the overall context, that's the meaning that should be used. If the literal meaning contradicts the context, the figurative meaning should prevail. Massoud Malek's biblical references (2 August) will exemplify this perfectly:

      Matthew 10:34-36, New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      34 "Do not think that I came to [a]bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.

      After my quotes from the Quran, Massoud Malek counteracted with verses from the Bible, raising the question of whether Jesus was actually a pacifist. The word "sword" in this Bible passage has to be interpreted figuratively, meaning "conflict," not literally, because that would contradict Jesus's character. Jesus always opposed violence, even when the Romans captured him. On the contrary, He healed the soldier's ear after Peter cut it with his sword. When somebody hit Him, He never responded in kind. On the contrary, Jesus asks His followers to love their enemies. If Massoud had quoted the previous paragraph (vv. 32-33), the meaning would be clear:

      32 "Therefore everyone who [a]confesses Me before men, I will also confess [b]him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever [c]denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

      From the context, the reader understands that, if one person confesses Christ (becomes a follower of Him, or a Christian), he/she will go to heaven. Being a Christian will bring him/her conflict with anybody who is not, including his/her own family. However, this conflict with his/her family will not be the same as the one a Muslim would go through if he/she would convert to another faith. The Quran states that any Muslim who does that must be killed:

      "Those who reject Islam must be killed. If they turn back (from Islam), take (hold of) them and kill them wherever you find them." Surah 4:89

      Whenever a Muslim converts to another religion, the father is the first one who is responsible for carrying out the killing. I know of a few instances in which a Muslim had to flee the Middle East and ended up in the US or other Western country trying to prevent their relatives from killing them. Even when they were in the US, they were still afraid of being caught and murdered. However, if a Christian converts to another religion, nobody will try to kill him/her; he/she will only encounter "conflict." To give you my personal experience, when I came to the US from Spain with a fellowship to study, in my second year of study I became a born-again Christian, and later met a pretty "Christian" lady with whom I fell in love. When we became engaged and started talking about getting married, we decided that we would get married in a Protestant church, despite the opposition of my family, who wanted me to marry in the Catholic church. They tried all kinds of manipulations to convince me, including the threat of not giving me a wedding gift, or even disinherit me. Well, it still didn't work, but my relationship with my family was never the same. However, nobody has tried to kill me yet, my mother didn't disinherit me when she died, but my father did (about two years ago). So, you see, this is the "sword" that my confession of faith brought me!

      This doesn't mean that Christians never used the sword against anybody. As Carmen Negrín pointed out, the Catholic Church was responsible for horrible atrocities during the time of the Crusades and of the Inquisition. However, they were not doing that following Scripture.

      I'd better stop for now. I'll tackle other issues that people brought up on another post. Thanks for your attention, and I apologize for being so long. Being a WAISer has definitely brought a lot of fun and excitement to life, so I am very grateful to John Eipper and David Pike for inviting me to join this "enlightened" and "enlightening" group.

      JE comments: Glad to have you aboard, Enrique. And thank you for this revealing and honest reflection.

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    • on Christian Forgiveness; Christian de Cherge's Testament (David Duggan, USA 08/07/14 1:31 AM)
      I hazard to intercede in the strain between Messrs. Torner and Massoud (1-2 August), because I'll admit to having uncharitable thoughts towards Muslims since the 1967 Israeli war if not before. (One of my earliest memories is of headlines from the 1956 Suez crisis--and as I write this, I cringe when I type "Muslim" because of its association with a faux-Islam popularized by Elijah Muhammad in Chicago in the 1960s.)

      Nevertheless, engagement with a fifth of humanity is essential for the future of the human race, even if I, as a Christian, believe that Islam is provably wrong. No better example of that engagement can be found than that of the Trappist monks at Tibhirine in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria. Recounted in the amazing film, Of Gods and Men (winner of the Cannes award in 2010), these monks selflessly dedicated their lives to improving those of their Muslim neighbors. Caught between factions of a little-reported civil war in Algeria in the mid-1990s (perhaps the first eruption of radical Islam against the civil state not part of the great game of the Cold War [viz., the Afghan mujahadeen against the Soviet occupiers]), these monks were beheaded and left unburied. The prior of that monastery, Christian de Chergé, had written, several years before his execution, a testament to his love for his fellow believers in the God of all. It is set out (in English translation) and perhaps ought to be read by everyone everyday:

      "If it should happen one day--and it could be today--that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?

      "I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down...

      "My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: 'Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!' But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: Immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences...

      "And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS 'A-DIEU'--to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy 'good thieves' in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . . AMEN! (In sha 'Allah)."

      JE comments:  To call your killer "my last-minute friend":  truly these are words of forgiveness.

      Here's more on the 1996 kidnapping and assassination of the seven monks of Tibhirine.  Note that some reputable sources claim their deaths were the accidental result of a helicopter attack from the Algerian government:


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      • Is Islam "Provably Wrong"? For David Duggan (John Heelan, UK 08/07/14 5:59 AM)
        I would be interested in David Duggan's fleshing out his statement (7 August) that "Islam is provably wrong." Is it any more "wrong" than the other monotheist religions on which it is based? If so, why?

        JE comments: David wrote, "I, as a Christian, believe that Islam is provably wrong."  Remove the adverb and this is an irrefutable statement, but provably?

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        • Why I Believe Islam is Provably Wrong (David Duggan, USA 08/08/14 3:09 AM)
          I'll take the bait from John Heelan (7 August). The question [as to the provability of Islam's error] of course subsumes 1) the burden of proof, and 2) what will the trier accept as evidence. Since both Islam and Christianity accept the existence of the Divine, that question is prescinded. For these purposes, let us posit a standard of "by a preponderance of the evidence" (the standard for resolving civil cases in Anglo-American courts), and that the evidence accepted is common experience as observable throughout the world.

          So far as I can tell, there are three planes of intersection between the human and the Divine: 1) what can be derived from theology, the study of the Divine through sacred texts? 2) what does human history show in respect of any Divine plan? and 3) how does the Divine operate on the human heart? These might be categorized as the universal, the macro, and the micro levels.

          The universal: Who is God, and what does He demand of His believers? Is God a law-giver, a celestial watchmaker, an absentee father-figure, a righteous or vengeful judge, a forgiving or merciful lover, a natural-disaster progenitor, an all-powerful intervenor in human affairs? I think that both Islam and Christianity can agree that their sacred texts allow a vision of God as all of the above. Is any one characteristic predominant? I am not persuaded that God can be so limited. While Christianity would love to advance the notion that God is all-merciful and forgiving, that His fundamental characteristic is to welcome back the sinning stranger as His lost son, certainly there are plenty of examples of what appears to be rejection into eternity: species extinction, unabated global warming threatening the planet. Islam, though professing a God of mercy, seems more to espouse a God of judgment visited on those not of that faith. And yet there are an equal number of counter-examples: the still-prevalent internecine conflicts between rival sects of Islam, the relative prosperity and industrial ingenuity of the Christianized West over the Islamicized East. But at best this is a push. As to what the Divine demands of His adherents, the Christian would say to love God with all his heart, mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. By itself, this would seem to preclude the use of force or threats of force against a non-believer, but I confess that there are numerous examples where this has not been observed. Accepting the veracity of Massoud Malek's interpretation that the Quran and Surah in only one place advise the killing of infidels (although other websites identify several), I will concede for this purpose that the perception of Divine demands on His adherents cannot prove that Islam is wrong and Christianity is right.

          The macro-level. If God works through human history, then a rational observer would perceive more advancement in the Christianized West than in the Islamicized East. Martin Luther King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." Perhaps Christians and Muslims cannot agree on this claim, but if justice may be defined as a better shake for more people (I agree that this is a Bentham-ite definition), can it be doubted that the Christian West is more "just" than the Islamic East? The 19th century elimination of the global slave trade (however briefly given the modern sex-trafficking industry), the Catholic workers' movement, modern penal institutions, reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill were all Christian-led initiatives. Against this is observed not only the suicide bombings killing non-combatants, the Boko Haram kidnapping, killing and arson, and the ossified political structure, but an entire culture of intolerance. The Christian West is by no means perfect, but again, the arc is long (and there may be times that the curve is imperceptible). Advantage Christianity.

          The micro-level. The testimony of individual adherents to one faith or another cannot compel someone else to believe in his heart the truth of that person's faith claims. But what can be ascertained is how that person's testimony and life-change has also changed society, how the benefits of that "witness" have redounded to our own benefit. No better modern example of this can be found than that of Chuck Colson, a Watergate conspirator who devoted the last 35 years of his life to prison reform and preaching the gospel of repentance to the incarcerated. There are of course non-sword-point conversions to Islam (viz., Reza Aslan, raised a Christian and adult Muslim convert who wrote "Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"), but whether this will have any knock-on effects in the lives of others, only time will tell. Were I a betting man I'd take the opposite side. Game, set and match to Christianity.

          Perhaps Mr. Heelan is not persuaded, so I have a question. Would he rather live in the "new Jersusalem in England's green and pleasant land" envisioned by William Blake set to music by Charles H. H. Parry, or in the Kingdom where Islam's sacred places are? British Airways has a daily flight from London to Riyadh.

          JE comments: An erudite reflection on an obviously controversial matter. I was nervous when I opened David Duggan's e-mail, as religious polemic always increases my work load, but David addresses the topic in a thoughtful, almost irenic, way.

          As I understand it, David bases his argument for the superiority of Christianity on its track record of offering more justice for a wider section of society.  If we accept this, couldn't an even stronger case be made for liberal, secular democracy?  (Granted, Western secularity is basically an offshoot of Christianity.)

          As for living in London vs. Riyadh, this is a matter of culture.  I would pick London...although I couldn't afford either city!  And for argument's sake, why not make the choice between Muslim Riyadh and Christian Manila--or Port-au-Prince?

          Next up with a religious polemic:  Massoud Malek.

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          • Islam, Christianity, and the "Provably Wrong" (John Heelan, UK 08/09/14 4:17 AM)
            My grateful thanks to David Duggan (8 August) for his answer my to challenging his claim of being able to prove that Islam is wrong. (As a declaration of personal interest, I hold no brief for either Islam or Judaism and I am agnostic about Christianity--such agnosticism resulting from being educated, or indoctrinated in the true sense of the word, from a cradle-Catholic until I reached the age of adult reason.)

            At his "universal level," David's argument appears to depend on the foundation of the existence of a Supreme Being with a Divine Plan together with the influence of both on the "human heart." The evidence for the Supreme Being and His Plan is limited to theological interpretations of the saved works of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Those interpretations are tantamount to hearsay, as they are based not on proven fact but on faith defined as "strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof on faith rather than proven fact." As such, I suspect such interpretations would be inadmissible as evidence in David's rhetorical "court."

            David counterpoints Christianity as a forgiving religion and Islam as a one of judgement. This is not surprising, as Islam is primarily based on the Christian Old Testament. Christianity did not become "forgiving" until the arrival of Christ and the New Testament. Judaism still depends on the Pentateuch and could be regarded as unforgiving, like Islam. David further concedes to Massoud Malek that with regards to the killing of infidels, "this perception of Divine demands on His adherents cannot prove that Islam is wrong and Christianity is right."

            At his "macro level," David argues "If God works through human history, then a rational observer would perceive more advancement in the Christianized West than in the Islamicized East." There are three problems with this statement. Firstly, the conditional "if" indicates the premise is not certain: secondly, there is a question about which standard the "rational observer" is using--e.g. materialism, culture, peace, gap between the haves and have-nots, equality, etc. The third problem concerns the examples David gives in support. Whereas David is correct in his quoting penal and mental health reforms (but note the increasing growth of converts to Islam by prisoners in US and UK penal institutions), his relying on the elimination of the slave trade is questionable, as it was started by Christian entrepreneurs and operated for centuries as part of the "Colombian Exchange" with the Christian Americas.

            As for David's "micro-level" argument, "how a person's testimony and life change has also changed society, how the benefits of that witness have redounded to our benefit": Ignoring the "nature v. nurture" argument for a moment, that indeed is true and there are many examples of the good works done by born-again disciples. However, that is also true of Islam and Judaism. David gives Chuck Colson as an example. Perhaps I might be allowed to examine Mother Teresa--undoubtedly a saviour in her work in the Indian sub-continent, but also vehemently against abortion and contraception despite the problems population increase was causing in India and Pakistan. She said, "Every abortion is a rejection of Jesus. It was no mistake that God came into the world as a baby, an innocent child. It was all part of His divine plan." Note the (mythical?) Divine Plan being used as a justification again.

            David asks me if I would prefer to live in a "new Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land" or in Saudi Arabia, and lets me know that British Airways has a daily flight to Riyadh. (Actually I did already know about the BA flight as I have been on it on trips to Riyadh, Jeddah, Oman, Egypt, Bahrain, etc.) I should also remind David that Blake's poem includes the line "dark satanic mills," referring not only to the Industrial Revolution (an event in Christian countries) but also to England's orthodox churches.

            To answer David's question--yes, I prefer to live in the UK rather than Saudi Arabia and/or the United States.

            David claims Game, Set and Match for Christianity over Islam. That might be a little premature for the following reasons. His arguments depend on the existence of a Supreme Being with a Divine Plan. As neither can be proven to the level need in a court of law, his case is in danger of collapsing like a house of cards when its foundation is removed. Scots Law has a useful verdict of "not proven"--essentially, the judge or jury is unconvinced that the suspect is innocent, but has insufficient evidence to the contrary.

            Hence my agnosticism but not atheism.

            JE comments:  With John Heelan's contribution, we've had two thoughtful essays on an extremely controversial topic.  Anyone care to make a similar case for Islam?  Judaism?  Other?  None of the Above?

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            • Islam, Christianity, and Non-Belief (Enrique Torner, USA 08/09/14 5:00 PM)
              In response to John Heelan (9 August), it seems to me that this religious discussion is now changing directions. Instead of Islam vs. Christianity, it is becoming a confrontation between believers and non-believers. In regards to that, you could watch the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye that occurred earlier in the year, in case you missed it:


              And going back to our previous discussion regarding the "religion of peace," has anybody seen that ISIS is now systematically beheading children and placing their heads on a stick and showing them in a park? There is a Christian genocide going on in Iraq. Here is a website about it:


              JE comments:  As the photos at the link above show, the Yazidis are suffering as much (or more) than the Christians.  These are horrific images worthy of the most wrathful pages of the Old Testament. 

              WAISdom is divided between those who seek solutions in more or purer faith (Vincent Littrell, Enrique Torner, David Duggan), and those who attribute the problem to institutionalized religion itself.  John Heelan and Tor Guimaraes belong to this latter group, and overnight I received a one-word e-mail from our colleague A. J. Cave.  To my request for someone to make a case for Islam, Judaism, Other, or "None of the Above," A. J. replied succinctly:  Humanism.  I suppose she means the secular kind.

              A question for the Floor:  if we take the "realist" position à la Bismarck or Kissinger, which path holds more promise for peace in the Middle East:  a ramping up of "truer" religion, or a quest to transcend it?

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              • Islam, Christianity, and Non-Belief (John Heelan, UK 08/11/14 10:25 AM)
                Enrique Torner is correct (10 August); Islam cannot claim to be a "religion of peace" while it condones such hideous actions as are apparently being carried out by ISIS. (So far I have not been able to find an independent and reliable source to confirm this allegation. Perhaps somebody else has?)

                Similarly, Christianity cannot make a similar claim while it condones missiles being fired at Afghan, Pakistani and Yemeni civilians from drones triggered by an operator 6000 miles away safe in a US underground bunker. Neither can Judaism for the same reason given its recent attacks on Gaza.

                JE comments:  By "independent source," does John Heelan mean for the horrors attributed to ISIS?  Is there any doubt that they are happening?

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                • The Horrors of ISIS (John Heelan, UK 08/12/14 3:55 AM)
                  To clarify my statement of 11 August, by "independent source" for the atrocities attributed to ISIS, I meant reliable confirmation that the organization was "systematically beheading children and placing their heads on a stick and showing them in a park"?

                  As far as I can ascertain at the moment, the only source is an Iraqi immigrant living on the West Coast and claiming to be the leader of Chaldean-Americans and national spokesman for Iraqi Christians globally. Recently Iraqi Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani accused ISIS of mass killings, claiming the authorities have "striking evidence." It would be instructive to obtain reliable independent viewing of that striking evidence to dispel the suspicion that the al-Sudani report and that of the "beheaded children" are not just black propaganda enraging and encouraging Western Christian countries to take military action against ISIS.

                  If the reports are sadly true, the US Security Council should launch a military action on humanitarian grounds.

                  JE comments: In response to John Heelan, Robert Gibbs wrote that the ISIS atrocities are boasted about and posted on YouTube. I don't have the stomach to watch this stuff, but does anyone in WAISworld care to comment on specific videos?

                  Some of these clips may indeed be propaganda designed to incite a Western response. But ISIS itself is also carefully cultivating its fearsome image, as part of a campaign to demoralize its enemies.  And judging by the drop-your-weapon-and-run response of Iraq's security forces, they are succeeding.

                  Can anyone tell us what Iran has been saying about this?

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              • Islam, Christianity, and Non-Belief (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/11/14 3:11 PM)
                When commenting Enrique Torner's post of 10 August, JE wrote:

                "WAISdom is divided between those who seek solutions in more or purer faith (Vincent Littrell, Enrique Torner, David Duggan), and those who attribute the problem to institutionalized religion itself. John Heelan and Tor Guimaraes belong to this latter group."

                John has good reason to say this at least in my case, since my disappointment with all organized religion has grown steadily stronger with time and the mounting evidence against the general concept. However, I must add that in a few cases I have seen individuals replace drug addiction and other nasty behavior with religious faith which basically saved their lives. I greatly respect that. My disgust with all organized religions has been due primarily to numerous examples of supposedly religious people lying, deceiving, abetting or committing atrocities and other criminal behavior.

                Enrique wrote: "Instead of Islam vs. Christianity, [this discussion] is becoming a confrontation between believers and non-believers. In regards to that, you could watch the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye that occurred earlier in the year, in case you missed it:"


                I watched the video and consider myself to be an extremely religious person (God is the Universe and Truth, and our job is to learn about It using the scientific method). Also, being a scientist watching the debate, I tried very hard to keep an open mind and follow Ken Ham's arguments and looking for any evidence which I may have missed before. I could not find anything that made sense. Therefore, regarding John's question, "which path holds more promise for peace in the Middle East: a ramping up of "truer" religion, or a quest to transcend it?" I wish the best to both efforts in the short run, because we desperately need something new. However, increasingly the scientific method has already produced so many intellectual advancements which make organized religion look increasingly as myth and superstition, ignoring strong scientific evidence, which only the completely fanatical in each religion will not accept.

                JE comments:  Yet in these Middle East crises, "truth" is not important.  What we need is for people to change their behavior.

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                • Sacred Preachings, Truth, and Human Behavior (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/12/14 12:56 PM)
                  In my last WAIS post (11 August), I responded to JE's question, "which path holds more promise for peace in the Middle East: a ramping up of 'truer' religion, or a quest to transcend it?" I wished the best to both efforts. For the future, I hope and pray that since increasingly the scientific method has been producing so many intellectual advancements, organized religions will look increasingly as myth and superstition when ignoring strong scientific evidence. In turn, JE commented: "Yet in these Middle East crises, 'truth' is not important. What we need is for people to change their behavior."

                  This is precisely the main problem with organized religions: they are designed to create conformity to sacred preachings, not to seek the Truth and change people's behavior. Why should any faithful religious person of any stripe change behavior if they have their god behind them? When anger is inflamed by some event, why should rabid Sunni Islamists not destroy the blasphemers behind Shiite preachings? Why should Netanyahu suddenly develop an interest in stopping more Israeli settlements or saving Palestinian lives when he is following his sacred books to take over their lands? Why should Christian fundamentalists not support Israel under any circumstances when their sacred book preach they have been chosen by god and need to be saved by eventually converting to Christianity?

                  The only hope is a religion that seeks the Truth about the Universe, not based on myths and superstitions, but based on science, reasoning, and doing nothing to others that you don't want them to do to you.

                  JE comments:  Tor Guimaraes has repeatedly advocated a religion based on secular truth-seeking.  My question:  how can such a process be successfully packaged as "religion," with its inevitable components of myth, faith, and miracle?

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                  • Sacred Preachings and Truth; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 08/13/14 4:52 AM)
                    Ric Mauricio sends the following:

                    Such interesting viewpoints presented on religion here. So although I will be stepping outside my financial box by expressing myself in this matter, I submit my two indulgences (I believe the Medicis as Popes sold these to my ancestors) on the subject. First a little bit of background. I was raised a Catholic; yes, I was an altar boy and went to catechism classes, transferred from a public grammar school to a Catholic grammar school, and went on to Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco. I married my wife in a Catholic Church although she was not Catholic; she was raised as a Baptist. Fast forward to today and I attend a non-denominational church; however, I often find myself in hot water with my Christian brothers when discussing our beliefs.

                    You see, having shed my Roman Catholic beliefs (yes, the Pope made himself infallible in things of religious nature; this was the last straw for me), I have studied religion and philosophy in an informal sense. Call it a search for enlightenment. Recently WAISer Harry Guilbeau shared a book on how the Bible was written. What I found interesting was the energy and effort those who put together the Bible had to go through. Those parchments or scrolls were in such atrocious condition, many full of holes (I guess one could call them "holey") that they had to construe what the missing parts were saying. Sort of like going through the Nixon tapes and filling in the deleted parts.  (Probably our imaginations are greater than what was really there.)

                    Then the author, a professor who teaches at a Christian university in Texas, asks why God didn't provide a book that was complete and unblemished? His answer was that some mysteries will never be answered. Oh, wow, such enlightenment. But, he says, you just have to believe. Hmm. We have to believe that the scholars not only filled in the blanks correctly, but that subsequent translations from Aramaic and Hebrew to Greek to Latin, then to English, are getting the point across exactly what was originally intended. Many of you out there who are multi-lingual (I am not; I get a little of Spanish or Mandarin, but not enough to really hold a conversation) might attest to how translating from one language to another just doesn't quite get there. For example, I can think of no real English word that quite presents the Yiddish word "Schmuck."

                    OK, so I have a problem with the Bible. The Old Testament is a presentation of Jewish history, highly redacted; after all, the Jews did write the book. My brother-in-law once asked at a dinner why the Jews are the Chosen People. My simple answer was that they wrote the book; that you don't think that they would make the Chinese people the chosen people (my wife is Chinese-American). If we have modern history and current events heavily redacted, what makes one think that ancient manuscripts and subsequent translations are not as highly redacted?

                    This of course, leads to my study of books on Judaism, Hinduism, Islam (I am afraid I am not as well read in Islam), Buddhism, Taoism, or Mormonism (and other Christian offshoots). To me they are all written by man (or men)... an attempt to bring order and understanding to the world and beyond. Myths and superstition is man's attempt to explain the supernatural. My definition of supernatural is that it is a natural occurrence that has yet to be explained by man. What science (the secular, be it may) does is move the supernatural into the natural. Whenever I get into a discussion on evolution, the book answer is that there is no evolution, that God made man and woman the way we see them today. Hmm. Archeological findings dispel that notion; early man and woman do not look like today's man and woman. But the Bible says so, they argue. Ah, but cannot the almighty God take a one-celled amoeba and evolve it into man or woman? After all, He/She can do anything.

                    My take on the stories of Genesis (creation) is one day, a student asked a teacher how the world and man and woman were created, and the teacher, not wanting to look stupid, made up the whole story. After all, he wasn't there when it happened.

                    Ok, now you ask; since I go to church and I believe in the teachings of Jesus (I like the teachings of Lao Tzu, Siddhartha, Plato, and Aristotle as well), what would I call myself, a Christian? I like to think of myself as a spiritualist, or one who transcends religion. I believe that there is a life force in the universe. Some call this force God, or Allah, or Yeoweh, or Buddha, or Great Spirit but ascribe human attributes to this force, a throwback to the times of Zeus and Odin. This is where man molds his god with their own beliefs and prejudices and this is where religion becomes warped.

                    Wow, I hadn't realized how long this post has become, so I will leave these thoughts with you. Invest and thrive.

                    JE comments:  "Invest and thrive":  I am reminded of the Biblical parable of the talents (Matthew 25:  14-30).  I could never grasp the significance of this story beyond its rousing endorsement of capitalism. Or even regressive taxation:  note that the wrathful master takes the talent away from his poorest servant and gives it to the wealthiest.

                    Any other interpretations?


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                    • Writings over Time: How They Change (Brian Blodgett, USA 08/14/14 7:07 AM)
                      I was reading with interest the posting by Ric Mauricio on "Sacred Preachings and Truth" and his mention of the Bible (I too was raised Catholic but no longer attend and have not been a practicing Catholic in over 30 years).  What really caught my attention was his comment about the translations from language to language over the years and limited ability to accurately translate from one language to another. His other point was about the writings being incomplete and the writers left to fill in the gap with what they thought should be there.

                      Now let us consider the writings that we read every day, be it history or current events. They too are full of gaps, inaccuracies, and written by those who have a bias to have the information presented in a way that favors their viewpoint. With all of this said, those in WAISdom may know to look for more than one source, but even then, they will likely find polar opposites or strikingly similar "facts."  When one looks for news about another country, without knowing the language folks are at a big disadvantage and even if they know it, bias writings still reigns supreme.

                      Consider that the average person in any nation is affected by this bias and incomplete news, and I really hesitate to call anything today we see on the television or in the paper "news," as it is compared to what it was in the past where investigative reporters would actually search for the truth rather than rush to publish something the fastest to get the scoop. So, back to the point, how educated are the average citizens today on the "truth," and is it more likely than not that they will favor the path of least resistance and continue to follow the biased "facts" and "truths" until these inaccuracies become the truth of the times and recorded for future generations to view as the truth? if so, what does this say about what folks a hundred of several hundred years from now will say about our cultures that we live?

                      JE comments:  Very important questions from Brian Blodgett.  Prof. Hilton himself could have raised them.  Allow me to extend a huge WAIS thanks, by the way, to Brian, who responded to Eugenio Battaglia's appeal for donations (10 August).  You are a hero of WAISdom, Brian!
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                  • Myth, Faith, Miracle...and a New Religion (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/13/14 7:53 AM)
                    My last WAIS post (12 August) proposed that the main problem with organized religions is that they are designed to create conformity to sacred preachings, not to seek the Truth and change people's behavior.

                    JE made this comment: "Tor Guimaraes has repeatedly advocated a religion based on secular truth-seeking. My question: how can such a process be successfully packaged as 'religion,' with its inevitable components of myth, faith, and miracle?"

                    Myths are fun to know and dream about, but you don't want to base your life on them. There is always some room for myth, faith, and miracle. In this new religion, rather than arguing endlessly if there is a God who created the universe, believe that God is the Universe. Atheists will be out of business, same as all religious zealots.

                    This new religion requires a huge amount of faith that mankind should establish and jealously guard (enforce) a few principles: freedom of thought and expression, the rule of law, any human killing only in self-defense, free-market systems, and love of science and reasoning (major investments in education) to better understand God, the Universe.

                    Miracles? Wow, God is great; we keep discovering so many miracles. For example, science has already allowed humans to know where we came from: the Big Bang, the stars which produce all the chemical elements, the incredible combination of events and circumstances which enable the existence of life on Earth, the process of human evolution, etc. Science has enabled us to go to our Moon and now to explore the planets and their moons, to feed billions of people which was once deemed impossible, to cure diseases, etc.

                    JE comments:  Can't we just call this religion Deism, à la Jefferson?

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                    • Deism and Humanism (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/17/14 6:50 PM)
                      My last post on religion (13 August) proposed that the main problem with organized religions is that they are designed to create conformity to sacred preachings, not to seek the Truth and change people's behavior. Thus, the only hope is a new religion that seeks the Truth about the Universe, not based on myths and superstitions, but based on science, reasoning, and doing nothing to others that you don't want them to do to you.

                      JE's last comment was: "Can't we just call this religion Deism, à la Jefferson?"

                      Frankly I do not care what anyone calls my religion, just that I looked for it for over fifty years and finally found something that gives me peace and joy in life; something I can believe in to guide my thinking, feelings, and behavior. Nevertheless, I had little knowledge of Jeffersonian Deism, so this was an opportunity to learn something interesting. After a little homework my conclusion was that Jeffersonian Deism is a little too narrow-minded to capture what I am thinking. However, Deism in general means so many things to so many people over the ages that seemed a little too messy conceptually. Finally I stumbled into A.J. Cave's word that JE reported to us a few days ago: Humanism. My last conclusion is that if I marry some aspects of Deism with Humanism, the result is much closer to what I have in mind. To help the minds interested in this subject, below are the key traditional definitions:

                      Deism is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a Creator, accompanied with the rejection of authority as a source of religious knowledge. Deism gained prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment--especially in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States--among intellectuals raised as Christians who believed in one god, but found fault with organized religion and did not believe in supernatural events such as miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or the Trinity.

                      Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated, according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a "human nature" (sometimes contrasted with antihumanism). In modern times, humanist movements are typically aligned with secularism and with non-theistic religions. Historically however, this was not always the case.

                      Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting, which humans tend to have naturally, independently of the influence of culture. The questions of what these characteristics are, what causes them, and how fixed human nature is, are amongst the oldest and most important questions in western philosophy. These questions have particularly important implications in ethics, politics, and theology. This is partly because human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life. The complex implications of such questions are also dealt with in art and literature, while the multiple branches of the Humanities together form an important domain of inquiry into human nature, and the question of what it is to be human. The branches of contemporary science associated with the study of human nature include anthropology, sociology, sociobiology, and psychology, particularly evolutionary psychology, and developmental psychology. The "nature versus nurture" debate is a broadly inclusive and well-known instance of a discussion about human nature in the natural sciences.

                      JE comments:  Follow-up Question of the Day:  can there be any "human nature" outside of culture, beyond the most basic biological needs (hunger, avoidance of pain, etc.)?
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                      • Deism and Humanism; the Second Great Awakening (Robert Whealey, USA 08/19/14 4:50 AM)
                        In response to Tor Guimaraes (17 August), few 18 year-olds today could give us a coherent definition of either Deism or Humanism, although a good professor might give a few sentences to his graduating class. On Deism, the prof might mention a few sentences about the Deism of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison. By 1820 when James Monroe was President, the use of the word began to fade.

                        Humanism has had a longer discussion that began in Italy about 1300. Did Plato and Aristotle call themselves Humanists? Or did that label begin to be applied to the Ancient Greeks by later generations?

                        JE comments: Humanism was a Renaissance phenomenon, although it looked back to the classics. In its original form Humanism was not antagonistic towards religion (for example, Erasmus), but now it is commonly seen as its antithesis.

                        As Robert Whealey points out, Deism fell out of fashion in the US by the 1820s, a period known as the Second Great Awakening.  A question for discussion:  why did this change occur?  Is there any connection with Westward expansion?  Life on the brutal frontier incentivizes folks to "get religion."

                        I'll agree with Robert that today's 18 year-olds don't worry about Deism and Humanism...but it's our job to teach them these things!

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                        • Deism and Humanism; an Appeal to WAISers (Robert Gibbs, USA 08/20/14 4:10 AM)

                          In our recent discussions regarding religion we seem to be entering into an intellectual black hole, especially regarding organized religion. These postings seem fruitless, as no one is going to agree with anyone regarding religion--and I believe that is the way it is supposed to be.  We have in our midst scientific Deists, lapsed Catholics, Muslims and Baptists, to name a few. As a somewhat practicing Catholic, I have heard things regarding my religion that I neither believe nor heard, either at Mass or catechism or even church doctrine. I believe that we all have free will and we are responsible for our own souls. And, yes, you are allowed to deny the existence of a soul. That is your/everyone's choice. Worship is personal, and yet we seem to want the collective--organization--which is fine, but all organizations are prone to some sort of failure and even seeming hypocrisy. Yet for all the attacks on Christianity (e.g., the Crusades--were they a counter-revolution against Muslim "crusaders"?, the Thirty Years' War, etc.), there are more achievements and goodness from organized religion in this world than many allow.

                          Further, it is somewhat ironic that the men like Tor Guimaraes can disparage organized religion and yet call for the creation of another "organized religion" of scientific rationalism. This is fine as far as it goes to show our need to organize our thoughts. It gets trickier when we try to get others to believe as we do. Thus, I have always believed in Churchill's advice regarding religion when asked for marriage advice, "I never give advice on marriage or religion--least I cause someone discomfort in this world or in the next." Thus, my question as to why many here and elsewhere are so determine to "convert" others to their religion, or more commonly here, lack of belief. I always seem to have a harder time with Atheists, always so strident, than with Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and even Christian fundamentalists coming to my door, who seem to be able to take no for an answer with grace.

                          I have been to a multitude of services in a multitude of religions observed and practiced. I have taken what might be termed communion with many. But then again I was raised in the Bible Belt and listened to Blue Grass, where the big hit at one time was "You go to your Church and I shall go to mine, but we shall all walk along together."

                          I suggest that we leave it alone.

                          JE comments: Proselytizing is not in the WAISly spirit, but one of our missions is the discussion of comparative religions. The rub lies in how you do the latter without touching on the former.  (World politics is also one of our core topics, and the same rub applies.)

                          Ah, Prof. Hilton always enjoyed a good polemic!

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                          • Deism and Humanism; Response to Robert Gibbs (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/20/14 3:25 PM)
                            It is hard to disagree with the "live and let live" attitude of Robert Gibbs (20 August): my grandma always told me literally never to argue about religion and politics. On the other hand Robert is wrong about me on two counts when he wrote, "it is somewhat ironic that the men like Tor Guimaraes can disparage organized religion and yet call for the creation of another 'organized religion' of scientific rationalism."

                            First, I do not believe but do not disrespect any religion, including Voodoo, the cult of Yemanja, and even the long-dead religions of ancient history. They all served important purposes in their time and for their followers and preachers.

                            Second, I do not call for another organized religion. To me religion should be a very personal thing between you and the Universe. As I wrote earlier, starting as a Catholic boy I searched for the meaning of God for over fifty years and finally found something that gives me peace and joy in life; something I can believe in to guide my thinking, feelings, and behavior. I believe I found it and wish the same for everyone in their own religion. That is all.

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                          • Religion and Philosophy: A Film Recommendation (Roman Zhovtulya, USA 08/21/14 3:43 AM)
                            The film The Man from Earth (2007) gives a fascinating perspective on religion and touches on archeology, anthropology, philosophy, evolution, and humanism overall.

                            Sure it's fiction, but the way it opens up your outlook is staggering. No special effects, just 5 people talking, but it glued me to my seat in the first 20 minutes.

                            You can watch it in full on YouTube (1.5 hours only):


                            It's my new all-time favorite movie, so it'd be interesting to hear what WAISers think about it.

                            In fact, they are even trying to make a series:


                            JE comments: Roman Zhovtulya and I talked about The Man from Earth during a nature walk in Los Altos back in March. I still haven't watched the film, but with a handy YouTube link, I'm going to make it a top priority.  (Update:  the link tells me it won't work in "your country"--meaning, I presume, the United States.  Perhaps Roman can send us a different link.)

                            The film came up in our conversation shortly after we ran into this fine fellow, the Deer from Earth:

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                          • US Policy in the Middle East: Thoughts from the Baha'i Perspective (Vincent Littrell, USA 08/26/14 5:30 AM)
                            Prologue: For the first time on the WAIS Forum I'll admit formally that I'm a member of the Baha'i Faith and a lifelong one at that. I know many in WAIS suspected I was probably Baha'i, and I had directly told a few of them.

                            Now to my post:

                            There are two WAISers whose recent posts very much caught my agreement, Robert Gibbs's 20 August post in this thread and Richard Hancock's 16 August posting on the current US administration's foreign policy. There may have been some small aspects in both posts I might take issue with, but I agree with their broad message.

                            I appreciated Bob's comment, "You go to your Church and I shall go to mine, but we shall all walk along together." This certainly falls nicely in line with the ideals of some of the great foundational thinkers of interfaith dialogue like the German Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, of whom I'm a fan and whose work I have in my personal library (in English anyway).

                            It pains me to say it, but in the realm of US policy related to the Middle East, the US government, simply put, hasn't followed a sound grand strategy, or as far as I can tell a broad vision linked to concrete leadership with regards to the Arab and wider Muslim world. More precisely, the United States has not, as I see it, executed a divine mandate of high exceptionalism in being a global leader and leading the world to stop the butchery in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Gaza Strip. In fact, it might be said the Arab world is burning while the US watches. Yes, I know some actions have recently been taken in Iraq that utilize different critical elements of US national power, and no one who watches this can deny that non-lethal humanitarian aid to the region has been real and has helped many. But these reactive humanitarian behaviors are not leadership.

                            I do strongly believe, as I've stated in a past WAIS post, that the too early withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 is in large part responsible for the present horrors. So was not following through with intervening in Syria like we should have early on (like containment zones for refugees at a minimum, and the interdiction of those committing large-scale human rights violations). And to re-emphasize a past statement I've made in this Forum, it is not the 2003 invasion of Iraq that is the cause of the power vacuum we see in Iraq; it was the 2011 withdrawal. Though admittedly, the stage was set with a too-rapid handing off of power in 2004 from the terribly inadequate and even ridiculous Coalition Provisional Authority to an immature and nascent Iraqi government. This was done for political purposes, to advance the idea that the facade of Iraqi sovereignty was real, followed by too swiftly handing off the US/Coalition military missions and authority to unready Iraqi forces prior to the final withdrawal in 2011.

                            In 2003 the removal of a genocidal tyrant like Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. People forget just how utterly depraved his regime was (or don't care in the name of the supposed "stability" he seemed to offer). What led to much wrong after the invasion was that many put in power were grossly unqualified to run the initial occupation, and real experts were moved aside (like General Garner, whom I mentioned in this Forum before). This led to the disbandment of the Iraqi security forces and the rise of the terrible insurgency that was largely defeated by the combined US, Coalition, immature Iraqi forces and fierce but non-professionalized Sunni tribal militias.

                            In 2011 I disapproved of the withdrawal from Iraq, and I strongly suspected we'd have to go back in even worse conditions. I said as much to friends and colleagues at the time and indeed here we are, in a much worse situation than existed in 2011 with US forces conducting operations.

                            How many so far have been butchered by IS, I wonder?

                            More broadly speaking; at this particular juncture in world history and human civilizational development, the disengagement of the United States from global power projection and the attendant power vacuum across the globe, and the reduction of US use of all elements of its national power to work towards global stability--these things, quite simply, lead to worse disaster and greater chaos. I think this is clear and evident. The United States cannot sit back in all its might, unilaterally cut its strength, disengage and watch horrific tragedies engulf the world while it wrings its hands and sends non-lethal aid. The American people have a place, a purpose and I believe a divine requirement to exercise their vast national power for the betterment of all humanity.  They need to step up to it. The world suffers when they don't.

                            The Persian prophet Baha'u'llah, whom Baha'is accept as the latest manifestation of God for today's day and age and to be the prophesied return of Jesus Christ (as well as the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy regarding "the day of judgement"), commanded the presidents of the United States with the following:

                            "Hearken ye, O Rulers of America and the Presidents of the Republics therein, give ear unto that which hath been raised from the Dayspring of Grandeur: Verily, there is none other God but Me, the Lord of Utterance, the All-Knowing. Bind ye the broken with the hands of justice, and crush the oppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of your Lord, the Ordainer, the All-Wise." (Kitab-i-Aqdas)

                            The above is quoted from what Baha'is consider to be "the most Holy Book" or the "Book of Laws," titled "Kitab-i-Aqdas." From the Baha'i perspective, the above statement is divine revelation, meaning God is commanding the rulers of America through his latest prophet, messenger, and divine manifestation to "bind ye the broken with the hands of justice and crush the oppressor with the rod of the commandments of your Lord." What might that mean? It strikes me as a Baha'i that the United States has a mandate to lead on the global stage. I think this implies that when the US fails in leadership on the global stage, when it fails to fulfill its divine requirement, the world and all of humanity must suffer for it. In the Baha'i theology, the United States has a special destiny in the development of global civilization.

                            Therefore, I think, until the US leads the effort to strengthen international collective security institutions and standardize methods across the spectrum of security operations, even war to counter violent extremism and simple nation-state aggression, US disengagement leads to global chaos. Also, corrosive national electoral politics leads to disaster... and to me recent examples of this are too myriad to count. Engagement, and when necessary "interventionism," as well as global leadership through robust international and global public diplomacy, are critical to keeping the international state system intact from encroachments of barbarity.  This includes leveraging economic power and working collaboratively to
                            change obsolescent national and international political and security
                            structures.  The sovereign nation-state system is but a bridge to a higher order and more mature global political evolution.  It is not the end-state in human political evolution. It cannot be, or mankind pays a terrible price.

                            To start with, the US needs to advocate for major UN reform. The failure of the UN Security Council to act meaningfully regarding Syria and now Iraq leads to horrific suffering. This reality is unconscionable, and the American people need to lead. The UN needs to be strengthened and the ridiculous automatic veto of the Big Five on the UN Security Council must be removed. Too many people are dying because of it.

                            IS/ISIS , Al-Qaid'a, Boko-Haram and their ilk need to be defeated, and mechanisms put in place to counter barbarity of this nature in a swift, decisive, precise yet humane and culturally sensitive way. This would necessitate the simultaneous use of current military forces and diplomatic capabilities on the one hand, while also creating unified military and stability forces in ways with no precedence in the history of warfare and military organization. The US needs to lead the collective effort in this regard, and it would require stupendous visionary leadership. Powerful nation-state regional expansionism for reasons of "power" are an increasing concern.  They need to be addressed. The world with the US in the lead needs to dialogue on the meaning of sovereignty and the purpose of national power in light of mankind's essential oneness.

                            I reiterate, the presidents of the United States need to "step up to the plate," using all the elements God has blessed the United States with, lead the world to a new order for peaceable and workable global civilization. To do less only increases the global chaos. Until a global leadership mantle is taken in this regard, the global chaos will do nothing but further compound and worsen.

                            Baha'is believe that the unity of mankind is part of God's divine plan. As long as mankind continues to resist or ignore this fundamental reality of existence, i.e. the reality of the oneness of mankind, the compounding problems mankind increasingly faces will get worse, and the greatest statesmen, leaders and philosophers of the age working within obsolete political, religious and philosophical constructs will not be able to resolve them. 

                            JE comments:  Vincent Littrell confided his Baha'i faith to me several years ago, but I respected his wishes to keep his private life off the WAIS Forum.

                            So now all WAISdom understands that Vince's idealist global worldview is grounded in his religious beliefs.  In this posting, Vince lays out an ambitious appeal for US and International intervention.  "Realists" will respond that it's impossible to put out every fire, or to fight every injustice in the world.  Who has the might, the will, and the treasure to do such a thing?  And there's the psychological aspect:  many peoples in the world simply don't want to be shoved towards justice and enlightenment.  And they will shove back.  This is a point made forcefully--among others--by Dostoevsky.

                            I'm grateful for your honest and revelatory post, Vince.

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                            • US Policy in the Middle East: Thoughts from the Baha'i Perspective (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/26/14 1:48 PM)

                              With reference to Vincent Littrell's post of 26 August, I for sure have to agree with his quotation from Robert Gibbs: "you go to your Church and I shall go to mine, but we shall walk along together."

                              But please do not speak of a divine requirement to exercise power in the world. Moreover, please do not mention direct divine
                              command to the President of a great power; this is blasphemy.

                              Furthermore, if everything is going wrong in the Middle East and Africa it is only (well maybe mostly?) due to the very poorly handled self-defeating interference of the Great Power there, starting from the help given by Carter and then Reagan to the mujahideen in Afghanistan up to now. If the Great Power has handled "divine requirements" at home and not there, everybody in the world would be better off.

                              JE comments:  I suspect that Vincent's post will inspire a number of responses from the realist school.  The biggest problem with Divine mandates is that they are never universally seen as such.

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                            • US Policy in the Middle East; on the Divine Mandate (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/27/14 1:27 AM)
                              In response to Vincent Littrell (26 August), the Divine Mandate is too often invoked to justify killing the Bad Guys. The initial attack of Afghanistan would have taken place regardless of who was President. The Taliban was there and they took responsibility for 9/11. A US President who did not flex muscle at that point would have quickly become the target of bipartisan wrath. This does not necessarily make the attack sensible, just politically inevitable.

                              The attack on Iraq was justified by the argument that there was a link between its regime and 9/11 and that there were weapons of mass destruction. Neither justification was evidence-based, but there was broad public support for the attack. But if the true justification is that the regime was depraved, is not the regime in North Korea also depraved?  So, would Vincent really argue that we should attack North Korea? Does the Divine Mandate only apply to the Middle East?

                              I would very much like WAISers with military experience to address the question; What military strategy would lead to the permanent destruction of the Islamic State, and what would be the cost in terms of American lives and American treasure? (I realize that there are other lives in the balance, but let us start with the narrow question.)

                              One can be an idealist without subscribing to this founding myth.

                              See also: Ernest Lee Tuveson. Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role


                              JE comments:  The Tuveson book, from 1968, is approaching its half-century.  America's redemptive role in the 1960s was to check Communism.  How far back should we go?  John L. O'Sullivan's Manifest Destiny essay (1845) cited this nation's obligation to seek "moral dignity and the salvation of man."  Or how about the Founding Fathers?  The Pilgrims?

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                            • The US Role in World Leadership (Richard Hancock, USA 09/02/14 3:23 AM)
                              I certainly agree with most of Vincent Littrell's post of August 26. The US is a Christian nation, and while I don't believe that we have a divine mandate to rule the world, we cannot afford to just sit idly by and allow chaos to overwhelm the planet.

                              Henry Kissinger has written a book, World Order, which will be published on Sept. 9 by Penguin Press. He has an essay in the Aug. 29 Wall Street Journal which is culled from this book. Pointing to difficulties in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and China, he states, "the concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis."

                              He adds that there is a clash between the international economy and the political institutions that ostensibly govern the world. Despite financial crises, the world has enjoyed sustained economic growth. The winners have few reservations about this system. But the losers, e.g., the European Union's southern tier, seek solutions that obstruct the functioning of the global economic system. "Prosperity is dependent on the success of globalization, but the process produces a political reaction that often works counter to its aspirations."

                              Another failing is the absence of an effective mechanism for the great powers to consult and possibly cooperate on the most consequential issues. Unless this failing is corrected, the world will be divided into spheres of influence and a struggle among regions could be even more debilitating than the struggle between nations has been.

                              Mr. Kissinger offers the following conclusion. "For the US, this will require thinking on two seemingly contradictory levels. The celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with recognition of the reality of other regions' histories, cultures and views of their security. Even as the lessons of challenging decades are examined, the affirmation of America's exceptional nature must be sustained. History offers no respite to countries that set aside their sense of identity in favor of a seemingly less arduous course. But nor does it assure success for the most elevated convictions in the absence of a comprehensive geopolitical strategy."

                              Kissinger made no mention of President Obama, but his essay certainly does not advocate "leading from behind."

                              JE comments:  I should read his book before opining, but September 9th is a week away.  For now, Mr. Kissinger's  "thinking on two contradictory levels" seems to argue for two antagonistic roles for the US:  sustaining this country's "exceptional nature" while respecting the specific histories and cultures of other nations.  How can this be read other than a call for intervention and non-intervention at the same time?

                              "The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis."  Do WAISers agree?  Was there ever not a crisis of some sort?  I sense a bit of nostalgia in Kissinger's remark for the Cold War "order."

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                              • Kissinger and Comprehensive Geopolitical Strategy (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 09/02/14 1:24 PM)
                                John E misses the point of Kissinger's argument. (See Richard Hancock, 2 September.) The K is calling for a new paradigm that goes beyond the traditional categories of internationalism and isolationism. A hybrid based on a pragmatic realist approach tempered by geostrategic understanding in an era of limited resources. He believes that the current trend toward spheres of influence needs proper pacing to avoid chaos and war.

                                JE comments: I'd really need to see some specifics for this to make sense to me. In broad terms, aren't spheres of influence intended specifically to reduce chaos?

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                                • Kissinger and Comprehensive Geopolitical Strategy (Mike Bonnie, USA 09/03/14 2:09 PM)
                                  In response to Francisco Wong-Díaz (2 September), I am by no means proficient to write about Henry Kissinger. Rather, I will introduce a book I purchased at a seminar a few years ago after listening to the author talk about Kissinger and the importance of global understanding. The book is Henry Kissinger and the American Century, by Jeremi Suri (2007). Suri is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of several other books. Rest assured I don't get kickbacks on any of the books I recommend.

                                  Suri writes: "The main argument of this book is that we must understand the experiences of Henry Kissinger and American power as processes of globalism--the interpretation of ideas, personalities, and institutions from diverse societies. Globalization revises what is meant to be a citizen, a leader, a person of faith. Globalization also redistributed power among nations and people."


                                  A presentation and discussion featuring Jeremi Suri can be found at the Wilson Center, November 2013:


                                  JE comments:  Click above, and you can pick up a gently used copy of Suri's book for 41 cents, plus S & H.

                                  Since yesterday I've been reflecting on Francisco Wong-Díaz's characterization of Kissinger's call for "a pragmatic realist approach tempered by geostrategic understanding in an era of limited resources." If Francisco would indulge us, I invite him (or other WAISers) to take a stab at what such an approach would look like vis-a-vis:  1) Iraq/Syria/IS, 2) Russia/Ukraine, and 3) North Korea.

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                                  • Kissinger and Comprehensive Geopolitical Strategy (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 09/04/14 7:09 AM)
                                    In response to JE's request of 3 September, I would rather have Kissinger speak/write for himself in addressing the issues of Iraq/Syria/IS, Russia/Ukraine, and North Korea, since my clarification of his strategy is neither an endorsement nor a critique.

                                    JE comments: Perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Kissinger will come across this post. Here's a question I've never asked before: has anyone in WAISdom's wide collective reach ever met HK?

                                    (My apologies for the late start today. I awoke to a Wi-Fi outage at WAIS HQ, and I'm writing these lines from a nearby cafe.)

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                                    • I Know Kissinger (Robert Gard, USA 09/04/14 11:45 AM)
                                      To answer John's question, I know Kissinger personally beginning in the mid 1950s; he was a guest in my home when I was president of the National Defense University in the late '70s. But I have not been in touch with him for many years.

                                      JE comments: I had Gen. Robert Gard in mind when I posed the question, but I didn't want to put him on the spot. I'm sure I'm not the only WAISer with a burning curiosity: what is Kissinger like as a house guest?

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                                      • Meeting Kissinger in the 1960s (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 09/05/14 6:19 AM)

                                        To answer John Eipper's question, I happened to first meet Henry Kissinger as a grad student at the U of Michigan in the 1960s at a seminar sponsored by the American Political Science Association in Washington DC. The Vietnam War was raging, and the most influential realist US political scientist was Hans J. Morgenthau, who had just made public his opposition to the War in Vietnam. Henry was more cautious, since he was working his way into the upper echelons of the foreign policy establishment. Another biggie whose hand I shook in those days was Dean Acheson, who had just published Present at the Creation and discussed it at the Law Quad in Ann Arbor. He was very tall and patrician looking. He cut a truly impressive figure, unlike the short Hans (who was about 5'6" and with whom I studied one summer) or the guttural Henry.

                                        JE:  For the metric-thinkers among us, that's 167.64 cm of  Morgenthau.

                                        I've just learned that Mr K will be discussing his new book, World Order, tomorrow (6 September) on NPR's Morning Edition.  Be sure to tune in; maybe he'll answer our questions about his hybrid global strategy.

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                                      • Kissinger as a House Guest (Robert Gard, USA 09/05/14 6:41 AM)
                                        To answer John's question of what Kissinger was like as a house guest, I would say cordial.

                                        However, he was much less so with his subordinates when he was National Security Advisor.

                                        JE comments:  It must have been scary for Kissinger's subordinates.  Imagine being summoned to his office for a reprimand in that booming, Jehovah-like voice.

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                                        • When You're Called in for a Reprimand... (John Heelan, UK 09/05/14 2:44 PM)
                                          John E mentioned the thought of being reprimanded by Kissinger. (See Robert Gard, 5 September.) A useful trick I learned in that situation is to stare at the tyrant's zip fly. This has two effects. Firstly, the tyrant starts worrying that he is in danger of embarrassing himself with an inadvertent exposure. Secondly, it reminds you (the victim of the tirade) that the tyrant--well all is said and done--is just as human as yourself. The first often cuts short the scolding: the second helps you to put the difference in status into perspective. Try it--it works!

                                          JE comments: Not sure I can put my editorial endorsement on this suggestion. Fly-gazing sounds like a great way to get sent directly to the HR office. Unless, of course, you're already in the HR office. Then you may be invited into the "Employee Transition Room," where they'll advise you to polish up your resume... and wish you the best.

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                                    • Hillary Clinton Reviews Kissinger's *World Order* (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 09/07/14 6:37 AM)
                                      Here is a meaty subject for discussion.

                                      Hillary Clinton, like Bill, is triangulating.  She appears to be covering herself under Kissinger's hybrid theoretical mantle in preparation for a run in 2016. It is also a raw attempt at distancing herself from Obama's failures while attaching to the "hope" theme.

                                      Note how the Clinton-period theme of the "indispensability of America" from Madeleine Albright is interspersed in the essay. (Obama has never stated that view of America; rather he has denigrated it.)

                                      Let the discussion begin:


                                      JE comments: Also, here is the HK interview on NPR's Weekend Edition, 6 September:


                                      Imagine a 2016 presidential showdown between the interventionist--she's hybrid and "soft-powered," but still interventionist--Hillary Clinton and the neo-isolationist Rand Paul.  This could bring a reshuffling of the voting patterns that have held sway over the last generation or two, in which hawks vote Republican and doves vote Democratic.  Could the unthinkable actually happen:  neo-conservatives supporting Hillary?

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                                      • Thoughts on 2016 Presidential Election (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/08/14 1:43 PM)
                                        John Eipper (see Francisco Wong-Díaz, 7 September) may be on to something when he wrote: "Imagine a 2016 presidential showdown between the interventionist--she's hybrid and 'soft-powered,' but still interventionist--Hillary Clinton and the neo-isolationist Rand Paul. This could bring a reshuffling of the voting patterns that have held sway over the last generation or two, in which hawks vote Republican and doves vote Democratic. Could the unthinkable actually happen: neo-conservatives supporting Hillary?"

                                        I don't consider myself partisan at all, but am sick and tired of Clintonian slick nonsense preaching "democracy, patriotism, and sound economic principles like free trade" while giving the country away with stupid policies: trading jobs for cheap goods, globalization of our technological advantage, and more intervention all over the world when we ourselves are falling apart. I might very well vote for Rand Paul, even though I think he falls short of his father. Certainly not Hillary, but there are many great people I probably would vote for depending on who is available: Elizabeth Warren (D), Bernie Sanders (I), Jeb Bush (R), Chuck Schumer (D), etc.

                                        JE comments: I never thought I'd see Bernie Sanders on the same list with a Bush. Is it too early to talk about November 2016? Expect some dark, dark horses to seek a head start right after the midterm elections in November.  Hillary has said she won't announce (if she decides to run) until early next year.

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                                      • Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger (Massoud Malek, USA 09/09/14 5:24 AM)
                                        In his doctoral dissertation, Henry Kissinger wrote: "The most fundamental problem of politics is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness." Kissinger also believes that "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

                                        On 6 September, two days after The Observer reported that the fight to release Amerli from the chokehold of the Islamic State in Iraq brought together the strange bedfellows of the Iraqi and Iranian militias backed by American air support; and one day after the BBC reported that Iran's Supreme Leader had ordered his military to cooperate with the US in the fight against IS forces, Henry Kissinger told NPR's Scott Simon:

                                        "I consider Iran a bigger problem than ISIS. ISIS is a group of adventurers with a very aggressive ideology. But they have to conquer more and more territory before they can become a strategic, permanent reality. I think a conflict with ISIS, important as it is, is more manageable than a confrontation with Iran."

                                        Kissinger's response to his role during the war in Vietnam, especially the bombing of Cambodia and Laos and the difference between drone attacks and carpet bombing, was the following:

                                        "I think we would find, if you study the conduct of [the military], that the Obama administration has hit more targets on a broader scale than the Nixon administration ever did.... On the other hand, drones are far more deadly because they are much more accurate. I bet if one did an honest account, there were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks."

                                        Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan's tribal regions on the third day of Barack Obama's presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them reportedly civilians.

                                        With limited data, the range of Cambodian deaths caused by US bombing may be between 40,000 and 150,000. These numbers are much higher than the number of deaths caused by the drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia combined.

                                        Based on a tape from the White House, on April 25, 1972, President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discussed bombing the dike network in a conversation on Operation Linebacker II, later published by Daniel Ellsberg:

                                        Nixon: We've got to quit thinking in terms of a three-day strike [in the Hanoi-Haiphong area]. We've got to be thinking in terms of an all-out bombing attack--which will continue until they--now by all-out bombing attack, I am thinking about things that go far beyond. I'm thinking of the dikes, I'm thinking of the railroad, I'm thinking, of course, of the docks.

                                        Kissinger: I agree with you.

                                        President Nixon: We've got to use massive force.

                                        Two hours later at noon, H. R. Haldeman and Ron Ziegler joined Kissinger and Nixon:

                                        President: How many did we kill in Laos?

                                        Ziegler: Maybe ten thousand--fifteen?

                                        Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen.

                                        President: See, the attack in the North that we have in mind, power plants, whatever's left--POL [petroleum], the docks. And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

                                        Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

                                        President: No, no, no, I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

                                        Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

                                        President: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?...I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

                                        Did Obama ever discuss using nuclear bomb? I doubt it. After Kissinger's self-serving response on the subject of bombing and accusing Obama of causing more deaths than Nixon, Scott Simon should have mentioned the nuclear bomb discussion between him and Nixon in 1972.

                                        On 4 September, Hillary Clinton, who voted for the Iraq war, "dissed" President Obama for not bombing Syria, and compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. In her review of Henry Kissinger's book World Order, Hillary, who dreams of breaking down the highest and hardest glass ceiling in American politics by sending herself to the White house, praised the book by approvingly quoting a passage in Kissinger's book about "respecting national sovereignty" and "adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance."

                                        Did Hillary really had to praise Henry and publicly rehabilitate his image? Wasn't Kissinger the one who ignored the national sovereignty of Chile?

                                        In September 1970, Salvador Allende, the first freely elected socialist leader in the world, became the president of Chile. But ever since his victory, the CIA and the US government, headed by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, were determined to oust Allende. On September 11, 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a direct role in the military plot that replaced a progressive, democratically elected government with a brutal military dictatorship. Allende died in the presidential palace. For almost 17 years, Chile was ruled by a ruthless dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

                                        Based on her actions in the past, Hillary like Henry also believes in "not controlling wickedness but limiting righteousness." I believe Senator Elizabeth Warren is a much more righteous woman to break the highest glass sealing of American politics than the wicked Hillary Clinton, who is in search of a political aphrodisiac.

                                        Sources:  Wikipedia, and

                                        NPR: http://www.npr.org/2014/09/06/346114326/henry-kissingers-thoughts-on-the-islamic-state-ukraine-and-world-order


                                        Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
                                        , by Daniel Ellsberg

                                        JE comments:  Given Henry Kissinger's efforts to re-brand himself as a moderate senior statesman, I was particularly struck in the NPR interview by his hawkish stance towards Iran.  The IS threat has aligned US-Iranian interests in a way not seen since the 1970s, and if we are to believe the second link above, small-scale military coordination between the two nations is already taking place.  Of course, there is always a downside:  a perceived Persian-American alliance might only drive Sunni Arabs further into the IS camp.

                                        For Massoud Malek, Kissinger is a hypocrite.  For anyone, he's a polarizing figure, either for or against.  My question:  is there any way to reconcile Kissinger's current calls for "realist" restraint with his rather bloody record during the Nixon years--Indochina and Chile, in particular?

                                        "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac," HK wrote in the New York Times on 28 October 1973.  Can anyone contextualize this quote?  Specifically, was Kissinger endorsing this view, or was he using it as a way to explain how geopolitics works in general?  Note that the quote appeared just weeks after the September 11th coup in Chile.

                                        So--any chance of Kissinger coming out of retirement as Pres. [Hillary] Clinton's Secretary of State?

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                                        • Kissinger's "Power is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac" (David Duggan, USA 09/10/14 1:37 AM)
                                          In response to JE's question (see Massoud Malek, 9 September), I don't know what was going through Henry Kissinger's mind when he uttered that immortal phrase. But assuming its date is correct, it was shortly before his March 1974 marriage to Nancy Maginnes, a woman quite out of Henry's league, at least in the height and looks department. The Locust Valley lockjawed daughter of a Manhattan lawyer, Ms. Maginnes was close to 6' tall, and in heels towered over the 5'9" Kissinger. A former [Nelson] Rockefeller staffer, she avoided the Megan Marshack fate by trimming her sails in a more academic direction. There is some evidence that she even played a role in brokering the Kissinger-Nixon alliance.

                                          Albert Maginnes, a former professional football player with the Canton Bulldogs, was in the same social circles as New York lawyer Nixon in the 1962-68 period. Henry had met Nancy around the time of the 1964 San Francisco Cow Palace convention, Rocky's last hurrah in his near life-long quest for the presidency. As a Rockefeller Institute retainer, Kissinger was there to advise Rocky on foreign affairs. Four years later when Nixon was casting about for a National Security Adviser, Kissinger, with an academic's disdain for the uber-Cold Warrior Nixon, likely needed to be disabused of these notions. Enter Ms. Maginnes, a natural-born diplomat if ever there was one. (Read Walter Isaacson's biography of Kissinger to see how she assuaged the short-of-stature Middle Easterners during Henry's 1973-74 shuttle diplomacy by standing on one leg, crooking the other to appear shorter.)

                                          Kissinger is one of those few non-elected public figures popularly known by his first name (Elvis, Michael, Ernest). An earlier iteration of this phenomenon was Napoleon, with whom Henry was often compared in the height and quest for power department. This may be unfair to each man. Henry's 5'9" height was average for men born in 1923, per Army induction records. Although Napoleon's height was often listed at 5'2", this was the French inch which was about 10% longer than an English inch (no jokes please). Other reports show Napoleon to be about 5'7" per the English standard. Regardless, Napoleon forbade his Empress, Josephine de Beauharnais, from wearing heels to elevate her 5'4-5" stature. She evidently complied, thereby proving Henry's adage 170 years before its being uttered, as Napoleon conquered her, too.

                                          JE comments:  Power is not only an aphrodisiac; it also makes you taller.  We could say the same thing about money.

                                          Family lore, courtesy of my dear grandmother Isabel Emerson Eipper (1911-2012), has it that we are related to Empress Josephine.  Probably not, though I'd love to find out (not enough to actually do the genealogical digging, but I'm still curious).

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                                  • Jeremi Suri (Randy Black, USA 09/04/14 7:19 AM)
                                    My thanks to Mike Bonnie (3 September) for his update on historian Dr. Jeremi Suri.

                                    Now to update Mike and WAIS: Dr. Suri has been employed by The University of Texas at Austin, not the University of Wisconsin, since 2011.

                                    He has "a joint appointment in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the UT Department of History." His PhD is from Yale 2001, a BA in history from Stanford, 1994 and Ohio U, MA in history, 1996. He left the U of Wisconsin under some sort of political controversy that seems to have been local to the state.

                                    His official appointment is the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership, History and Public Policy in Global Affairs. Mack Brown, the winningest football coach in UT history, retired from coaching in 2013.

                                    His website: http://jeremisuri.net/

                                    The home page of Suri's Website includes an interesting piece on "Containing Russian Fascism."

                                    JE comments: History, Ohio U: Suri almost certainly must have studied under our own Robert Whealey.

                                    And I'll take advantage of this opportunity to send a "shout-out" to my favorite Longhorn, nephew Eric Simmons, who has just begun his second year in Engineering at U Texas. 

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                                    • Is Putin a Fascist? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/05/14 1:47 AM)
                                      I wish to thank Randy Black for his post on the historian Jeremi Suri (4 September). I read with great interest the article "Fascism: History and Present."

                                      I hope that this article will not be read by Putin. The Russian leader is already screaming against the Ukrainians, calling them fascists. He certainly would not like to be called the same.

                                      However, this is nothing new. During all my life I have heard people accusing each other of the crime of being fascist, basing all their knowledge of this Italian phenomenon only on the propaganda of the War Psychological Department.

                                      I agree that Putin has, in a certain way, been inspired (unknowingly?) by some fascist ideas, but this is a long way from making him fascist.

                                      Furthermore, Francisco Franco was not a fascist but a selfish, astute, conservative, Catholic (in the deleterious Spanish sense) military dictator.

                                      It is interesting that Dr. Suri says that fascists are opportunist bullies who will turn away from a fight they cannot win. But this is not true; see the epic RSI.

                                      Unfortunately in the last decades we have seen "democratic" bullies getting, without proper knowledge, into fights from which they had to withdraw, leaving complete disasters, millions of dead people and huge environmental damage. Oh, well perhaps with the exception of operation "Urgent Fury" (Grenada 1983), which was such a "great" victory with no serious damage.

                                      To keep things brief, can anyone explain to me why in 1962 JFK was a great hero for not wanting a Soviet military base close to the US, while Putin is a bloody fascist because does not want an USA/NATO military base close to his beach?

                                      JE comments:  As we've pointed out several times in recent years, "fascist" has become a near-universal signifier in popular thought.  It more or less connotes any authoritarian regime we don't like.  Putin labels his enemies as fascists, and his enemies return the favor.  This is an especially understandable perspective for those who came of age in the Soviet Union, where the Great Patriotic War was a victory over the archenemy:  Fascist (not Nazi) Germany.

                                      So is Putin a fascist?  Eugenio Battaglia votes a resounding "no."  I prefer to think of P as a charismatic strongman, with no ideology beyond nationalism and the quest for ever-increasing power.  And an extremely shrewd politician.

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                                      • Is Putin a Fascist? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 09/05/14 11:56 AM)
                                        My apologies; I´ve been away on holidays for so long. Now I cannot pick up all the threads of the massive flow of WAIS discussions which took place last month. My holidays have been working holidays, so as to make fit for the publication of two books. The first one will be out in November and the second one next April.

                                        In the second one, I address the rather vexing issue of whether Franco was fascist or not. By the same token, I try to look into what's behind the jack-of-all-trade concept of "authoritarian regimes," as applied by Juan Linz to the Spanish dictatorship. Please note that I am not a historian of political ideas. My research is based on archival evidence and I think that in Spanish archives there is some evidence which was utterly unknown to Linz and to his followers.

                                        I don´t know whether Putin can be considered "fascist." For me Fascism is a time-bound phenomenon which flourished in Europe in first half of the last century. You don´t need to take my word for it. I refer colleagues to the 2012 edition of Zeev Sternhell´s seminal book Ni gauche ni droite, on the genealogy of Fascism in general and--who would say it?--in France, where it seems it was first conceptualized. Pacem Italy.

                                        A nice rentrée to all.

                                        JE comments: And a warm WAIS homecoming to Ángel Viñas.  August holidays are over.  For the last two weeks, I've enjoyed my return to the classroom for the first time since December.

                                        I concur with Ángel that it's best to leave "fascism" with its literal, historically relevant meaning. Was Mussolini a fascist? Yes. Oswald Mosley? Yes. Putin? Nope--even though he's been behaving very badly.

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                                    • U Wisconsin Controversies (Mike Bonnie, USA 09/06/14 4:36 AM)
                                      My thanks to Randy Black for his update on the professional whereabouts of Prof. Jeremi Suri (4 September). The University of Wisconsin-Madison's loss is University of Texas-Austin's gain. I hope Randy's update set things straight for everyone, and Professor Suri forgives my error. I will not speculate on the cause of Professor Suri leaving Madison in 2011, but truly hope he has found a fine place to pursue his academic interests in Austin.

                                      UW-Madison has seldom been without some controversy. In 2010, Wisconsin was suffering the slash-and-burn style of governance by newly elected Governor Scott Walker and a Republican-dominated state congress. See my post from 2011:  "Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Puts State Employees at Risk": http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=59914&objectTypeId=54164&topicId=44 As the state capital and heavily populated by Democrats, Madison has been and continues to be the center of ongoing political wrangling, protests and demonstrations, especially this being an gubernatorial election year.

                                      However, 2010 may not be the year of most dramatic and lasting change. Perhaps the most memorable (at least among academic historians) was 1894, with the attempted firing of Richard Ely, a professor who (in support of university printers) "advocated labor strikes and labor law reform." The then de facto concept of tenure was furthered by "the notorious case of the dismissal of G. B. Halsted by the University of Texas in 1903 after nineteen years of service; [this] have accelerated the adoption of the tenure concept." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenure

                                      If you've ever heard or used the phrase "sifting and winnowing," think of UW-Madison. "Sifting and winnowing is a metaphor for the academic pursuit of truth associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was coined by UW President Charles Kendall Adams in an 1894 final report from a committee exonerating economics professor Richard T. Ely of censurable charges from state education superintendent Oliver Elwin Wells. The phrase has become a local byword for the tenet of academic freedom."


                                      JE comments: Sifting and winnowing sounds like a euphemism for firing people, but academia was much more genteel in the 19th century.

                                      I'd be interested in a report from Mike Bonnie on Scott Walker's re-election bid against Democratic challenger Mary Burke.  The latest polls put Burke ahead by as many as four percentage points.  I presume SW's campaign pockets are full and deep from his sponsors, the Koch Brothers.

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              • on the Creation of the Universe (Massoud Malek, USA 08/14/14 2:46 PM)
                On August 10, Enrique Torner invited us to watch a YouTube debate between a New Earth creationist and an evolutionist.

                Contrary to creationists who believe that the six days of the Book of Genesis may be interpreted metaphorically, Young Earth creationists believe that God created the earth in six 24-hour days, from 5700 to 10,000 years ago. Since 1982, between 40% and 50% of adults in the United States say they hold the Young Earth view that "God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."

                Ken Ham, who debated Bill Nye in that video, is a Young Earth creationist and the president of "Answers in Genesis." He operates the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden; children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden's Rivers; and the serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

                Contrary to the fact that dinosaurs evolved over 200 million years ago, and no human ever lived with them, Ken Ham tells us that dinosaurs were created on the same day as humans and lived with us. Most of them were destroyed in the worldwide Flood that God sent to judge the earth, but two of each kind survived to inspire the dragon (previously being a dinosaur) legends that permeate most cultures of the world. I assume that God didn't care to judge sea creatures. Noah's tale reminds me of the Hellenic tale of the young Phaeton who drove his father's horses the wrong way, causing a derangement of the heavenly bodies, and the destruction of the earth by fire.

                If God created the universe less than 10,000 years ago (according to New Earth creationism) or about 13.8 billion years ago (according to scientists), then who created God? We are told that the universe needs a cause because it has a beginning, but God doesn't need a cause, therefore it has no creator and no beginning. By the way, Muslims use the same arguments to convince us that Allah doesn't need a creator. Is the universe finite or infinite? The great French mathematician, Henri Poincaré, described how a universe could be finite and infinite at the same time.

                Since there were no suns, then we should assume that creation of the universe started in a total darkness or a black hole. How did God measure the length of a day? Did he create a timekeeper device, before creating the universe?

                In the Timaeus (Dialogue), Plato is deeply impressed with the order and beauty he observes in the universe, and his project in the dialogue is to explain how this order and beauty was produced. The universe, he proposes, is the product of intelligence. It is the handiwork of a divine Craftsman (Demiurge) who imposes mathematical order on a pre-existent chaos to generate the ordered universe (kosmos). To answer Socrates's question about how to create a perfect world, Plato responds that Demiurge also created the soul of the world which has nothing to do with the intellect. He placed that soul in the center of the world's body and diffused it in every direction. This perfect, self-sufficient and intelligent world is a god.



                Full text of Timaeus: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1572/1572-h/1572-h.htm


                Henri Poincaré's Universe: http://www.mcs.csueastbay.edu/~malek/Mathlinks/Minds/Minds2.html

                JE comments:  The quandary of how to define a day when there is no sun really gets one thinking.  How have theologians resolved this?

                The Creation Museum, by the way, has zip lines and a petting zoo.  Sounds like a great time for the whole family!

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                • on the Creation of the Universe; the Big Bang (Enrique Torner, USA 08/15/14 9:43 AM)
                  I am surprised and pleased that two WAISers actually watched the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye: Tor Guimaraes and Massoud Malek. The latter went so far that he even checked Answers in Genesis, one of the most prominent Christian organizations in the US, if not the world. Massoud seems to strongly disagree with young creationists on the basis of science. Ken Ham was a science teacher, and his organization has many prominent scientists who are also young creationists. They have an article that offers the 10 best evidences from science for a young earth. Here is the link:


                  The following link offers a long list of scientists who are also young creationists, past and present, including Galileo, Johann Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, James Joule, Louis Pasteur, and George Washington Carver, to mention a few of the most important:


                  Massoud and John Eipper seem puzzled by how there could be literal days before the creation of the sun. This is a great question, and this is what divides young from old creationists. Young creationists interpret the initial creation of light (day) and darkness (night) as the initial concept of a literal day; old creationists understand the concept of day metaphorically because, as Massoud, John, and many others, they can't fathom how there could be a 24-hour day without a sun. In this way, they are limiting God, who is omnipotent, and can do anything, respond young creationists. Massoud also finds ridiculous that dinosaurs could have been created so recently, and coexist with men until the Flood, and believes, as many people, that dinosaurs (and the universe) is billions of years old. My first link includes links to many articles, some of which must probably explain the reason for that belief.

                  Tor Guimaraes, on his August 12 post, made one statement with which I agree (Oh, my goodness!): "the main problem with organized religions is that they are designed to create conformity to sacred preachings, not to seek the Truth and change people's behavior." Like Ric Mauricio and other WAISers, I was also raised in Catholic schools (in Spain). As did Ric, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I married a Baptist, in a Baptist church after I converted to "Christianity" (ambiguous term: I mean evangelical, or "born again"). Ric, Tor, and I rebelled against organized religion, and we did it because we don't like people telling us what to believe, and pushing their beliefs down our throats. The Catholic Church does that very strongly, as Islam and many other religions, including Protestant denominations. I like to go by the Book and interpret it the way I think is the right one, regardless of what different denominations think.

                  I don't belong to any denomination, like Ric. Somebody in WAISworld stated that we need to be careful reading the Bible, because we don't have the appropriate knowledge to understand it properly. I agree that we need to be careful readers of Scripture, but I believe in the "priesthood of all believers," which means that all believers are equipped to understand the Bible. In the Catholic church, and in the Catholic schools I attended, priests always told us not to read the Bible, except in church, where the priest interprets it for you. This way, they can tell you "their" interpretation. And don't even dare to question them! As Ric reminded us, the Pope is the one who interprets the Bible infallibly and creates dogmas. By the way, Ric, you and I are anathema to the Catholic church now, because we deserted it, but, don't worry, they won't go after us! Muslims are not as lucky!

                  One last topic before I close, since this is getting so long already (or it seems like it!): the Big Bang. First, the theory was not created by a scientist, as many believe, but by a Belgian priest: Georges Lemaitre (also a mathematician) in 1933! Many people believe it was invented by Hubble in Harvard. Here is an interesting article I found, in which Albert Einstein applauded Lemaitre's discovery:


                  I personally believe that the Big Bang theory requires more faith than the belief in a Creator. And, finally, even though human shape has changed through the centuries, I don't believe we come from the chimpanzees! I will finish with a link that will shock you (surprise!):


                  JE comments:  I don't see how the Uner Tan syndrome (an extremely rare mental condition that renders bipedalism impossible) proves or disproves any theory on human evolution.
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                  • Galileo (John Heelan, UK 08/16/14 3:53 AM)
                    Enrique Torner mentions Galileo as a supporter of the "Young Earth" theory (15 August). Was that before or after he was imprisoned for heresy by the Inquisition for supporting Copernican theory? Benedict XVI (previously the modern head of the latter-day inquisition, albeit under a different name) continued the charges made 400 years ago. See http://galileowaswrong.com/pope-benedict-xvi-a-closet-geocentrist

                    Perhaps the Vatican likes to forget Matthew 13: 9-16 these days?

                    JE comments:  "He who has ears, let him hear..."

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                  • How Old Is the Universe? (Massoud Malek, USA 08/17/14 4:30 AM)
                    Anglican Archbishop James Ussher in 1658 and John Lightfoot in 1644 meticulously traced the lineages recounted in the Bible to come up with the surprisingly exact date of creation: October 23, 4004 BCE. Shakespeare believed that the Earth is a little older; he wrote: "The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause."

                    In 1927, Father Georges Lemaître proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe and the Big Bang theory. In 1951, Pope Pius XII declared that the supernatural act of divine creation began with the early stages described by the Big Bang theory. However, Lemaître resented the Pope's proclamation and persuaded the Pope not to mention Creationism publicly anymore and stop making proclamations about cosmology. The Pope was surprisingly compliant and agreed to the request.

                    Is the Bible a textbook of science? Should we reject the theory of Relativity, because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? To avoid the atrocities of war caused by different ways of worshiping God, why don't we believe in God, defined by Plato? it even has a soul. I have no problem in believing that human spirit began its journey on the very morning of creation, 13.8 billion light years ago, but not on October 23, 4004 BCE.

                    A paper by Dr. Duncan MacDougall published in American Medicine in March 1907 proved that the human soul weighs about 21 grams. A follow-up experiment also showed that dogs don't have a soul. In God and Religion, Bertrand Russell tells us: "When the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals asked the pope for his support, he refused it, on the ground that human beings owe no duty to the lower animals, and that ill-treating animals is not sinful. This is because animals have no souls." He also explained that "old-fashioned people still say 'bless you,' when one sneezes, but they have forgotten the reason for the custom. The reason was that people were thought to sneeze out their souls, and before their souls could get back lurking demons were apt to enter the un-souled body; but if any one said 'God bless you,' the demons were frightened off."

                    Cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere are constantly converting the isotope nitrogen-14 into carbon-14. Living organisms are constantly incorporating this C-14 into their bodies along with other carbon isotopes. When the organisms die, they stop incorporating new C-14. Radiocarbon (C-14) dating, one of the most reliable of all the radiometric dating methods, established that Yuanmou Man, whose remains were found in Yuanmou in 1965 CE, inhabited the land 1.7 million years ago. Evidence uncovered with these finds shows that these early inhabitants knew how to fashion stone tools and use fire.

                    From the dawn of our species to the present day, stone-made artifacts are the dominant form of material remains that have survived. The earliest global date for the beginning of the Stone Age is 2.5 million years ago in Africa, and the earliest end date is about 3300 BCE, which is the beginning of Bronze Age in the Near East.

                    Archaeological excavations starting in the 1840s CE have revealed human settlements dating to 10,000 BCE in Mesopotamia, indicating that the fertile conditions of the land between two rivers allowed an ancient hunter-gatherer people to settle in the land.

                    Egypt thrived from 8,000 BCE to 525 BCE, as an independent nation whose culture was famous for great cultural advances in every area of human knowledge, from the arts to science to technology and religion. The written history of the land begins at some point between 5000 and 3200 BCE when Hieroglyphic script was developed. By 3500 BCE mummification of the dead was in practice at the city of Hierakonpolis.


                    JE comments:  Don't the creationists argue that God can accomplish things like "plant" carbon-14?  Not sure why He would bother to do that--to give something for scientists to argue about?

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                  • on the Creation of the Universe and the Parable of the Talents; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 08/17/14 5:31 AM)
                    Ric Mauricio sends these comments on Enrique Torner's post of 15 August:

                    Ah, Enrique, thank God we weren't around during the Inquisition! We are quite blessed. My wife has often brought up the question, why does it seem that some people are blessed, while others aren't? Does God play favorites? I can only shrug my shoulders.

                    Thank you for the link to the Young Creationists' evidence.

                    It was quite informative, but, I quote from the article: "The problem is, as we consider the topic of origins, all so-called 'evidences' must be interpreted. Facts don't speak for themselves. Interpreting the facts of the present becomes especially difficult when reconstructing the historical events that produced those present-day facts, because no humans have always been present to observe all the evidence and to record how all the evidence was produced.

                    "Forensic scientists must make multiple assumptions about things they cannot observe. How was the original setting different? Were different processes in play? Was the scene later contaminated? Just one wrong assumption or one tiny piece of missing evidence could totally change how they reconstruct the past events that led to the present-day evidence."

                    And yet, the Young Creationists, after questioning forensic scientists' evidence, go on to make their own assumptions. Their biggest assumption, of course, is that what was written in the Bible is a true translation and interpretation of what the writers assume happened. I always taught my accounting team that assuming was a four-letter word times two.

                    That leads me John Eipper's question on one of my favorite Biblical parables, the Parable of the Talents. It seems that Jesus may have traveled to the future when he told this parable, because it is a basic money management concept that we practice today. Now the Gospel doesn't specifically say whether the talent is a gold talent or a silver talent, but a gold talent, according to researchers of antiquity, averaged around 33 kg and a silver talent, around 26 kg. Translating that to current US dollars, one gold talent would be worth about $1.46 million, while a silver talent would be worth $23,848. This is not a small amount of change. So if one invests one talent with three different money managers, and one manager does well, another does OK, and the third one doesn't do well at all, what would one do? Of course, you would take the money from the worst performing money manager and give it to the best performing money manager. Very much a capitalistic concept.

                    Ah, but this is balanced out by my other favorite parable: The Good Samaritan. Obviously, the Samaritan was a well-to-do individual. The concept that he practiced was what I refer to as "compassionate capitalism." But I digress. My interpretation of the Parable of the Talents is that we are all given "talents" (today's definition of talent) and that if we don't utilize that talent, we are doomed to a low quality of life. But again, that is only my own personal interpretation. Whether this interpretation is valid or not valid cannot be proven, but these two parables have guided my life.

                    As to the question on "who created God?" My simple answer to that question is that "man created God." You see, man has a challenging task in understanding the concept of pre-creation and pre-time.  Therefore that which we do not understand is neatly boxed and packaged as "god." I dare to say that the concept of God is much, much greater than our imaginations can imagine. But man has a challenging time thinking outside the box and therefore, religion provides him with that box. Some boxes are specifically made to limit and control; hmm, just like governments. Interesting.

                    JE comments:  I'm glad Ric Mauricio has accepted my invitation to comment on the Parable of the Talents.  As a cheeky little pre-WAISer in Sunday School, I recall asking my teachers why Jesus, who also taught us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, would suddenly become so interested in investing.  The answer was to interpret the "talents" not in a monetary sense but as spiritual gifts or blessings.  This in turn led me to question Christ's apparent endorsement of inequality of opportunity.  One servant receives ten talents; another only one.  Where is the justice here?

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  • Thoughts on Islam and God (Vincent Littrell, USA 08/05/14 1:54 AM)
    This is a partial response to Enrique Torner's "Gaza Crisis: Thoughts on the Qur'an" post (1 August), where at the end John Eipper suggested I comment. Instead of writing another post from scratch that repeats what I've stated about Islam a number of times in the past, I thought I'd re-present a lengthy past post and make some updates to it and delete other parts. The WAIS post I have chosen to use here is one I wrote in response to some anti-Islamic polemic back in 2009. In reviewing this old post, I recognize that some of my thoughts have changed, so I'll add some updating commentary.

    The original post in its difficult-to-read format can be found at:


    Broadly speaking, there are many who recognize the necessity to uphold Islamic spirituality and ethics as having deep commonality with and spiritual resonance with the most altruistic of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha'i and other world religions' teachings.

    Great writers like Catholic scholar Hans Kung, Hindu thinker Sarvapelli Radakrishnan, Sufi Master Frithof Schuon, and Baha'i leader Abdu'l-Baha fully support this thinking of Islam's spiritually high altruism and powerful, life-affirming resonance, a resonance and beauty that embraces all of humanity. There are numerous Christian scholars as well who support this thinking, to include the writer on Christian mysticism Richard Smolens, the great scholar of Western mysticism Evelyn Underwood, and Emory University Professor of Religion John Witte, Jr.

    There are those who assert that Muslims' compassion is only directed at other Muslims. Such an assertion is far from truth. Islamic spirituality and high altruism encompasses all humanity. Islam is not pacifistic, however (though the Ahmadiyyih sect of Islam and some of the Sufi/mystical schools may come close).

    I wrote in 2009: "When Muslims refer to the Sword Verses (almost all the experts I'm aware of, and there are many, on the subject agree that puritanical views towards jihadism reside in a minority viewpoint; however these positions are growing and are generally focused on by the Western news media and non-Muslim religionists who engage in anti-Islamic polemic), many recognize that those verses have a specific historical context and must be read in holistic concert or synergy with the multitudes of other verses enjoining tolerance, love, forgiveness, mercy, etc.

    "I've written on this at length in this Forum before and quoted from the Qur'an. No need to repeat here. I reject the notion that peaceful interpretation of the Qur'an is rather in abeyance these days. Publicity of ignorant and murderous acts in the name of Islam however is rampant to be sure."

    VL 2014: I sadly have to admit that peaceful interpretations of Islam, though not necessarily in abeyance in broad terms, certainly get short shrift in today's mainstream media. What we are seeing in Mosul for example certainly paints a grim picture (see: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/08/03/iraq-mosul-islamic-state-fear/13344551/ ). Since I wrote this post in 2009, fanaticism in Islam has grown. Increased social media and the results of the "Arab Spring" and follow-on chaos on Libya, Syria, Gaza and Iraq as well as problems in Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Central Africa, Bangladesh, the Palestinian Territories and other places have assisted that. Fanaticism using the name of Islam is becoming a serious and immediate threat to global security.

    In response to Tor Guimaraes's recent criticism of my 3 August "Violence and Sacred Texts" post about my mentioning mostly Islamic fanaticism: my focus on Islam wasn't a denial of the similar problems existing in other world religions. My focus on Islam represented my concern that particular flavor of fanaticism is the most dangerous to the world at the time of this writing, and it's getting worse. All religious fanaticism is dangerous, but the most immediate danger to humanity broadly is represented by what we see going on in Mosul. The world must deal with that in my opinion--and soon. Regarding fanaticism, the founder of the Baha'i Faith Baha'u'llah warns humanity: "Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction." (Gleanings of the Writings of Baha'u'llah: p. 288)

    VL 2009: "Regarding the idea that God in Islam is cruel and not the God of Judaism and Christianity, there are certainly enough scholars of religion of Jewish, Christian and Muslim backgrounds to credibly reject the belief that the God of the Qur'an is not the God of Judaism and Christianity. For that matter, the Baha'i doctrine of progressive revelation also runs counter to such a notion. General Muslim understandings of the Qur'an bring forward the well-disseminated idea that God does have 99 names (or attributes), some reflecting what some people might think of as appropriately fearsome (as opposed to cruel) aspects of divine justice. Those who reference God's cruelty throughout the Qur'an and Hadith don't paint a correct picture of the many facets to the naming of God and descriptive of divine attributes to be found throughout the massive body of scripture and literature associated with multiplicitous strands of Islamic spiritual thought.

    "Moreover, the comment very much ignores the practically countless references to God's merciful and benevolent attributes (that are not just focused on Muslims alone), also to be found throughout the Qur'an and Hadith that are the root to countless Muslims' benevolent and altruistically spiritual understanding and practice of Islam (if, for example, Islam is inherently violent, I'd be interested in an explanation as to why many Sufi-influenced orthodoxies and Ahmadi interpretations of Qur'anic revelation lean strongly towards pacifism or have strong peace-oriented strands. It seems to me that Western anti-Islamic polemicists accept Puritanical Salafism as authority for pointing to what Hadith or Hadith interpretation is credible as authoritative reflection of Islamic thought. For many respected scholars in Islam, what is actually happening is that Puritanical Salafists use 'false hadith' to support concepts that are in reality anathema to higher moral thought, which begs the question: Why do so many non-Muslims who are willing to engage in anti-Muslim polemic not give the appellation of false hadith to these erroneous constructions of supposed 'true' Islamic theology? More widespread education and enlightenment on the subject is a strategic necessity as a coming cornerstone of peace."

    VL 2014: In regards the above, if the world doesn't take a closer look at how Islam is interpreted, I fear the fanatical extreme superstitions that we are seeing using the name of Islam may continue to strengthen and may supplant actual Islam in many ways harmful to all humanity.

    VL 2009: "A common Christian-based anti-Islamic polemic says something like the Christian God is a God of love, whereas the God of Islam is one of cruelty and power. In today's highly interconnected global village, such commentary is archaic and unnecessarily provocative, especially because from countless Muslims and others who study Islamic spirituality perspectives, such a statement is incredibly myopic as a descriptive of the Almighty in Islamic thought and scripture. Throughout a massive body of Muslim commentary on the Qur'an and Hadith, one finds multitudes of odes to and analysis of God's loving aspects, and one finds plenty that is respectful and loving towards non-Muslims (see the writings of Jalaluddin Rumi as an example of this, where he prostrates himself before a Christian, not to be outdone in humility because a Muslim's duty is to be humble). In the Mathnavi of Jalaladdin Rumi, who is one of the most famous writers and brightest lights of Islamic spiritual thought, it is stated, 'Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries.'

    "In Letter 53 of the Nahj al Balagha, being one of the Islamic world's most thoughtful treatises on Islamic altruism, the Imam Ali (Spiritual successor to Muhammad in Shi'a theology and one of the four rightly guided Caliphs of Sunni Islam) states, 'the Qur'an is a code written to establish a kind and benevolent rule, throwing light on various aspects of justice, benevolence and mercy, an order based on the ethics of Divine rulership where justice and mercy are shown to human beings irrespective of class, creed and colour, where poverty is neither a stigma nor a disqualification, and where justice is not tainted with nepotism, favouritism, provincialism or religious fanaticism; and, on the other hand, it is a thesis on the higher values of morality.' (Ali b. Abi Taalib, Letters from Nahjul Balaagh).

    "I present the Yusuf Ali Translation of Surah 1:

    "'Al Fatihah (The Opening) In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way. The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, Those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.'

    "An erudite scholar of Islam once told me (and I paraphrase from memory):

    "'To understand the Qur'an one must understand the first Surah of the Qur'an, in order to understand the first Surah of the Qur'an one must understand the first line of the first Surah of the Qur'an, which is "In the name of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful [or Most Gracious, Most Merciful depending on translation of course VL]." Those who have failed to understand the first line of the first Surah and the first Surah itself will fail to understand the Qur'an.'

    "Inculcation and internalization of mercy and compassion are integral to full holistic understanding of the Qur'an. How then is God to be labeled as cruel, when the very first Surah which requires comprehension to understand the Qur'an sets the stage for that understanding by underpinning future Qur'anic/scriptural descriptives of divine attributes with the concepts of divine graciousness, mercy, and the cherishing and sustaining of the worlds of creation? When Surah 1 informs the reader that we humans seek God's aid and ask for Him to show us the straight path, we are not asking for such from a cruel God. An all powerful, all loving, all merciful, absolutely just and supreme Lord of all creation is in part how God is reflected in Islam, and that is who humans ask for guidance from in Islamic thought."

    The works listed below provide nice variations on Muslim views towards non-Muslims, human rights, God's love, power and beauty, rejection of extremism, use of intuitive intellect, phenomenological experience that transcends the confines of human earthly existence and provides insight into spiritual realms also implicitly available to non-Muslims. Works on Muslim views towards pluralism, like Seyyed Hossein Nasr's The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values For Humanity are important, as well as Reza Shah Kazemi's The Other in the Light of the One: The Universality of the Qur'an and Interfaith Dialogue, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim's Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law, Roy Mottahedeh's The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai's Kernel of the Kernel: Concerning The Wayfaring and Spiritual Journey of the People of Intellect, the copious writings of Jalaludin Rumi to be found in English to include the Coleman Barks-translated The Essential Rumi, Khaled Abou El Fadl's The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists, and Fazlur Rahman's Major Themes of the Qur'an.

    JE comments:  Another excellent summary from Vincent Littrell.  The problem with any institutional religion is that the extremists and the zealots are the ones heard the loudest.

    Vincent brings up the formatting problems we have with many older postings.  Yes, alas, this was a casualty of our switch to the new WAISworld portal in 2010.  I need to find a student assistant to go through and spruce up those 25,000 or so posts.

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    • Thoughts on Islam and God (Massoud Malek, USA 08/07/14 1:52 AM)
      From the dawn of history, men tried to protect their property and their sex lives. They created heaven, hell, and other forms of afterlife rewards and punishments to warn anyone who tries to rob them or commit adultery. They told men that if they provide comfort and security to their daughters and sisters, then they may have sex with them. They forbid men to have sex with someone else's wife, and told their wives that the punishment for having sex with other men is the burning fire of hell.

      In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Bahullah prescribes that adulterers should pay a fine to the House of Justice (32.775 grams of gold for the first offense and progressively doubled thereafter), and states that they would suffer a "humiliating torment" in the afterlife.

      Young Jewish and Christian children are exposed to countless X-rated stories. Here is a tale of a sexual relationship between a very old man a beautiful young virgin:

      When King David was very old, even though his servants put many blankets on top of him at night, he was unable to become warm. So they said to him, "Your Majesty, allow us to search for a young virgin who can stay with you and take care of you. She can sleep close to you and enable you to become warm. The king gave them permission; they found a beautiful young woman named Abishag, from Shunem town, and brought her to the king. She was truly very beautiful. She took care of the king."

      For centuries Christians tried to convince others that when Jesus repeatedly said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword;" by sword he meant "conflict." But for about hundred years Christians left their homelands in Europe to fight Muslims in the Middle East with their swords. The main goal of the Crusades was to take control of Jerusalem away from the Muslims. Today we see crusaders from the Western World who fight Muslims; they want to make sure that Muslims remain in Jerusalem as their prisoners.

      Here are some facts about Islam that most people do not know:

      1) The Koran never mentioned that women should not show their hair. There is only one surah in the Koran about covering bosoms and not showing private parts.

      Surah An-Nūr (The Light) 24:30-31: "Tell the believing men and women to lower their gazes and guard their private parts. Tell the believing women to wrap a portion of their head-cover over their bosoms..."

      2) Unlike the Bible, stoning is not in the Koran.

      Muhammad's wife Aisha said: "The verse of stoning and of suckling an adult ten times was revealed, and they were written on a paper and kept under my pillow. When the Messenger of Allah expired and we were occupied by his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper."

      In May 2007 Dr. Izzat Atiyya, lecturer at Cairo's Al-Azhar University of Cairo, issued a fatwa that suggested that male and female colleagues could use breastfeeding to get around a religious ban on being alone together. The fatwa said that if a woman fed a male colleague "directly from her breast" at least five times they would establish a family bond and thus be allowed to be alone together at work. "Breast feeding an adult puts an end to the problem of the private meeting, and does not ban marriage," he ruled. "A woman at work can take off the veil or reveal her hair in front of someone whom she breastfed."

      The fatwa sparked outrage and embarrassment, with critics deriding the author on Egyptian television. The university suspended the lecturer, who headed the university's Hadith department.

      3) About Apostasy:

      Muhammad spent his last ten years as the leader of Medina in a state of war with pagan Mecca. To Muhammad an apostate was a combatant who joined pagans to fight Muslims. It commands Muslims to kill in self-defense only those who persecuted them, and not non-believers as a whole.

      Surah An-Nisa, Ayah 89, is the only time Muhammad talks about killing someone who left the faith and tries to convert a believer. It states, "They wish that you would reject faith just like they have. Then, you will descend down to their level. Therefore, do not choose them as friends unless they emigrate for the cause of Allah. If they revert to open hostility, then seize and kill them wherever you see them. Do not take them as friends or protectors, nor as helpers."

      Surah An-Nahl, Ayah 106-109: "Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief, except for one who is forced to renounce his religion while his heart is secure in faith, a tremendous suffering awaits them. That is because they loved this present life above the Everlasting Life. Allah does not guide the unbelievers. In the Everlasting Life, they shall assuredly be the losers." No mention of killing at all.

      Here are a few Bible verses about apostasy:

      2 Chronicles 15:13: "All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman."

      Exodus 22:20: "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed."

      Deuteronomy 13:6-11: "If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,' you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

      JE comments:  This "speck-vs.-plank-in-eye" discussion of Islam and Christianity won't lead to any consensus, although it's inspired some interesting reviews of the Holy Books.  I will admit I'm intrigued by the breastfeeding fatwa.  HR managers the world over will be taking notice...

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      • on Discussing the Sacred Books (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/08/14 2:24 AM)
        I fully agree with JE's comments on the post of Massoud Malek (7 August).

        Discussing each word of the so-called Sacred Books is almost useless. They were written thousands years ago and their pages, some of which are horrible and some just silly, reflected the crude culture of the times. It is supposed that now we have a different vision of God, who is the same for each and all humans and each one should worship as he/she likes and how and when he/she likes, on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, providing that he/she does not hurt others.

        But please do not cite the so-called Crusades for religious reasons. Jerusalem was conquered by too many peoples including the Arabs in 638, and then was reconquered by the Christian Europeans in 1099 during their new commercial and political expansion. Then other armies passed through that land, but the use of religion for said wars now should be considered a real blasphemy.

        JE comments: I have no problem with discussing the Holy Books, but "ranking" them is another matter.  Still, religion is one of the Big Three WAIS topics, together with politics and economics (all viewed through an internationally focused lens), so it is inevitable that we'll touch on the controversial and the tendentious.

        In this vein, the next two posts (from David Duggan and Massoud Malek) will give us a lot to talk about.

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