Home Columns Books Papers Biography Contact

"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

June 2017

How Islamists Select Targets

Every time Islamists select a target, such as the recent attack in Manchester, handwringers come out with the usual nonsense: "These attackers are not acting in the name of Islam," according to mainstream Muslims and well-intentioned journalists. I sympathize with Muslims who quietly practice their faith (or not practice it if they choose), and nice people do not want to tar all Muslims with the same brush. However, Islamists are not outliers, but are ready to die for fundamental demands of th more...

Print

Where are the University Grownups?



For some years now, we have seen a transformation in university life that does not bode well. These changes are in line with changes in public behavior in our society at large, a general coarsening of language, ideas, and actions.

The university world provides the next leaders, experts, and supposedly informed citizenry. At U. C. Santa Cruz recently, Black students occupied the Administration Building until the university authorities knuckled under to their demand more...

Print

Where Religious Tolerance is Scorned (Part 3 of 3)

On May 13, my column provided the global history of religious tolerance. On May 20, I charted the history of western religious persecution that led to today?s modern values of tolerance. Today?s column visits the absence of religious tolerance in the Muslim world and among authoritarian states.

The most interesting case is roiling Muslim-majority countries, countries that enjoyed a brief period of modernization that brought with it (temporarily) secular governance downplaying rel more...

Print

Limits to Tolerance (Part 2 of 3)


On May 13, my column provided the global history of religious tolerance. This column features the history of western religious persecution that led to today's modern values of tolerance.

European religious intolerance dates back to when the Romans made Christianity the state religion. Other faiths were discouraged and some actively persecuted. The arrival of Islam in North Africa and the formerly Christian Holy Land created a conflict that soon became the three-century "C more...

Print

Religious Tolerance in World History


Among primitive humans, the world was frightening and animated by benign or hostile spirits. Our ancestors feared the power of these unseen forces, believing that sacrifices could calm these spirits. Sacrifices ranged from sharing food (burning foods so that the smoke could reach the deities) or, in dire circumstances, human sacrifices to pacify an angry god or goddess.

As we developed as a species, these nature spirits evolved into a system of many gods and goddess, spel more...

Print

Religious Tolerance in World History

Among primitive humans, the world was frightening and animated by benign or hostile spirits. Our ancestors feared the power of these unseen forces, believing that sacrifices could calm these spirits. Sacrifices ranged from sharing food (burning foods so that the smoke could reach the deities) or, in dire circumstances, human sacrifices to pacify an angry god or goddess.

As we developed as a species, these nature spirits evolved into a system of many gods and goddess, spelled out more...

Print

America?s Long Religious Heritage


Unlike the rest of the developed world, which is either tepid on religion or is fiercely secular (France) or actively hostile (China), the United States can still be called a religious country. What is different about our religious history is that we have never had a state religion and we try to protect religious freedom (freedom to practice without government intrusion). Furthermore, our lack of a formal state religion has given rise to some very original new religions, such as Church o more...

Print

Russia?s New Global Aims


The Cold War is back, but it is a different Cold War because it is a different Russia. It is important to know who the Russians are and what has shaped their worldview, including their sometimes justified suspicion and hostility toward the US.

Some features of Russian government go back to their beginnings as a country in the 10th century. Their geography places them very far north, which means that food, particularly grain harvests, are uncertain. The country has experien more...

Print

America Has 250 Years of Consistent Foreign Policy


The majority of Americans, furious over the Assad regime using poison gas on his own Syrian people, expressed approval of President Trump?s attack on the Syrian airfield that launched the gas attack. When one sees such horrors, such as when American soldiers first entered the Nazi death camps, the desire for revenge is powerful. But knee-jerk revenge is not policy. What is American policy about assaults on helpless civilians? Do we have a consistent policy? Do we always react by punishin more...

Print

Closing the American Great Divide


Americans were the closest to being united by a common culture between 1941 and 1965. The post-World War II economy produced an enormous middle class, thanks to being the only country in the world not damaged or destroyed by the war. Manufacturing of everything was flourishing, as were exports and generous support with money and values to the recovery of our former customers and new allies. The only cloud on the horizon was the Cold War and the not small concern about nuclear holocaust s more...

Print

World Happiness Report


Every year, the UN issues a report on a survey of how countries rank in terms of development and, of all things, happiness. I really do not understand how one can measure happiness, but I do know how one can measure unhappiness. For happiness, I would prefer contentment, which is more measurable.

Nonetheless, the UN does issue this report, defending it as a good measure of a nation's progress, and that using social well-being as a goal drives better public policy. In this more...

Print

Afghanistan?s Gender Benders



The bathroom battles raging in the United States today (which toilets transgender people can use) reminds me of how little new there is in the world. For eons, some human beings have been born aware of wiring (or something else) amiss in their gender.

Ancient Greek mythology has been a gift to the world. Tiresias was the only human being who had been both male and female. He was a blind prophet who could warn kings of danger but was often not believed until too lat more...

Print

The Trouble With Today?s "Cassandras."


Cassandra dates back to ancient Greek mythology. Cassandra was a princess of Troy who was cursed with the ability to see future disasters but also cursed with never being believed (until too late). This is different from the boy who cried wolf (making up the warning) and then not being believed when the wolf actually appeared.

Two Cassandras have received much critical press in the past few weeks: Iowa Representative Steve King, who tweeted in defense of another Cassandra more...

Print

Sweden Does Have an Immigrant Problem.


President Trump's recent comment about "Sweden, Sweden is a disaster" met with pushback when he cited a Muslim riot that actually did not happen that weekend. It happened the next week. Wrong details, right issue. This was like his comments about the Bowling Green "Massacre," a massacre that could have been, had it not been foiled by the FBI. He is sometimes on the right track, but with the wrong facts. Sweden is in trouble, despite the protestations of outrage by Swedish officials.
more...

Print

The Role of Language in Politics


A fascinating issue arose during our recent Presidential election campaign, and continues today. Many good, ordinary people fell in love with the candidate who "talked just like they do." News Hour on PBS found two Texas cafes, one in a small town, the other in Austin. The customers were all Texans, all who apparently loved their state and their country, but their answers to the reporter's questions seemed to come from two different worlds.

The customers in the small town more...

Print

Two-State Solution Faces Reality


It has been US and UN policy since the founding of Israel and Palestine in 1947 that two states should live side by side in peace. Israel agreed, but the Palestinians rejected the state they had been offered, opting instead for war, with the help of the entire Arab world, to make Palestine a "one-state solution." They lost that first war and then 13 more attempts to destroy Israel.

The definition for insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly hoping for a different outco more...

Print

Crisis for the Muslim World


Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
February 25, 2017

Islam is said to be the World?s fastest growing religion, but it may not be. We are seeing the frantic activity that precedes collapse. In history, religions either evolve or die out.

The elements of decline are threefold:

? Theological
Sharia law stopped evolving in 1200. There was to be no more modification, no more discussion. It was frozen in time. Islam, unlike Chris more...

Print

Vetting Immigrants and Refugees


Our country has every right to vet the flood of immigrants trying to come to this land. But one size does not fit all. This is why a blanket Muslim ban is without nuance, to say the least! President Trump is not going about this process with subtlety, unlike our current vetting process, one that is the result of continued refining.

It does make sense to sort through the refugees, first admitting those least likely to be a danger to us, and then vetting the rest. The Trump more...

Print

Ideas That Make People Kill.


Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europeans engaged in mutual slaughter over religion: the Catholic-Protestant wars. Religion was not the only issue; the birth of nation-states added poisonous nationalism to the fray. The scientific and industrial revolutions added another element. Catholic states were fighting a rear-guard action in defense of the feudal world. The Protestant states, over time, advanced all the ideological changes that we value: participatory governance, religious to more...

Print

Islam: One Size Does Not Fit All!


Both extreme ends of the political spectrum have a problem with their assessment of Islam, the religion, and Muslims as a global community of people. They are talking over each other, and the most serious consequence was the hasty, ill-considered initiative of President Trump to ban entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Unless Americans of all political stripes understand the real nature of militant Islam, which by its own admission has declared war on the world, even aga more...

Print

The Arc of History


As a historian, I share with former President Obama the idea that there is such a thing as "the arc of history." What is meant by this is that human beings have very gradually changed over the centuries from small clans and tribes who had to fight tooth and claw to survive to a global society, much of which has common (and largely American) values.

We no longer throw our adolescent girls into a volcano to calm the rage of the volcano god. Most of us no longer regard women more...

Print

World Law and Reciprocity


After 75 years with a system of global norms that America created, many around the world are challenging these norms. "International laws" are treaties agreed to by nations and "norms" are behaviors believed beneficial to all who practice them. However, global norms and treaties are voided when one side violates the agreements. During World War II, because Germany, the US, and Britain were all signatories to the Geneva Conventions, they all abided by humane rules validated by regular Red more...

Print

Russia?s Short-term and Long-term Prognosis


If the thugs in ISIS were not so busy decapitating people, we might have been paying more attention to a longer-term hostile force, Russia. Russia has been an important target of Western attention since the 19th century, when this once backward, frozen backwater came to life and proceeded to conquer and colonize all the countries across Central Asia (the old Silk Route), ending on China?s border and the Pacific Ocean. They controlled 11 time zones and warranted watching.

more...

Print

Israel and Its Changing Neighborhood


Nothing is more divisive than discussions of the Israeli/Palestinian century old conflict. The problem with this dispute is that conditions have finally changed in Israel?s neighborhood and in America?s new government.

On one side of the issue is the notion that "International Law" is against Israel?s occupation of "Palestinian lands," a position that pretends that there is really such a thing as "international law." For something to be law, it not only must be agreed by more...

Print

December 2016

Who Are Americans? Multiethnic or Multicultural?

The populist resurgence around the world, including our own country, is about identity crisis. Belonging to a "nation" is only a few centuries old. Before that, people identified with their clan, village, or town. Educated and city people identified with their empire, the oldest form of human civilizational organization. But as empires fell, nation states rose.

The nation states were an improvement in some ways over empires in that more people were involved in governance and share more...

Print

Tradition!

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya, the milkman, a poor Jewish villager trying to survive in Tzarist Russia, is faced by societal changes that he resists with all his might. Tradition is his shield and protection from what he sees as chaos.

Of course, there are limits to how much one can resist the present. Around the world, and even in our own country, there are people who resist the present, or, rather, resist some of the changes of the present. They cherry pick.

The more...

Print

Populism?s Unanticipated Consequences: Dictatorship


I learned in my college days that when somebody on campus yelled "Power to the People!" that it was time to take cover. I am allergic to mobs, which are what human beings become when they abandon thought.

The Populist movement is not new. Roman senators as early as 60 BC knew they could buy the favor of voters by putting on a great show: a circus, a great feast, and a big parade. What the senators wanted was their votes, after which they need never concern themselves with more...

Print

How Our "Nation of Immigrants" Works.



We are a nation of immigrants, including even the "Native Americans" who just migrated here from Asia earlier. Human beings are a mobile species, having migrated from Africa to settle every continent 50,000-100,000 years ago. Even these early migrants had trouble with others either already there or coming from elsewhere. How else did the Neanderthals, our cousin species, get wiped out? Our species has always believed that when newcomers arrive, "there goes the neighborhood."
more...

Print

America?s History of Isolationism or Engagement.

November 11, 1918, was Armistice Day. On that date a century ago, World War I ended with a cease fire. The clear loser, Germany, collapsed in exhaustion after fighting on two fronts: France and Britain on one end and Russia on the other. The war was stalemated until the United States, very late in the war, entered on the side of France and Britain and won it. Although we do not make much of this holiday, it is still terribly important to the British and French, who lost a whole generation of yo more...

Print

Celebrating Native American Food


Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
November 26, 2016

I have never seen a restaurant discussed and condemned on the front page of a newspaper before Saturday, November 4. On that day, Francis Ford Coppola, famous as the movie producer of The Godfather series and a posh winery he opened in Napa, was condemned for daring to open a restaurant featuring Native American foods. How terrible, said the critics, that someone dare to serve ethnic foods without growing up w more...

Print

Culture Matters Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the cultural chasm in the United States that gave rise to election results that surprised many of us. This time, I am looking at the global culture wars.

Along with cultural differences of class and ethnicity, there are cultural differences in religions: most of these benign, but some really divisive. No one cares about different dietary laws, for example, unless one culture forces the rest to practice them. Orthodox Jews have dietary issues: no pork or sh more...

Print