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"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  

August 2017

Is There Democracy in Iran's Future?


I was in and out of Iran the year (1978) just before the country fell to an Islamic Revolution. As an observer, it was clear that a revolt was brewing; young demonstrators were marching daily, howling for the Shah to step down (actually, the chant was "death to the Shah"). This sort of turmoil had roiled the country before: in the 1920s when the new shah, Reza Pahlavi, outlawed the veiling of women; in 1952, when a populist prime minister wanted to nationalize the oil company run by Brit more...

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Humor Can Bring Down a State

One characteristic of nasty governments?theocracies, dictatorships, and authoritarian monarchies is that they have no sense of humor. The one thing that can put a frightening government on the defensive is to know that their subjects are laughing at them.

In Jacques Barzun?s final book, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present (Harper Collins, 2000), he tracks the fall of the French monarchy and the French Revolution to the point where the French elites had no fear of makin more...

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True Believers, The World?s Nightmares


"True Believers," by their very process, discard any effort at critical thinking. Whatever they "believe" cannot, and is not, challenged. The world, unfortunately, has many "true believers" who create misery for their fellow humans.

I have just finished reading Kati Marton?s book, True Believer: Stalin?s Last American Spy, which is the true account of an American who became a spy for the USSR and got away with deceiving our government at the highest levels of power. Noel F more...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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December 2016

Darwin Awards



My periodic "Darwin Awards" columns are to nominate those human beings whose existence lowers the global IQ.

Saudi Man Shoots Doctor Who Delivered His Wife?s Baby
This man was not only ungrateful, he was stupid. He was outraged to learn that a male gynecologist had been present at the birth of his wife?s baby. The doctor had seen his wife naked, he sputtered. The Saudi police tracked him down and arrested him, but will the Saudi "justice" system give him a more...

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August 2016

Libya as an American Foreign Policy Problem

Libya is a perfect example of why it is so difficult for the US to design a good foreign policy where one-size-fits-all. The lingering ugliness of what happened in Benghazi is just a small part of the problem. The Benghazi issue, as a matter of fact, is more unique to Libya than to other Middle East countries. Analysis of Libya involves the following issues:

What Libya has in common with other Arab countries:

? Islam. Islam itself is not a one-size-fits-all religion more...

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Culture Matters: International (Part 2 of 2)

In the 1990s, Samuel Huntington first wrote an essay, then a book, called The Clash of Civilizations. This influential historian threw down a gauntlet that most liberal and idealistic scholars did not want to pick up. But this work was so important that in history conferences across the country, the book was reviewed and critiqued. He said every border between Islamic countries and non-Islamic neighbors was bloody. This was obvious between the Israelis and Arabs, but we had not realized that it more...

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Iraq War Revisited with Critical Thinking

A British report released a few weeks ago roundly castigated former Prime Minister Tony Blair for his misguided support of America's war to unseat Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Blair is as much condemned (and loathed) by the British left as former President George Bush is by the American left (and Donald Trump). Both leaders are accused of having "lied" about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. To defend both positions, it is true that these weapons were not found during the invasion. Bu more...

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Profiling the Muslim Community


What is so dangerous about Donald Trump is that he sometimes, quite by accident, takes a position that has some merit. He recently talked about "profiling the Muslim community," but, as always, with very little supporting data. If he were not so shallow and glib, he might have said: "There is a cult living in the Muslim community that advocates a most violent form of Islam." This is certainly true, but the notion of a blanket profile of all Muslims is a waste of resources because there a more...

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Four Middle East Water Systems Shape History

Controlling water was one of the first technological efforts at the beginning of what we call "civilization," or city building. Even today, most human beings live on the rims of oceans or on river systems. We need water to drink, for washing ourselves and our goods, but most of all, for agriculture.

Where today Iraq and Iran meet arose the first urban civilization 5,000 years ago, Sumeria. This amazing culture created the first big city-state (Ur), a system of writing, sea-going more...

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Was the Past Really Better?


When we revere the past to the point of worship, we are saying that those who came centuries before us were smarter than we are. As a historian with little romantic illusion about the past, I think that this worship is misplaced. I checked this out with a two-part question on the final exam in the World History class that I taught: A) If you could go back in a time machine to any period in history, which would you select, and why? B) If you could not choose your gender or class, would t more...

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Iran and Saudi Arabia Mix It Up.

In January, active warfare almost erupted when the Saudis decapitated a Shiite cleric, enraging Iran. On the surface, this seemed to be the ongoing hostility between the two major sects of Islam, the Sunni majority and the Shiite minority. Most Arabs and most Muslims around the world are Sunni; most Iranians, with pockets in the Middle East, are Shiite.

This antipathy is often compared with the Protestant-Catholic religious wars---a theological dispute. However, there is little th more...

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December 2015

Militant Islam has a Woman Problem.


In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack on America, there was a knee-jerk assumption that Muslims had reasons for hating us. Many left-wing chest-beaters blamed "western colonialism" for creating Muslim hatred; others blamed Israel for daring to occupy "Muslim lands." "What did we do wrong?" they asked.

Scholars revisited the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the godfather of all subsequent Islamist terror groups. This movement began in 1928 when other compar more...

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Afghan Problems


With so many urgent events around the world, Afghanistan is not one we wanted to see again. But its problems do not go away, nor can they with Pakistan next door. We are still there, 10,000 to remain, but with an essential task of trying to train a national defense force so that Afghanistan will not revert to its failed Muslim state position under the Taliban.

Training the Afghan army is much like rolling a rock up a hill. Not only are a majority of soldiers illiterate, b more...

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Whose Fault is the Immigrant Crisis?



Wouldn't you know that the moment any crisis occurs in the world that the usual commentators would blame the United States? Amy Goodman's recent column blamed the chaos in the Middle East on the US and Europeans sending arms to the region. Others, many on the political left, have blamed the crisis entirely on the disastrous aftermath of our Iraq invasion. However, I have not seen any of these critics pinning blame on the total failure of governance and religion in the Muslim Worl more...

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September 2015

Whose Fault is the Immigrant Crisis?


Wouldn't you know that the moment any crisis occurs in the world that the usual commentators would blame the United States? Amy Goodman's recent column blamed the chaos in the Middle East on the US and Europeans sending arms to the region. Others, many on the political left, have blamed the crisis entirely on the disastrous aftermath of our Iraq invasion. However, I have not seen any of these critics pinning blame on the total failure of governance and religion in the Muslim World itself more...

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Are Arabs Losing Interest in the Palestinians?


Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist whom I once knew as editor of the English language Tehran Journal in 1978 (while the Shah was still there) has lived in exile since the Islamic Revolution and is a hot potato. He often plays loose with facts, writing things that conservatives love to hear, sometimes without substantiation.

His latest column, however, however, makes a certain amount of sense. The Arab world is in such disarray that the Palestinian issue pales in comparison more...

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We Americans Misread Our Enemies

We are the global giant who never seems to realize our own strength. Unlike so many others around the world who love to boast about how powerful they are, we almost never do this. Think about the Nazi goose-stepping marches in the 1930s, huge swastika flags unfurled, announcing to the world their intentions. Think about the annual Soviet May Day parades with marching Red Armies, tanks, displays of missiles, and aircraft in formation overhead.

These were the warlike adversaries th more...

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What if the 30-Year Religious Wars Prediction Is Wrong?

Yemen, once a backwater that nobody much cared about, is now a failed state that has inflamed an entire region. The Saudis, who have spent obscene fortunes on defense toys that they have never used are now tentatively using them and are rallying other Sunni Arabs to join them. For all their decades of bluster about Israel, they were never this serious before. This time, they are really frightened and their fear is directed at a rag-tag terrorist group that has taken over the government of Yemen. more...

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Let's Take a Long View of the Iran Deal.


The exhausted negotiators had been at it for 20 months, the last many hours of which were nearly non-stop, with the possibility that this important deal might collapse. The United States, Iran, five members of the UN Security Council, and the EU had labored over this negotiation to convince Iran that it was in its best interest to reduce its nuclear program's potential of developing nuclear weapons. Iran had long (and unconvincingly) claimed its nuclear interests were peaceful only, but more...

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Middle East is Running out of Water.

California knows how serious it is to have a water shortage. But we are a modern state and know perfectly well what to do about it. For us, it is just a matter of spending money and having the will to do what is obvious: desalinate the ocean water immediately to our west.

But when the entire Middle East is running out of water, it is another thing altogether. This is a region with a minority of scientifically educated people and a majority of ignorant, religious villagers and rec more...

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The Nation-State Idea is Not Cast in Stone.


I remember trying to explain to my small children what a "country" is. They understood neighborhood because we could walk around those streets. They even understood city because we could drive around such a recognizable entity. It was a little more difficult to understand state and really difficult to understand country. When they were a little older, they played with geography puzzles and learned to recognize the states that made up "the United States" and later "the world" and eventual more...

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When is "Economic Information" Espionage?


Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian has been cooling his heels in an Iranian prison for nine months without charges until now, when we are finally told that he will stand trial for espionage for having "sold economic information" to unnamed Americans. What this information is nobody has been told. What sort of economic information about Iran could there be that could threaten Iran's security, one wonders! I can imagine quite a few things, but cannot imagine that Jason Rezaian cou more...

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The Iran Deal Puts Our Foot in the Door!


For fifty years, we did not talk to the Chinese. We mistrusted them. They mistrusted us. We hated each other and were blind to each other?s internal workings. Then, suddenly, because of some youngsters playing ping pong together (not an accident), followed by some very secret diplomatic visits, the United States and Communist China opened relations.

This opening upset a lot of people: the Soviets, hardline Republicans (members of President Nixon?s own party), and hardline more...

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What's New: Destroying One's Own Religious Treasures


The Pagan world had no problem with incorporating other people's gods. They managed to see comparable qualities and forms of foreign deities (love and war, for example) and never found it necessary to destroy these symbols, with only one exception: the gods of the Phoenicians, who demanded the sacrifice of first-born babies. That was more than Greeks or Romans could tolerate and they wiped out that worship and their worshippers (who were their economic rivals also).

Monoth more...

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Understanding Foreign Policy is like Triple-Decker Chess

We are accustomed to thinking of relations with an ally, an enemy, or an interest when we consider a foreign policy relationship. This is part of our assumption that a nation has an independent identity that is like ours, "one nation, indivisible?" This is a convenient fiction, of course, as if a nation is a person, which it is not.

o Pakistan, India, Afghanistan. Some of our most troubling relationships are with countries with not only complex internal identities, but also equall more...

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Terrorists: "Insult us and we kill you."


We in the Western World think our sacred cows are strong enough to withstand mockery and humor. We do not like it when an artist?s work shows a crucifix in a tube of urine; we write indignant letters to the editor, we boycott art exhibits, we even become amateur art critics, as did former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, over an exhibit he found offensive. But we do not kill over it.

In Muslim-Majority countries, they do indeed kill, not only over anything deemed "insulting" more...

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December 2014

Is Iran?s Islamic Revolution Melting?

The Economist had a feature article (Nov. 1) that the steam has gone out of the Ayatollah Khomeini?s Islamic Revolution of 1979. I knew this would happen, but I have been consistently wrong in my optimistic predictions that it would have happened years ago. These new predictions from sources far and wide are giving us all new hope.

It is not exactly easy to get real information out of a buttoned-up country like Iran, but some changes have become obvious. Mosque attendance has drop more...

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We Must Put the "Crises of the Moment" in Context.


Critics of President Obama have an easy job. They do not have to make the decisions that will impact long-term American wellbeing. That is his job, and like making sausage, it is not a pretty process. It involves heavy lifting and complex issues.

Two principles have governed American foreign policy for the past two centuries: first, make certain that no one power controls all of Europe or all of Asia. We would be standing alone if such a powerful enemy controlled all other more...

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July 2014

Alliances Have No Longevity in the Middle East.


Not only are borders shifting wildly in today's Middle East reshuffle, but alliances are too. One needs a scorecard to determine who are friends today and enemies tomorrow. This is not a new problem in the Middle East; it is a historic fact of life.

The greatest accomplishment of the Prophet Mohammad was to unify what had been anarchic tribes in the Arab Peninsula. The process of unification was brutal, but there was no other way to do it. Truces were only temporary and su more...

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An Iranian in Exile Takes On a British MP.


Ever since the Iranian monarchy fell to a radical Islamic revolution, I have chafed over the nonsense that has passed for history. It has become accepted that Shah Mohammad Pahlavi was evil and that the west had sustained him for too long. I also flinch when Iranians insist that their travails were caused by either the British, the Americans, or the Israelis. This is a failure to take responsibility for the nation?s own folly in allowing Islamists to take control.

One such more...

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The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost in Pakistan.


Muslim governments always blame “foreign meddling” for all their ills The once great Muslim world has been on the skids since 1200, when it encountered three disasters: the Bubonic Plague, the Mongol attacks cutting off old trade routes and killing as many as half the population in Persia and Byzantium, and Muslim clergy blaming lax religious adherence for these disasters. From that time, Muslim intellectual life went dark.

These disasters also opened the door to a ne more...

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International Marriages Are Risky.

One of the most important decisions in our lives is the choice of marriage partner. This trumps almost any other relationship we might have---because when good, it outlasts even our relationship with our children.

Marriage choices until our own time were the prerogative of parents (mostly fathers) or, in the still benighted parts of the world, clans and tribes. The children were rarely consulted because it was considered much more important than their whims or hormones. Love was more...

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December 2013

India and China Are Not in the Same League.


Much of our foreign policy, as well as that of Europe, has to do with the rising powers of India and China. These are two of the most populated countries in the world, and for the past few decades, they have been attempting to catch up with the developed world. China is doing better than India, and it may clarify our policies to understand why.

The late Shah of Iran once made the comment that backward countries must get their economies in line before political liberalizati more...

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Iran Has Reasons for a Deal.

That the sanctions against Iran have brought the economy close to collapse is well known. I heard from one friend recently returned from a visit that some people are buying pistachios by the piece! Probably a joke, but maybe not.

A much more serious issue facing Iran has just emerged, without much world attention. The country is in grave danger of running out of water. Lake Urumia (Orumiye in Persian), the country's largest lake and third largest in the world, is drying up. Half t more...

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The “World Community” Has Double Standards.


The response to Bashar Assad’s use of poison gas lobbed into rebel-held suburbs of Damascus has been fascinating. Finally, somebody is remembering that a treaty was signed by almost every country in the world banning poison gas at the end of World War I. The use of mustard gas in trench warfare decimated a whole generation of young men fighting on both sides of the war. This was the first time that any weapon had been declared unacceptable to human values. Poison gas is an effective ge more...

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We Have Always Had Turncoats.


Why would a citizen of a country that serves them well opt for betrayal? Why would a US army psychiatrist value Militant Islam more than fellow soldiers he felt justified to murder? Why would Somali-American teenagers train to become suicide bombers, first abroad, but hoping to do so in their homeland?

The recent spate of terrorists who want to damage this country and as many of its residents as possible is not new; we need to remember this issue in the past, and how we de more...

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September 2013

Moral Foreign Policy May Not Be Prudent Foreign Policy.


We Americans love our democracy. For all of our faults, most of us live in a society governed by rule of law, a society where we can walk the streets of our towns in safety, and where we are equal under the law regardless of gender and race. We are governed.

We do have an underbelly, however. Some of our inner cities house people for whom this is not so. Despite this, our imperfect society is a work in progress, because we do try to make the system better and the system do more...

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The Muslim World Is Facing an Internal Crisis.


Since the Iranian Islamic Revolution, the moribund Muslim World has begun the process that the West faced during the 17th Century “Religious Wars.”

For Islam, the process of secular rule gradually replacing Islamic rule has stopped, and what has emerged instead is a four-part internal war: a suddenly violent eruption of hatred between the Sunnis and Shiites, and another between modernizers and reactionary Islamism. The first blood was let during the Iran-Iraq war (197 more...

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Making Excuses for Jihadis.

With the decline of religious influence on our values, the word “evil” has been largely dropped by the modern educated class. We look to the causes of bad behavior---such as the environment, abuse by parents, or bad wiring in the brain. Bleeding hearts like to think that the malefactor is not responsible, turning him into a “victim” of other forces. One idiotic professor quoted in the recent issue of Rolling Stone, blamed the murderous rampage of the Tsarnaev brothers on “American poli more...

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An Important Iranian Visitor is Coming: The Cyrus Cylinder


We are accustomed to seeing Iranians as revolutionary Shiite Muslims at war with the world, exemplified by Ayatollah Khamenei (and before him, father of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini). Soon-to-be ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been a mouthpiece for every obnoxious pronouncement such as Holocaust denial, denial that homosexuality exists in Iran, and membership in the cabal of fascist dictatorships, along with North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few. (They all ga more...

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The Latest Global Population Numbers Produce Surprises.

Some modern historians have added geography and demography to their historic research, and not a moment too soon. We really cannot understand the psychology and future trajectories of our allies and enemies without considering why they behave as they do and whether they have too many or too few people to thrive, be offensive, or decline.

• Geography. Robert Kaplan tells us in his new book: The Revenge of Geography, that the one given in a country’s history is its geography more...

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Rape Epidemics May Spell Death Throes for a Culture.


When I first lived in Iran, before the Islamic Revolution, I never felt threatened in the streets. Upper class women went about their errands in Tehran, dressed in the latest Paris fashions of the day, including miniskirts during the 1960s. Other than being pinched in a crowd, the prospect of rape was nil. Lower class women were dressed in chadors (faces visible) and managed to hang on to these unwieldy veils with their teeth, while managing several tots and netted shopping bags. I felt more...

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Puritanism Has A Long Global History.

It has always been a mystery to me why at various points in history, religions have gone puritanical, viciously hostile to any vestige of pleasure. This is not to say that puritanism is only nasty; it can also promote such good human values as self-control, industriousness, and honesty.

American puritanism in the 1600s was one such movement, a movement responsible for the American Protestant Ethic, and it produced a dynamic civilization. But it also had a dark underbelly in its more...

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November 2012

The Real Benghazi Problem Is Not Being Addressed.

What happened or did not happen when our consulate in Benghazi was attacked has become a contentious and partisan issue. This horrible attack on a diplomatic urban outpost is not the first in our dealings with the Muslim world. The international standards that foreign diplomats must be protected by the host country have been violated a number of times since the 19th century, not only for American but also to British diplomats, and only in Muslim countries.

The British Embassy was more...

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September 2012

Are Israel and the US Really Locking Horns Over Iran?


Foreign policy issues should not be a factor in election campaigns; we need to tell the world that we are united on issues beyond domestic politics. However, it is too difficult for presidential campaigns to resist stirring things up. Mitt Romney did this in unwise remarks about US policy during the orchestrated riots in Libya and Egypt.

Today, a hot issue is Iran, which has lied, cheated, and continued to work toward producing a nuclear capability that frightens its nei more...

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Can There Be A World Without History? Militant Islamists Think So.


Since the end of World War II, we have not seen deliberate assaults on historic landmarks that we see today. Both sides wantonly destroyed cities with their great historic architecture, but history was not their real target.

History is the target today. The Afghan's Taliban government deliberately blew up statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan because “they weren't Muslim.” In the Middle East, Africa, and Pakistan, Islamists are targeting churches for destruction, something more...

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The “War Against Women” Rages On


Modern social values for women had a brief, uneven life in the Middle East, and are now in meltdown as Islamist parliaments take power.

Countries that have revolted against dictatorships (with a modicum of modern law) are now seeing the results of their “democratic” elections. When largely ignorant populations vote, they vote for what they know: in this case, Islam. Traditional Islam would not be the problem, but its radical versions are. The first issue to come under more...

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Why Do Shiite and Sunni Muslims Hate Each Other?

Whenever I do a public lecture, questions come up about the Shiites and Sunnis. People read about their mutual hatreds and daily assaults on each other in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world, but really do not know how these groups differ and why they are so violent.

All religions eventually fracture into competing sects with very different interpretations of their common faith. We are well acquainted with this process in the deadly Protestant-Catholic wars, and those of us old more...

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Movie Reviews for February 2012: The Separation


The Separation

This Iranian film received an Oscar this year, and quite rightly. I have been watching Persian cinema for years now, and wonder at how these excellent film makers get around the religious government censors. In this particular movie, the only indication of deference to the censors was that all the female characters wore head scarves (upper class) or chadors (lower class) indoors. I have heard that the moment that women step indoors, they pull off the hated more...

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Attacking the British Embassy is an Iranian Rite of Passage.


On December 1, Iranian thugs attacked the British Embassy in Tehran in hours-long violence. This recalled the Iranian seizure of the American Embassy in 1979, holding American diplomats hostage for 444 days. When the 1979 assault happened, right after the Iranian Revolution, the Revolutionary Government initially denied complicity (which may have been true). However, in short order, the Ayatollah decided to take credit for this act.

This time, the Iranian press claimed tha more...

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December 2011

Immigrants and refugees: Is There Room at the Inn?


At Christmas, we hear once again about refugees---this time the family of Joseph, Mary, and the soon-to-be born Baby Jesus. It is a touching story—and timelessly evocative of so many millions of people who have had to flee for their lives from persecution.

The 20th century has been a time of the largest dislocation of people in history. World Wars I and II uprooted millions, all seeking sanctuary in the West. However, there was no rush of refugees to the Middle East or more...

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TV Humor and Soaps Are Potent Tools For Democracy.


One of the most devastating tools against tyranny is humor. Dictators cannot stand being laughed at; they work hard at being feared. On a bitter cold New Year’s Eve of 1989, the long-time dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, summoned his people to the square below his palace to deliver a speech. The crowd shuffled and seethed with anger over their short rations, lack of fuel, and daily insults while Ceausescu and his nasty wife lived in an obscenely lavish palace. As he continued to more...

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July 2011

More Humans Can Read, But What Are They Reading?

The “Sky Is Falling” crowd says that too many Americans no longer read. I am not convinced—nor do I believe that we read less than our grandparents did. Let’s look at the history of writing (and reading), a history much older than we used to think.

A major invention that separated homo sapiens from our primate ancestors was writing. There is increasing evidence that our Stone Age ancestors were communicating with something akin to readable writing systems on stone and po more...

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Is Turkey Still A Secular Muslim Model?

Until now, Turkey has modeled how an Islamic state can modernize and democratize. When the Ottoman Empire crumbled after World War I, the Turks retreated to what they considered their original homeland in Anatolia, once the homeland of the Byzantine Christian Roman Empire until the Ottomans conquered it in 1453. Constantinople was renamed Istanbul.

Under cover of World War I, the Turkish military carried out the century’s first ethnic cleansing, a deliberate massacre of the Chr more...

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Iran, Like Some Here, Also Believes In Apocalyptic Myths.


We live in a time of strange beliefs. The latest comes from Iran. Although a country with skyscrapers, metro subways, and nuclear aspirations, their leaders believe in sorcery. The conflict between obnoxious President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei has now produced a spate of arrests; 25 people, associated with Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff, Mashaei, have been accused of being “magicians who evoke djinns” (evil spirits)-yes, like the ones who come more...

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Europe Has Immigration Problems on Steroids!


For all the problems we think we have with immigration, Europe’s problems far exceed ours. The US has always had a history of panic about new and alien groups pouring into our country (Irish, Italians, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and now Hispanics). But all of these groups came here to become American; they integrated and contributed. By and large, the same is true of Muslim immigrants to the US today—particularly Iranians and Afghans. In Europe, however, many in the flood more...

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Beware of Robot Hummingbirds and Other Spying Creatures



I hate to see reality impinge on the colorful world of conspiracy theories—but here it is. DARPA, the Research & Development branch of the US Department of Defense, is working on a robot hummingbird that flies and looks like the lively little bird itself—but is intended to spy on human activities. It is not yet ready to deploy, but it reminds me that the Pentagon is not the only institution thinking about such things. Nor are such inventions only used in warfare. They could more...

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How Do We Deal With “Sticks and Stones?”

In our present day culture, we have been taught (usually at mother’s knee) that “sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never harm you.” Annoying as it is to have people call you names, it does not warrant punching them in the face. But this is not so elsewhere, not did it used to be so in our own civilization’s past. What we are talking about here is “the honor culture.”

Until the middle of the 19th century, gentlemen fought duels of honor. That by ser more...

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Tyrants have a long history.


Shakespeare said “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown” Henry IV, Part Two. Throughout most of human history, kings ruled. They were thought to be annointed by God (or the gods), and were to be obeyed by all their subjects. But in some of the more advanced societies, kings were not all-powerful; there were exceptions.

Chinese culture demanded obedience to a king unless the king’s “mandate of heaven” was revoked. People could recognize that heaven no longer ble more...

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Iran Is Closer To Imploding

Although Iran is an Islamic dictatorship that controls its news, certain things are leaking out. The revolts in the Arab world are making them very nervous.

• Disloyal Opposition. The opposition leaders during the disputed 2009 presidential election did not mean to undo the Islamic Revolution. The millions who voted for the opposition just wanted a better and less pious president. However, after the government set goons on the peaceful demonstrators in the streets, the world wi more...

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Why Egypt and Not Iran?

We have just witnessed a modern popular change of government---a revolution of sorts. Most Egyptians appear to have agreed on one thing: to end of the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Tunisians in the streets rid themselves of their long-time dictator a couple of weeks earlier. Everybody in the Middle East is watching and waiting to see which other autocracies crumble. Iranians are watching too---their Islamic dictatorship with alarm and the public with bitterness that their 2009 attempt failed.
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Can National Cultures Really Change?


One of the best geo-political analysts and forecasters around is George Friedman, head of STRATFOR (Strategic Forecasts), whose services are used by people responsible for foreign policy making. His team travels, talks to important decision makers, and watches unfolding events from the perspective of history.

Does history really repeat itself? Friedman thinks it does. “The geopolitical is about the intersection of geography and politics. It assumes that the political lif more...

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December 2010

Being Nice Hasn’t Protected Sweden.

• The Grinch Steals Christmas.

Sweden, a country that has prided itself on its good sense, openness, decency, and neutrality has suddenly encountered the unexpected: the terror war coming home to them. Fortunately, the suicide bomber who wanted to blow up Swedes doing their Christmas shopping was incompetent—and he succeeded only in blowing up himself. You can be sure that the Swedes are now revisiting their practices regarding Islamist immigrants, as have all other European more...

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Sometimes Important News Hides in the Back Pages.


Iran’s Problems.
The latest news from Iran: sanctions are really starting to bite. The government has suspended subsidies for food and fuel—which will not please the masses used to the largesse of bread and circuses (stoning women for adultery). People may put up with bad justice systems—but do not take kindly to losing subsidies considered entitlements.

In addition, the internal stresses in Iran’s government are difficult to confirm. Iran has such a lo more...

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Iran’s Islamic Justice Is a Message to the World

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, convicted in 2006 for having an “illicit relationship” with two men after her husband was murdered (by someone) the year before has become a cause célèbre in the western world.

This woman was accused, arrested, tortured for a confession, and was scheduled to be stoned to death for adultery this summer. However, the outcry from the US and Europe got her a little extra time. The Iranian Islamic government, very annoyed at the uproar, then decided t more...

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September 2010

What “World Opinion” Are We Talking About?

Printed in Family Security Matters 9/24 and Santa Cruz Sentinel 9/25/10.

The UN’s opening session was September 21 this year and Iran’s president Ahmadinejad entertained us again at the opening. This is also a good time to review the UN’s concept of “world opinion.” The General Assembly seems only interested in Israel’s sins, while all other issues are neglected. There is malfeasance here.

Last summer in Lahor, Pakistan, gunmen stormed a hospital and sho more...

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Did We Have Guns of August Again?



There must be something about late summer that turns some countries belligerent. World War I began in August, 1914 and World War II started September 1, 1939. In September of 1806, Prussia and Russia declared war on Napoleon. All through the Middle Ages, wars also began in the fall, as did the famous war between England and France, ending in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 (see Shakespeare’s Henry V). Just a coincidence or is there a historic reason for this?

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Is There Any Hope for Afghanistan?

Imagine a country where:
• Five minutes out of the capital you need armed guards to travel.
• Without a national army or police, where only tribes and warlords control each region or fight with each other.
• The vast majority are not only illiterate, but are locked in a dreadful marriage of vengeful tribal law and an unenlightened Islam.
• That cannot defend itself from any its neighbors or from any great power that wants something there.
• T more...

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Germany Has Had a Curious Century of Islamic Relations.


Germans have been living in northern Europe for several thousand years. The Romans knew them as enemies at first, and later as applicants to be part of the Roman Empire. But Germany as a nation-state is new—1871—and as such, has scrambled to catch up with much older nation states of England and France.

Germany was late in empire building too—unlike Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. Part of the injured pride that spurred Hitler’s World War II was the lus more...

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Europe has an Identity Crisis.

There is an old Persian tale about a man who went up to a palace gate, banging on it and demanding entrance. The guard asked what he wanted. “I want to stay at this inn!” he said. “This is not an Inn,” said the guard. “It is a palace of the Shah.”

“Who lived there before him?” asked the man. “His father,” said the guard. “And before that?” “His grandfather and great-grandfather.”

“This sounds like an inn to me! People coming and going. more...

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Why is Sex Such a Global Problem?


For a biological system programmed for species survival, humans have manage to turn sex into a hideous institution for exercising power over others. This perversion of sex is used by some men to exert control over women, girls, and boys. What should be a partnership between mates, as in the rest of nature, is too often a bludgeon for abuse of power.

Of course, some men have grievances too, claiming that beautiful women (or any women) deliberately drive them wild with desir more...

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Was There an Original Human Religion?



Who would have thought as recently as the 1970s that we would be paying attention to an institution as old as religion—and for the modern world, one that was obsolete? But here we are in 2010 with religious issues—some of them deadly—in the daily news.

The Faith Instinct—How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures, by Nicholas Wade, makes a case that religion not only has an evolutionary (survival) basis, but also all of today’s religions have evolved out of more...

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Who Is “An Enemy of God?”


There is some very strange language coming out of Iran today. Unarmed Demonstrators) are being arrested, summarily tried, and executed. Their crime: they are “Enemies of God.” This now accompanies the earlier stupid crime designation: “a polluter of earth.” No, this is not an ecological crime; it is a crime against the government that considers any backtalk pollution. But enemy of God implies that the great ayatollah and the country’s illegitimately-elected president are eith more...

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October 2009

Is There Any Hope for Afghanistan?




Imagine a country where:
• Five minutes out of the capital you need armed guards to travel.
• Without a national army or police, where only tribes and warlords control each region or fight with each other.
• The vast majority are not only illiterate, but are locked in a dreadful marriage of vengeful tribal law and an unenlightened Islam.
• That cannot defend itself from any its neighbors or from any great power that wants somethi more...

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July 2009

The Iranian Revolution May Be In Phase Two


It is not easy to track the progress of the current Iranian Revolution, considering the blocking efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary government. However, people still come and go, and once out of Iran, talk. This includes analysts—several of the best of them, Iranian-born (Karim Sadjatpour and Trita Parsi), have been in Iran recently and have many contacts there.

President Obama correctly noted that “the dust has not settled” in the aftermath of the contentious (and more...

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September 2001

Janus Blindsided: The Islamic Revolution


Comparative Civilizations Review, No. 45, Fall 2001

I. Introduction
The Islamic Revolution of Iran has had spillover effect throughout the Middle East and the world. In the intervening two decades since that cataclysm, many scholars have attempted to analyze the causes and to speculate why a modernizing revolution turned into a backward march. Although scholars generally agree on the basic events of the monarchy's collapse, there is no agreement on the causes and more...

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