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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  

September 2017

Destroying Sacred Icons Is Not New.


A political cartoon in the Santa Cruz Sentinel showed two Islamist Muslims cheering on the dismantling of a Civil War statue. The cartoonist evidently agrees with President Trump that the destruction of these statues was no different than ISIS destroying the ancient treasures in Palmyra, or the Buddha statue in Afghanistan. Neither the cartoonist nor the President has much of a grip on history.

Winners throughout history destroy the artifacts of the losers. How strange th 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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November 2016

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...

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July 2016

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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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 1 of 2)


Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of how complex our alliances can be. I have heard from quite a few people that we should dump them as an ally. In the past, even I have muttered that after 9-11, we invaded the wrong countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) and should have taken down Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Of course we could not do this in a world of complex issues and even more complex relationships. We have needed each other for certain things over the past 60 plus years 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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The Long Decline of Christians in the Muslim World.

Secular Americans and Europeans are often reluctant to rush to the defense of Christians around the world. Our educations have taught us that the Christian West cruelly colonized the good but downtrodden people of the lesser- developed world. Many of today?s radicalized academics focus on Western racial bigotry; after all, only White people can be evil. They weep for the "underdog," hence the scorn for Israelis, who have the temerity to no longer be underdogs. The "poor Palestinians," no matter more...

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"Round Up the Usual Suspects!"


The Vichy French police chief in the delightful movie, Casablanca, hid his scorn for his Nazi bosses by "rounding up the usual suspects." The usual suspects were a roster of hapless escapees waiting to leave Casablanca for the United States. This standing joke has surfaced once more in today?s global war with Militant Islam.

Some of the "usual suspects" are real. France has just revoked the passes of 70 workers at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. These are baggage hand more...

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October 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 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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Asking the Wrong Question Can Lead to War.

The United States has gone to war twice by asking the wrong questions. Fortunately for us, even though we did not "win" either of those wars (in the conventional sense, such as the way we won World Wars I and II), we did not lose them either. No enemy came to our shores and conquered us. But in both of those wars, we made a terrible mess of two countries and suffered a terrible cost of young lives of our own, costs that we are still paying. Those two wars were the Vietnam War and the second Iraq more...

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The Candidates Are Missing the Right Answer About the Iraq War!


Watching all the candidates for the 2016 election dancing on a tightrope trying to answer the question about why they voted to go into Iraq in 2003 (or what lesson they should have learned from this "mistake") is painful and unnecessary. There is a simple answer to this dilemma that nobody seems to want to say. Yet this answer is being played out right under our noses.

It was not a mistake to remove a dangerous, murderous, unpredictable dictator such as Saddam Hussein! We 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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November 2014

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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August 2014

Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?


Did the US go to war with the wrong countries when we took on Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps we should have gone after our ?good allies? Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who were really responsible for 9/11. This is, of course, wishful thinking considering the many ways that we need relations with these two countries, so we hold our noses and deal with them as ?frenemies,? not friends.

Pakistan grows more troubling by the day, with the Islamists increasingly violent and the secul more...

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Are ISIS and ISIL Based on Religion or Ideology?


When we hear the word ISIS, we usually think of the great Egyptian goddess of antiquity. Today's ISIS is not a goddess, but is a resentful Islamic military cult that has no clue of what it wants, only what it doesn't want. It does not want western civilization, except for its weapons and medicines for their warriors and elderly leaders. Its only policies involve slaughter, amputating the limbs of thieves, and total enslavement of women. They love public whipping and executions, which the more...

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The Borders in the Middle East are Changing.


A century ago, the First World War broke out and at its conclusion, the political geography of the world changed. The Ottoman Empire fought on the wrong side of that war and it dissolved tumultuously, with all its colonies ?liberated? and the Turks reduced to a new and exclusively Turkish country. At that empire?s height (15th - 20th centuries), it ruled over Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Levant (Syria), Egypt, and across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic. Its European holdings includ more...

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Does Iraq Have a Future?


The blame game is going on about Iraq?s descent into regional warfare. This is a futile exercise unless changes of policy and real geopolitical insight go along with the blame.

The Bush administration is rightly blamed for involving the US in an invasion of the wrong country, using specious excuses. However, that invasion could have done the region good by just removing Saddam Hussein, a very dangerous opportunist who threatened the region. But real blame should fall on th more...

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“The Religion of Peace” gets Brandeis Support


On just one day, and appearing on just one page of the San Francisco Chronicle (April 10), three articles appeared about bomb blasts perpetrated by Muslim extremists murdering other Muslims.

• Pakistan. The first was in Pakistan (22 killed, 83 grievously wounded by nuts and bolts packed in a carton of fruit). These fanatics particularly like exploding in open marketplaces where they can maximize killing the most women and children. This attack took place in Islamabad, P more...

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Let's Give them a Big Hand: Current Darwin Awards

Periodically, I round up all the most stupid human behaviors that manage to reach the press worldwide. My view is that these individuals are so stupid that they should not contribute to the human gene pool. The fact that they do contribute provides the ongoing fodder for this review.

o Women Driving. The Saudis are notorious for keeping their women from driving automobiles. Their reasons cannot be Koranic, since the Prophet Mohammad did not have automobiles and couldn't forbid more...

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November 2013

Why Some Women Love Violence.

There is an old joke (a John Wayne movie?) that tells of why women put up with violent husbands. “How else can I know he loves me?”

In the developed world, wife beating is no longer considered a sign of love; it is bullying, intimidating, and criminal, which means the batterer can go to prison. But in the modern world, where violence against women is no longer tolerated, it is a mystery why some modern women choose to convert to Islam where wife beating is common. Some not onl 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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August 2013

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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Time for the “Democracy Project” to go!


It is very painful to retire a foreign policy initiative that has been with us since Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Americans have long believed that democracy is exactly what benighted cultures around the world want. We assume that if tyranny could be removed, long suffering people would want to vote for good people to govern them. We assume, wrongly, that everybody wants freedom.

President Wilson promoted World War I as a crusade to make the world safe for democracy. By the end more...

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Foreign Policy: When Is Humanitarian Intervention in our Interest?

Most American voters don’t care about American foreign policy until something comes to bite them. But every so often, specific groups get involved in seeking intervention for their particular ethnic interests: Armenians wanting condemnation for Turkey who committed a genocide about which, for almost a century now, Turks have refuse to recognize or apologize.

Sometimes groups want to affect American law, such as those with hysterical fear of Chinese immigration, based on a notio more...

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December 2012

What Can a Husband Do About a Disobedient Wife?


A month ago, an Iraqi woman was found on a roadside, beaten to death. A sign was pinned on her: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” There was immediate hand-wringing from good-hearted people, led by the Islamic American legal propagandists (CAIR), pointing to one more hate crime against American Muslims.

Because there have been very few American Muslims murdered by American thugs, my antennae went up. In short order, the police in El Cajon announced that the mu more...

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May 2012

Is There a Legal Problem with “Hate Crimes?”

The definition of “hate crime” is one of those overkill legislative initiatives with unforeseen consequences. It is noble to recognize that some people commit crimes out of hate, but a murder is a murder, and this should be enough.

How can we possibly know a criminal’s inner thoughts (his hatred for his victim); furthermore, even if we can know this for certain, what difference does it make to the victim? The hatred of the murderer should only reflect upon the ultimate sent 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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August 2011

Do We Know What Makes People Evil?


What could make a nice Middle Class Norwegian murder 74 people because he hated his government? Or make an American Baptist college student convert to Islam and murder soldiers at an Arkansas recruitment center? Does human evil come from our genes (nature) or from our upbringing (nurture)? The debate is unresolved.

Genetic advocates can show that certain things in brain chemistry can create impulsiveness, hot temper, and sometimes inability to empathize with the pains of more...

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How Goes Democracy Around the World?

Democracy Project. The United States has long had a “democracy project.” After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson tried to establish an organization that would midwife newly freed colonies into democracies. He was instrumental in establishing the first “World Government,” the League of Nations, but a key Senator prevented the US from joining. That organization without us had even less teeth than today's United Nations.

At the end of World War II, the US has once more p more...

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October 2010

Why Are We No Longer On The Same Page?

I remember when more Americans shared core values than had contentious differences. We have always had both Republicans and Democrats who valued fiscal prudence and self-reliance and both believed in the value of government. Both shared the values of a society of law and order, of vigorous but courteous debate, and of winning or losing an argument with grace. The losers in a national election still treated the president of the winning party with respect, and worked with him even while disagree more...

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Take Another Look at Tony Blair—Who Maybe Got It Right.

History does not necessarily validate contemporary assessments of famous politicians. Tony Blair, one of the most popular British Prime Ministers ever, left office under a cloud of opprobrium, not only by his own countrymen, but American progressives as well. He was condemned for having supported the war in Iraq (the 2003 war) and was dubbed “George Bush’s Poodle.” This is a sad end to what was a dazzling career—but maybe it is not the last word.

In Philadelphia (September more...

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