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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  

March 2017

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...

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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...

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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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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...

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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...

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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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Israel?s Changing Neighborhood


When Israel first became a nation, a unified Muslim world (in particular, Arab world) invaded, hoping to destroy the nascent state. The Arabs did not prevail, but that did not stop them for trying 13 other times since 1947.

In the past 12 months alone, Israel faced 407 terror attacks, including 165 stabbings, 87 attempted stabbings, 107 shootings, 47 vehicular attacks, and one bus bombing. All this is in a country the size of New Jersey!

Today, however, the more...

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September 2016

Is There Global Rule of Law?


During President Obama?s recent visit to Asia, he spoke about Global Norms to students in Laos. He also said that America has been an enormous force for the good in the world, but that we often think that because of our size and clout, we do not need to know much about the rest of the world. Some people will be annoyed by this comment, but I think it is obvious. Only a steady ten percent of the American public has any interest in foreign policy, which is too bad, considering how importan more...

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The Fuss over Headscarves

When President Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin wall and said: "Mr. Gorbachev, Take Down This Wall." Some of the President?s advisers were horrified that he said this, considering it very undiplomatic. The President was very lucky---that shortly after his challenge, events converged, resulting in the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the USSR.

The PBS program Frontline recently did an investigative report on Saudi Arabia, not an easy thing to do considering how paranoid and close more...

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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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Beliefs that Kill

What people believe matters. There are some beliefs around the world that result in murder. So many of us are like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who said, when Alice noted "One can?t believe impossible things:" "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I?ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Too many of us believe impossible things.

? Albinos. The people in Malawi, in Africa, believe that Albinos should be abd more...

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Religion, Sexuality, and Homosexuality


Many well-meaning people believe that the murderous aspects of today?s Muslim true-believers is a perversion of a good religion. To say that there are many Muslims who live peaceful lives is true. But a sizable minority of violent Muslims (Islamists) have Islamic texts to back them up. Islam is a religion, like all other religions, and the behavior of its adherents depends upon how literally they choose to practice their faith. I criticize all "true believers" for their choice of literal more...

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


A country as insignificant as Saudi Arabia before oil would have mattered little to the world. In the 1950s, as oil wealth began to pour in, the Saudi princes wanted the same sorts of conspicuous consumption enjoyed by other world millionaires. When they first brought in automobiles (for themselves), the Wahhabi clergy were outraged, considering camels good enough for pious Muslims. Cameras and, later, television, were also on their list of harmful items for Saudi culture.

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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What Use Are Good Manners?

Being "polite" is not just a matter of saying please and thank you. Courtesy has always been the lubricant that makes the wheels of society turn smoothly. There is a movement today to conflate honesty with rudeness, mocking the "politically correct." Political correctness is an exaggerated monitoring of words and thoughts that might offend others. The revolt by some against political correctness is that these constraints sometimes muzzle debate. However, the revolt against "political correctness more...

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With Women Like These?..

For all the vaunted "sisterhood" among women, we need to be aware that some are not always our friends. On January 17, a woman professor at Egypt's al-Azhar University, opined that "Allah allows Muslims to rape non-Muslim women." One would think that for a Muslim university to admit a woman professor at all is amazingly liberated; however, it is apparent that this woman is in no way a feminist.

Another "champion for women," a female Kuwaiti politician, Salwa al-Mutairi, promoted more...

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How Our Presidents Promote Tolerance

The United States was founded just as the European Enlightenment swept through. The Enlightenment occurred after two centuries of religious wars had exhausted not only Europe?s population, but also its intellectuals. Ordinary people were not theologians; they simply retreated to the various sects accepted by their families or rulers. Southern Europeans remained Catholic, while the more economically progressive north (England, Scotland, Scandinavia, and northern Germany) and their rulers favored 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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Poll Finds Christian-Muslim Divide on Religious Freedom.


The Associated Press put out an article on December 31 on a poll taken in the United States about religious freedom. A vast majority placed a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of Christians (and Jews) than for other faith groups, ranking Muslims as the least deserving of these protections.

The article seems to be critical of American suspicion of Muslims and belief that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers. " more...

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December 2015

The History of How Religions Change.


People on both ends of the political spectrum are stumbling around in their concern about Islam?s future. On the conservative side is the belief that the West is at war with the Muslim world. This is true. The West is responding to Islamic radicalism?s war against not only the West, but against secular Muslims themselves.

On the liberal side is the mistaken view that Islam is just a religion like other religions and given enough time will modernize. Islam is not just a rel more...

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Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia: a Primer


A reader once called me a racist in response to an article I wrote criticizing Islamism. I was puzzled because Islam is not a race and criticism of its more poisonous aspects is an attack on an ideology, not individuals.

Today, Muslim activists using their legal arm, CAIR, accuse anybody who criticizes Militant Islam of "Islamophobia," hatred of Muslims. They use this term as the equivalent of the anti-Semitism, or hatred of Jews. However, we need to be clearer in our use more...

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The Saudis Are Not Alone in Religious Stampedes.


When I was a child, my father said: "never chase an ambulance!" He warned that mobs of people can quickly turn lethal, something that he remembered as a child himself when pogroms roiled Russia. I have a life-long horror for crushes of people, and, apparently, with good reason.

In September, Saudi Arabia hosted the annual Hajj, an event that they should have by now learned how to manage. Millions of people descend upon Mecca and reenact a Koranic story about Abraham's conc 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

Another View of Pope Francis

Santa Cruz Sentinel
September 21, 2015l

Editor:

As much as we admire charming Pope Francis and as much as we usually dismiss columnist George Will as a conservative mouthpiece, his column (September 21) was brave and well worth reading! Will takes on Francis' attack on capitalism as wrongheaded and supports that view with solid facts.

Capitalism (and the scientific revolution) have been responsible for the tripling of life expectancy even in th more...

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Religious fanaticism still defies the Secular State.


While stupid killers around the world go on their endless rounds of murdering people in the name of their medieval religion, others are engaged in the great human enterprise (such as the Pluto flyby) of exploring space.

An international coalition of astronomers is building the largest telescope in the world at the summit of a "sacred" Hawaiian mountain, Mauna Kea. When completed, this 98-foot-aperture telescope will permit more than nine-times the collecting area of the l 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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Human Rights Widen In the West, Vanish Elsewhere.

On June 26, the United States extended its freedoms to one more group of fellow citizens, homosexuals, who now have the equality in marriage. Over many centuries before this, homosexual males were jailed, beaten, tortured, and scorned. Female homosexuals were forced into marriage, institutionalized, or shunned.

In Muslim societies, even today, homosexuality is technically forbidden but socially rampant, particularly practiced against boys by those responsible for them (including more...

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Marriage of One Man and One Woman, a Sacred History?


The Supreme Court has not weighed in on the issue of Gay Marriage yet, but plenty of people have had their say, in and out of the court. Even those who believe that it is time to recognize that a same sex couple should have the dignity of being recognized as a family with the same rights as a married couple do note that marriage has a long traditional history of being the sacred union of one man and one woman.

However, I choke when I hear that one. Does it really? Do thes more...

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Europe?s Newest Invasion needs Tough Love.


As Europeans wring their hands over the arrival of desperate boat people swarming from an Africa that seems to be in death throes, Italy is being shamed into rescuing them. How can they not? How can anybody in Europe not be shamed to relive the last time they created refugees when Yugoslavia was in meltdown? Or before that, when Jews had to flee, or when that savior of refugees, America, turned away ships, sending Jews back to the Nazis who then murdered them?

But as a hi 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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Puritans Are So Threatened By Pleasure!


There has always been a strain in religions from the beginning of time that has feared pleasure. Perhaps it is connected with a struggle between male and female power. Without wanting to push this too far, women can be a distraction. "Let's play!" distracts from the serious work of hunting with the fellows or thinking serious philosophical thoughts in the monastery. Female beauty makes men, even late into their dotage, weak in the knees. My sourpuss puritanical grandfather was pinching t more...

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Poor Jihadi John: People Picked on Him!


"Jihadi John" has been identified as Mohammad Emwazi, a young immigrant from Kuwait, welcomed and reared as a privileged Englishman with a college degree in computer science from the University of Westminster in London. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

But let us look at the surprise that so many people express that this "nice, gentle boy" should turn into the monster whom we all saw taking pleasure in decapitating people (who had done him no harm) in a most the more...

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Human Trafficking Numbers Are Spun From Fantasy.


The subject of Human Trafficking is appearing in the press this month largely because of the Foreign Policy Association?s "Great Decisions Program." Sixty Minutes ran one dispiriting feature of a human rights official in Northern India trying to get enforcement from indifferent police to raid a prostitution ring. It seems that the reluctant police warned the fathers in advance, fathers who were the pimps selling their own daughters.

Years ago, a reporter in Lagos, Nigeri more...

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Whose Fault Are the French Jihadi Murders?


After a horror such as the French-born Muslim assassinations of the editors and cartoonists of a national humor magazine who "insulted" Islam, everyone asks: whose fault was this? Were the French intelligence sources inadequate? Did the sarcastic humor of the French journal provoke sensitive Muslims? Were the killers not sufficiently loved by their mothers? The only question not overtly asked was: "Is there something about Islam that promotes murderous rage?" Even without asking this, Mu more...

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December 2014

Belief and Writing: It Must Be True If It Is Written Down.


Fanatics are not called "true believers" for nothing. Whether the belief is religious or political, somebody?s writings are always the basis for "true belief." Communism originally stemmed from the practices of early Christianity, but with the writings of Marx and Lenin, the basis shifted. Russian communists were fervent believers in the truth of the observations of Marx and Lenin.

The Nazis based their Aryan Superiority ideology on the 19th century anthropologist Arthur d more...

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Europe Rethinks Multiculturalism

Americans, unlike Europeans, have always made room for new citizens from other countries. Since the end of World War II, however, western European countries have been trying to counter their old patterns of bigotry by welcoming all immigrants fleeing horrors in their old countries. The governments of the UK, France, Germany, and Scandinavia have offered social services, welfare, housing, and public schooling for the newcomers.

What they have not done is to make demands on immigra more...

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Debates About "Intrinsic Islam"

Some noisy public debates are going on about the sensitive issue of the "intrinsic" nature of Islam. Two members of the liberal intelligentsia (Bill Maher and Sam Harris), who do not find any religion logical, have dared to say that the well-intentioned mantra that "Islam is a religion of peace" is baloney. Islam, they say, is intrinsically violent. The respected public intellectual Fareed Zakaria chastised Maher and Harris for condemning this huge world-wide religion. Too broad a brush, he said more...

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September 2014

Will Islam Address Its Internal Crisis?

Muslims have lived so long with governments they cannot trust that the rumor mill serves as their source of information. Conspiracy theories are the favorite explanations for all the horrors in the world. If you cannot blame Allah, you must find someone you can blame.

The latest conspiracy theory comes out of the Netherlands, where a Muslim woman, Yasmina Haifi, who works in the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, has given us the following: ?The Islamic State isn?t Islamic at more...

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Al Qaeda Spawned A Monster Child, The Islamic Caliphate.


Middle East analysts are trying to assess this new beast that has emerged out of Islamist dysfunction: ISIL or, as they like to call themselves, The Islamic State. The borders of this imagined ?state? are vague because this cult does not recognize borders. Their aim is to melt all the boundaries established by the victorious powers of World War I, which dismantled the Ottoman Empire and parceled out the lands to newly minted countries (Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia more...

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Proxy Wars Have Unanticipated Consequences


Getting somebody else to fight while you watch is an old idea. ?Let me hold your coat,? says an onlooker in a bar fight. Even better is watching a prizefight in which poor, unfortunate idiots beat each other to a pulp for entertainment and prize money.

World War II was actually the last time that major powers were locked in deadly combat. Since that time, almost all wars have involved proxies: conflicts in which the actual beneficiaries are not doing the fighting. The enti more...

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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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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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What is Boko Haram and Why Should We Care?


An army of dirt-ignorant terrorists has been running rampant in Africa for the past few years. They call themselves ?Boko Haram,? which has been liberally translated as ?Foreign Education is Sinful.? But this is as misleading as when the Taliban first appeared on the scene in Afghanistan. Their name was translated as ?students,? a strange term for phenomenally ignorant rote memorizers of the Koran in a language few of them understood.

Boko Haram is just what its words say more...

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What the Map Can Tell You.



I am of a generation that remembered geography as one of my favorite subjects in grade school, a subject no longer taught. We learned to read maps, study globes, and learn about the various cultures of the world. In art class, we drew pictures of the various peoples around the world with distinctive clothes (the Dutch with wooden shoes and pointy caps or the Chinese with silk pajamas and long pigtails). Geography was not just memorizing world capital cities.

Today 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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Putin’s Ideological Fantasy of Russian “Spirituality.”

David Brooks had a brilliant column recently on Putin’s historic mission to restore Russia to the world stage, recover what it can of control over what was once the Soviet Union (and before that the Russian Empire), and assert Russia’s moral superiority over the “corrupt secular west.”

I choked over that last one because their moral superiority is a fantasy indeed. Russia’s “moral superiority” rests on three ideas, as written by Putin’s favorite Russian philosopher more...

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The Russian Bear Still Has Teeth Laina Farhat-Holzman


Many of us miss the Cold War, not because it was without violence (there was, but nothing like that of the two World Wars), but because the antagonist was so interesting. As Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” But perhaps it is not as mysterious as we thought then. We only need look at its geography and history to see inevitable continuity---an eternal Russia.

Another reason for preferring the Cold War’s Russia to today more...

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Is Militant Islam Facing an Endgame?

Many intellectuals believe that the political right-wing is “demonizing” Islam. This is a conundrum, because it appears that Islam is demonizing itself. How peaceful is a religion when it is obviously going through a fever fueled by resentment, fear of modernity, and a phase of religiosity that is as much at war with its own people as it is against the rest of the world?

Religions are like rivers: there is upstream, downstream, rapids, still waters, and a delta where the relig more...

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Nelson Mandela Soared Above The Real World.


In late December, the remarkable Nelson Mandela died at 95, leaving behind many admirers, but few followers in governance. His funeral brought together world leaders---astonishing, considering that half a century ago, he was imprisoned as a terrorist by the apartheid South African government. But most remarkable was his release from prison, his forgiveness for those who had harmed him, and his leadership as the first Black president of South Africa. He established a model of racial tole more...

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October 2013

Insane, or just “Intellectually Challenged?”

When criminal perpetrators go to court, lawyers and judges still have problems with the “insanity defense.” The courts in Florida determined that an obviously demented man knew what he was doing when he murdered eight people in the 1970s. They finally got through all the appeals and executed him, to the howls of those who both oppose capital punishment and especially oppose executing the “insane” or, in some cases, the Intellectually Challenged (very low IQ). To some others, the fact th more...

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Democracy Has Strings Attached.


Democracy means “Rule by the people.” First devised by the ancient Athenians, native freeborn men of property could cast votes for issues of importance to their city. Discussions before the vote were carried out in the public marketplace, where all voters could assemble. Over time, however, the system become corrupted and some unfortunate decisions were made (such as going to war against fellow Greeks) that made the democracy collapse.

The Romans modified the Greek sys more...

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August 2013

Europe Has an Ostrich Problem: Denial of Immigrant Violence


Despite the howls of some reactionaries against American immigration reform, it is clear that most people come here to better their lives. They are decent, hard working, and ready to become real Americans, (with the exception of the radicalized few, such as the Somali youths bamboozled into becoming suicide bombers). With exceptions (in Michigan and Minnesota), there are few Muslim ghettos in the US.

Europe's immigration problem is different. Muslim immigrants from some of 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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How Do Religions Modernize?


Religions can modernize. When we explore the history of how human beings coped with fear, disasters both natural and man-made, fertility, and death, we see great changes to the religions of our most ancient ancestors.

• Pantheism. Our ancestors invented systems for coping with existential fears. They saw the divine all around them: initially as forces to be placated, but also to be honored and celebrated. The ancient Greeks, for example, modernized their earlier pantheis more...

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Are We in an Everlasting War?


President Obama recently declared that it was time to end our war on terror. Some consider this stupid because individual terror attacks still go on, but I think the President is right. Unless we plan to invade Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and clean out their Islamists, we no longer have a war in which a country is involved. He did not say that terrorism was over; but these nasty terror cells can be managed by police and FBI and tried as criminals.

President Obama does have a more...

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Do We have an Empathy Deficit?


One of the key attributes of the truly civilized is empathy: being able to comprehend the feelings of others around us. Most babies have this attribute, showing great distress when in a room with a baby who is crying. Some animals have this as well, most apparent in good dogs who are very gentle with a human baby or who befriend an animal of another species. I recall seeing a clip on television about a young dog who befriended a fawn, the two playing together with great delight.
< 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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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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Algeria’s Bloody Siege Shows Al Qaeda Gone Global


In the 1990s, well before the 9/11 attack on America, historian Samuel D. Huntington, in a groundbreaking work called The Clash of Civilizations, noted that throughout the world, every country with Islamic neighbors had “bloody borders.” This book came out at a time that optimists were predicting “the end of history” and, perhaps, the end of war. Huntington was attacked as a pessimist and racist to boot.

Once more, this dazzling scholar proved his critics wrong. He more...

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October 2012

The Sad Tale of Three Misled Young People Unfolds


Most of us who are conscientious about rearing our children try to let them learn from small mistakes or small bad choices. However, it is difficult to know if a mistake is small or not, or if it will blight their lives forever. Three young people in the news have made large mistakes, and one of them died as a result.

The three are: Rachel Corrie, John Walker Lindh, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, all of whom were undone by fanatical attachment to extremist ideologies. Their mi more...

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September 2012

What Does “Educated” Mean?


The newly elected president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which should alarm us a bit. But we are being reassured that he has a Ph.D. in Engineering from an American university---USC.

Iran’s president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, also has an Iranian Ph.D. in Engineering. Syria’s dictator has a degree in ophthalmology from England. We will find leaders from all over the developing world with such degrees. How “educated” are they?

The UN’s more...

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Is the danger of domestic terrorism exaggerated?


Sentinel
September 1, 2012

As the next anniversary of the 9/11/01 terror attack approaches, there are growing differences between people who think that the danger is still there and those who believe this is merely “Islamophobia.” Those who think Muslims are the being unfairly targeted are missing the point. The vast majority of domestic and foreign terror hopefuls are Islamists, way outnumbering the lone-wolf shooters (shootings in movie theatres, universities, more...

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Who is attacking Science?

The world we now live in is largely the product of science. Thanks to science we have doubled our life spans over just one century: the result of clean water, antibiotics, birth control, and the medical care that keeps women in childbirth (and their babies) alive. We have become so accustomed to this that many people do not even think about such a wonder.

Instead, far too many people are ignorant of how science works, convinced that science is in competition with religion. Thes more...

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Religion Has Two Faces: Benevolent and Malevolent.

Militant atheists believe that religion is entirely negative, stupid, and harmful to human beings. Religious historians believe that without religion, a civilization has no moral guidance and no sense of community. Some of today’s extremist religious sects are growing because modernization has produced such existential pain for them. A key sticking point for many, of course, is the emancipation of women. With freedom for women, they ask, what will happen to families?

We have al more...

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Now the Pentagon is Being Muzzled for Being “Critical of Islam.”


The Pentagon is where military preparedness is fostered. In our system of government, the military is subordinated to civilian control, which is as it should be. They are not, as in so many countries, our bosses who maintain that position through fear. However, there are factions in this country that would like to see the military defanged, and, if possible, disbanded.

How convenient it would be for Anarchists, Islamists, and any nation states that would like to see us ren more...

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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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Should the New York Security Police Be Called Off?

Several reporters have received the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for their investigation of the New York Police Department “spying” on Muslim communities. These reporters claim Muslims are being “unfairly profiled” and their privacy violated. Should we make the police stop their spying? Do we want no profiling at all, in the name of “fairness?”

The first duty of all government is to protect people from violence and criminal activity. Most of us, even those champions more...

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Fear and Loathing or Analysis and Perspective?

There are two ways to analyze the violent eruption of global terrorist attacks that have marked the past three decades: analyze the nature of the threat and the culture supporting it, or blame it all on the evils of Western colonialism and American militarism. The latter analysis is the choice of the “politically correct,” who say that terrorism is as rampant in the West as it is in the Muslim world. A truth check, however, will tell us that for every Western terrorist (such as Timothy McVei 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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The Clash of Civilizations Has New Venues


When historian Samuel Huntington wrote Clash of Civilizations in 1997, our already politically-correct culture found him over the top at best, and bigoted at worst. Academics around the world weighed in at conferences and in reviews of this book, many of them uncomfortable over his picture of Islam.

Huntington recognized that the end of the Cold War did not mean the end of conflict in the world. The newest variety would be more difficult in some ways than that between the more...

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There Are No Easy Answers for US Policy in Syria

It is distressing to see Syrian people-ordinary civilians-hunkering down in bunkers without sufficient food, water, or medicine. Syrians look at us on screen and wonder why nobody is helping them. Why are we not?

Arab dictatorships have similarities. Syria has been run by a father and son, the Assads, for the past half century. Tunisia, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt were others. They all began as secular dictatorships; Islam did not have the pride of place it enjoyed in the past.
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What Is America’s “Worldview?”


How we vote, behave, and think is based on our view of the world. Whether consciously or not, we all have beliefs about human nature, and these views shape us. These worldviews are the product of our various religions and the experiences of our European, Asian, or African ancestors. They fall into the following categories:

• Man is basically evil (sinful), and must be restrained by firm governance;
• Man is born innocent and good, and learns evil from society; more...

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Religious Intolerance is the World's Normal. Can it Be Fixed?



The West has brought an amazing baby into the world: religious tolerance. The lesser developed world is still enmeshed in the ancient notion that there is only one religion and that all others must be not only avoided, but wiped out if possible. Religious fanaticism is an ancient human horror.

Tolerance does not necessarily mean love, but means that we can live and let live) with people who worship differently (within limits) or are female or homosexual. This to more...

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What Happens When People Suddenly Have Choices?


The very notion that people have choices in their lives is so new that much of world is still reeling from this idea. For the millennia since the emergence of homo sapiens, choices have been limited. Survival depended upon families, tribes, and later kingdoms, where individual choice was inconceivable, except for the leader, whether father, clan chief, or king. Bad decisions could bring disaster on them all, and leaders were always challenged by others who would then make decisions. Dict more...

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Arab Spring Is a Conflict between Religion and Nationalism.


The enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its birth of democracy in the Middle East gives me heartburn. What we hoped is not what we got. Now, as disillusion sets in, not only ours, but also that of the young demonstrators (particularly young women) who shed their own blood in Tahrir Square and Tunisia, we need to see what the optimists missed.

We have again mistaken voting for democracy. Although people who have never had choices love to vote, they really do not like choices 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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Is Human Violence Really on the Wane? Part 1 of 2

Despite rampant pessimism at the moment, history can show us that life has never been better. The majority of today's humans have more to eat, better health, more stable governance, and much less violence than ever before. Violence needs to be seen in context.

Several authors (The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and A History of Violence: From the end of the Middle Ages to the Present) insist that violence has decline---even in the face of the horrific 20th more...

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What are the Best and Worst Countries for Women? (Part 2)


Last week, I addressed a major issue for most of the world’s women: marriage. This time, there are other issues equally important: women getting a fair justice system, access to health services, education, economics, and political participation. Newsweek (September 26, ) did an enormous service by providing in-depth articles (“The Global Women’s Progress Report”) and some very revealing charts show the best places to be a woman and the worst. There was also a searing article on more...

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September 2011

How Did the Media Cover 9/11?


Ten years after the most horrific foreign attack on America (the British in I812 and the Japanese in 1941), we are looking back to see how this attack affected our national character. Considering the horrific nature of 9/11, we responded with astonishing nobility and some expected missteps. We are a nation that habitually underestimates an enemy-and then overestimates this same enemy. It takes a while to get it right.

Watching how people in New York, especially the first r more...

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Which “Defamation of Religion” Does the UN Human Right Commission Dislike?

Some people claim that the Norwegian mass murderer was inspired by “Islamophobes,” people critical of Militant Islam. They say that warnings by such scholars as Robert Spenser and Brigitte Gabriel about Islamists infiltrating European culture fostered Mr. Breivik’s rampage. Perhaps, they may think, if nobody said anything unpleasant about Islam, the European Right Wing might have gone after their usual target, Jews, rather than Muslims, and nobody would care. But the problem of integrating more...

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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 Do We (and Afghanistan) Negotiate with the Taliban?


It is a matter of doctrine that if the conflicts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan?) are to be resolved, military force alone cannot do it. Our planners are trying to separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda, as though they are really different. I do not believe they have ever been different in philosophy or tactics.

On June 29, the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, was on fire, after being attacked by nine Taliban (or Haqqani Gang) suicide bombers. Only one was an actual 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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There Are Consequences For Lying


Brain scientists tell us that when brains are scanned to see which areas light up, brains scan differently when told a known lie or truth. Even without brain scans, it should be obvious that those who live where truthfulness is promoted live in a community of trust. Those who are accustomed to living in a culture where lying is part of survival are resigned to it, but not happy.

Trust and truth go hand in hand. As children, we either learn to trust our parents and their tr 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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What is the future of religion around the world?


The United States is, and has long been, a religious country, sometimes to the point of obsession. Our safety net is having no officially recognized state religion; we have instead vigorous competition among faiths so that no one can dominate.

Around the world there seems to be an explosion of Islam, thanks to rampant population growth and prison conversion. But demographers already note that fertility rates around the world have peaked and are in decline. Muslim countrie more...

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Is Peace Breaking Out in the Middle East?


We keep hearing that peace in the Middle East only requires a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. The outbreak of what is being called “the Arab Spring” has proven this notion wrong. None of the Muslim countries currently in ferment give a hoot about the Palestinians and Israelis; they want to get out from under dictatorial regimes that have held them in thrall for decades

They want “freedom” and “dignity.” modernity, prosperity, and the decent li more...

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Why Is There Hysteria Over Radical Islam Hearings?


Congressman Peter King's hearings on the alarming radicalization of young Muslims has met a firestorm of criticism. I would agree with some critics that these hearings should explore all domestic terrorism rather than just Islamist, including domestic fascist and armed racist cults. However, we cannot pretend that there is no Muslim problem.

Two important Muslim witnesses at the hearings include Dr. Zhudi Jasser and Asra Nomani. Jasser is founder of the American Islamic 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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How Goes It With Women Around the World?

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
Santa Cruz Sentinel
March 5, 2011

International Women's Day is coming up on March 8. Regarding women as human beings, equal in rights and dignity with men, is the boldest revolutionary change for mankind and is only a product of modern Western civilization. This view is not universal. Much of the world sees women as property to be disposed of as the men see fit. As my late mother-in-law once noted, it is better to be lucky than good.
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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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Tunisia Is Not the Model For Other Arab World “Revolutions”

Tunisia, one of the more stable dictatorships in the Arab world, has erupted into what looks like a revolution. While this may remind us of the failed revolution last summer in Iran, the Tunisian dictator and his wife have left the country after a 23-year run. In Iran, the dictators are still there—barely holding on.

What makes this particular revolution significant is that it is not happening in a vacuum. Tunisia is a small country (10.6 million) in North Africa, close to south 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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Let’s Round Up The Usual Suspects


Norgrove Rescue.
A young British woman, Linda Norgrove, who was working in Afghanistan as an aid worker, was kidnapped in September. Her Afghan colleagues taken with her had been released by the Taliban, but she was still being held. An American special operations force tried to rescue her—but during their attack, there was an explosion and she (and her kidnappers) were killed.

How was this covered in the press? There were headlines saying “U.S. rescue force m more...

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Paul Berman: The Flight of the Intellectuals, Melville House, 2010.

One of the most amazing transformations of our time is that a large block of important intellectuals, who still think of themselves as liberals, are supporting some monstrous reactionaries. This phenomenon was taken up by Jonah Goldberg in his Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, Doubleday, 2007. He made a case for noting that whether they consider themselves leftist or rightist, these groups all descend from the same source: the Fr more...

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Is the West Really Islamophobic—Or Under Attack?

An AP article on October 5/6 ran with a headline: “5 Germans killed in Pakistan with Europe on Alert.” Had the Nazi party revived? Reading further, the article said: “An American missile strike killed five German militants Monday in the rugged Pakistan border area where a cell of Germans and Britons at the heart of the U.S. terror alert for Europe---a plot U.S. officials link to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden—were believed in hiding.”

This long paragraph never mention more...

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Book Review: Tom Holland: The Forge of Christendom:

Tom Holland: The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, Anchor Books, 2008.

One of the most fascinating Medieval centuries was the 11th. The year 1000 was ushered in with near hysteria that this millennium year since the birth of Christ would be the beginning of the end for humanity. When the skies didn’t open up to the “end of days” in 1000, the next date chosen was 1033—the millennium of Christ’s death and resurrection. That year also ca more...

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“The Sky Is Falling” Is Alive and Well—Again.


We are already past the millennium year 2000 (or was it actually 2001 that began the century) and the sky didn’t fall. Now what? Are we ready to recognize the new millennium as the beginning of something or will we still cling to knee-jerk pessimism?

In the year 1000, Europe panicked about the “end of times” that would probably cast them all into hellfire and damnation. The year 1,000 came and went, but the skies never opened. With a little ingenuity, the forecast more...

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September 2010

Sticks and Stones Go Big Time.


An idiot preacher with a congregation of maybe 50 people threatens to burn 200 Korans on 9/11 and the world goes mad! This incident shows us the downside of 24/7 news coverage. In Pakistan, a country that can afford to make nuclear weapons but not educate its young, is all up in arms when hearing that somebody is going to burn Korans. The usual rent-a mobs riot and burn American flags (and of course, this does not offend us, does it?) And one loudmouth grabs the microphone to announce 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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Religious Toleration Has Never Been Absolute.


The First Amendment of the US Constitution requires: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

There is no quarrel that Americans have the right to have their own religion (and that the government will not select an official one) and that they ma more...

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Laina At the Movies, August, 2010

FAREWELL. I am recommending a movie that you might only be able to get on Netflix because it has come and will go with little notice. The reason to notice it is that not only is this a true story, but an important piece of Cold War history that we all need to understand.

The film is set in April, 1981, at a time that the US and USSR came the closest to outright conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ronald Reagan was president, and Francois Mitterrand had just been elected to more...

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Why Do Dead Ideas Continue to Haunt Us?


In New Orleans, there is a belief in the “undead”—zombies—who will not stay buried after they have died. This is definitely not a good thing to believers in Voodoo. However, in various places around the world, we are still seeing what we thought were dead ideas coming back to ruin a new generation of lives. There are three zombies out there: Marxism/Maoism, Nazism, and the cult of Militant Islamism.

Marxism/Maoism. Apparently there are people who didn’t hear th more...

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What Are The Good Old Days?

In final exams given to my World History classes, the last question was: “If you had a time machine, which culture in the past would you choose to live in—and why would you choose it?” Then came part 2: “ If you had to gamble on being female rather than male, slave rather than upper class, would you still choose that culture?”

They all got it. The good old days were not good for everyone, and those cultures that had the largest number of unfortunate people were the ver more...

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Good Old “May Day” Comes Back From the Dead


On May Day in Santa Cruz, California, what was promoted as a college block party turned out instead to be a rampage of destruction led by a few black-clad, masked anarchist thugs. The undermanned police force was caught with their guard down, and small businesses suffered thousands of dollars of destruction. This time, there were no deaths, but the next time there may be.

In Athens, also on May Day, peaceful demonstrators marched to protest against capitalism and the econ more...

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Annual Darwin Awards?


Darwin Awards usually refer to those whose decisions are so stupid that they remove themselves from the gene pool by dying. My annual survey uses a slightly different definition: those whose decisions are so flawed that the consequences of their actions reduce the global IQ.

Religious Wisdom. A senior Iranian cleric, the ever dazzling Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who leads Friday prayers at Tehran University, knows whom to blame when Tehran has a huge earthquake. This cit more...

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How Was the “Christmas Bomber” Radicalized?


Register Pajaronian


National Public Radio (NPR) has been doing a fascinating series on how the young Nigerian wanabe bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was radicalized. Much of what they have provided resonates with the research I did for my book, God’s Law or Man’s Law, published just before 9/11/2001. I tracked fanatical and violent religious movements around the world that appeared threatening to all secular governance. Although there are fanatics in every 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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Why Do Small Businesses Get So Little Respect?


A reader responding to my recent column on poisonous ideologies (Fascism, Communism, and Militant Islam) asked why I didn’t include capitalism. My response was that capitalism has raised more people out of poverty than any ideology ever, and does not depend upon brainwashing. I suggested he read Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic, which traced the evolution of American capitalism. This ethic was the first ideology to validate work—that work is not an evil, but is a good thing—both more...

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Does Bad Childrearing Produce Terrorists?

Register Pajaronian

There is a long tradition on blaming mothers for creating criminal children. We hear about neglect, abuse, and ignorance—and, of course, bearing children out of wedlock. However, childrearing since the 20th century has improved markedly in the Western world and continues to occupy an important place in the minds of most parents.

But another sort of childrearing is under the microscope today: the traditional childrearing practices in the Musli 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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