Al-Qaeda: Our New Ally Against Iranian Radicalism?

Remember when the answer to radical Islam used to be moderate Islam? Well, that’s changing. The new answer to radical Shiite Islam may be radical Sunni Islam. That’s right, al-Qaeda. We’ve come full circle since the CIA first created Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan all those years ago.

In a piece in this month’s The New Yorker, Seymour Hirsch describes the Iraqi conflict in terms of regional conflict involving not just the Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq, but of neighboring countries as well: Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. Sunni countries fear runaway Iranian power in the region, now about to be backed by nuclear weapons. The only organization capable of withstanding the Iranians, the Iraqi army, has been disbanded by the U.S.

What’s more, the Bush administration policy towards Iran is changing as well.

In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

In the past month, I was told by an Air Force adviser on targeting and the Pentagon consultant on terrorism, the Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment: to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible regime change.

Now imagine all of the power and money now being used for war in the region being used instead for peaceful purposes: schools, hospitals, cultural festivals, dancing the dubka and eating mansaf.

Imagine.

Chalabi lands on his feet again

Ahmed Chalabi has resurfaced in Iraq. His latest role will help the U.S. government determine the success of the current troop surge. The following was reported in the Wall Street Journal:

In a new post created earlier this year, Mr. Chalabi will serve as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city. The position is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy.

Yes, this is the same guy who is wanted in Jordan for embazzling millions of dinars, the same guy who was recently on the outs with the Bush administration for sharing military information with Iran, who ran for election in Iraq and lost by a wide margin, and who was the source for Judith Miller’s false WMD reports in the New York Times. Rumor says his close ties with Moktadr are responsible for his latest elevation.

Last week Moktadr al-Sadr had given his support for the military surge and urged his militia to withdraw to Iran. Now Moktadr has reversed his support.

Meanwhile, on Sunday Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was flown to Amman, Jordan for medical treatment in a medically equipped plane supplied by the U.S. The unofficial report was heart attack. Talabani, a Kurd, walked on and off the plane.

Posted in Arabs, Iraq. Comments Off on Chalabi lands on his feet again

The Case for Torture (totally fictional of course): Vince Flynn’s bestseller “Memorial Day”

Mich Rapp is about as one-dimensional as a character can get. Oh sure, he has a wife, so when he returns to DC from Afghanistan where he has been busy killing suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers, the first thing he does is call her up, right? Nope. He goes to the Facility, a place “so secret, it didn’t even have a name,” where he can torture some more suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers.

So begins Vince Flynn’s 2004 bestseller Memorial Day. Throughout the book the twin themes of torture and secrecy are explored, however shallowly, and in this fictional scenario they are the only tools standing between America and its certain destruction by terrorists.

Rapp didn’t like torture, not only because of its effect on the person being brutalized, but for what it did to the person who sanctioned and carried it out. He had no desire to sink to those depths unless it was a last resort, but unfortunately they were quickly approaching that point. Lives were at stake. Two CIA operatives were already dead, thanks to the duplicitous scum in the other room, and many more lives were in the balance. Something was in the works, and if Rapp didn’t find out what it was hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent people would die.

Sure enough, something is going on, at least in this fictional account, that justifies torturing this particular prisoner, who is, after all, “duplicitous scum”. It is nothing less than a plot to kill the president of the United States, along with several other heads of state who will be attending a Memorial Day ceremony, hence the novel’s title. The Terrorists have managed to assemble a bomb made from nuclear materials scavenged from a former Soviet nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. A twenty-kiloton bomb capable of destroying the capitol, killing a hundred thousand people in the initial burst and double that many in the following month from radiation has been smuggled into the country. The bomb is getting closer and closer to Washington.

But Rapp has enemies. Lawyers who want public trials instead of secret torture. Politicians trying to make a name for themselves. “Haters of America’s capitalistic muscle.” Fortunately for the plot line, Rapp is “neither delicate nor squeamish”.

In a private interview with the president of the United States, Rapp sums up his argument for his methods:

We pulled five prisoners out of that village in Pakistan, sir, and none of them were willing to talk. I lined them all up, and started with a man named Ali Saed al-Houri. I put a gun to his head, and when he refused to answer my questions I blew his brains out, Mr. President. I executed the bastard, and I didn’t feel an ounce of shame or guilt. I thought of the innocent men and women who were forced to jump out of the burning World Trade Center, and I pulled the trigger. I moved on to the next terrorist and blew his brains out too, and then the third guy in line started singing like a bird. That’s how we found out about the bomb, sir. That’s what it takes to win this war on terror.

Although the book was first published in 2004, Amazon still ranks this book #98,926 in sales, and is about to reissue the book. Several of Flynn’s other 8 terrorist thrillers are doing even better than this one. Amazon.com does not yet allow for reselling used copies of this title, but you can get one at ABEBooks.com. Would I recommend the book? No. The characters are too shallow; the political message depends too heavily on emotion generated from a purely fictional event. But a lot of people have been reading these books. Who knows how many of them are buying in to the implicit message.

Posted in Arabs, Homeland Security, Torture. Comments Off on The Case for Torture (totally fictional of course): Vince Flynn’s bestseller “Memorial Day”

Is Barack Obama’s Trinity Church Racist?

The blogosphere is all agog, and it’s because presidential candidate Barack Obama‘s home church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ once adopted a Black Value System that, among other things, disavows the “Pursuit of ‘Middleclassness’.”

Here are their points, written by a committee back in 1981:

  1. Commitment to God
  2. Commitment to the Black Community
  3. Commitment to the Black Family
  4. Dedication to the Pursuit of Education
  5. Dedication to the Pursuit of Excellence
  6. Adherence to the Black Work Ethic
  7. Commitment to Self-Discipline and Self-Respect
  8. Disavowal of the Pursuit of “Middleclassness”
  9. Pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the Black Community
  10. Pledge to Allocate Regularly, a Portion of Personal Resources for Strengthening and Supporting Black Institutions
  11. Pledge allegiance to all Black leadership who espouse and embrace the Black Value System
  12. Personal commitment to embracement of the Black Value System.

An article at the oddly misnamed blog Sweetness & Light calls the church “Afro-centric, racist and Bush-hating”, and suggests that the church is “not your everyday Christian parish”. The writer intentionally misspells Obama’s name as “Osama”, so you kind of know where they’re coming from. Anonymous commenters fill in the picture even further:

That’s cute, the way the author capitalizes Black, but leaves white lower case.

Since they’ve “discredited” the story about Obama being a Muslim, they can now demonstrate what a “real Christian” he is today and highlight some of these beliefs. Obama is a racist pig. This “church” is nothing but a bunch of psychotic and intolerant kooks.

Did you notice that this “Church” is just the black Muslim cult with a name change?

If Obama indeed buys into this church’s philosophy, we have a blatantly racist presidential front runner whose first allegiance is to Africa.

Looking for salvation? White people need not apply.

I looked at the website and it stresses the Afro-centrism. CAN OBAMA SERVE A COUNTRY THAT IS NOT ALL BLACK?

If I belonged to a church that was White-centric questions would be raised about my ability to serve ALL the people!

The “Free Republic” conservative discussion forum is equally charming:

I’m not exactly sure what the “Black Value System” is. But I have a suspicion that whatever it is, it’s not too good for White Folks.

Replace Obama with an all-white candidate and change all the instances of the word “black” on this webpage to “white” and we have a candidate that couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in any community in America.

Their “black values systems” sounds divisive and racist.

They sound particularly embittered and that isn’t Christian.

Sounds like these folks have some mighty large chips on their shoulders.

For obvious reasons, I’m not providing a link to any of these sites.

What exactly is this church these anonymous people are so afraid of? Is it really “not your everyday Christian parish”? I’m afraid not. The United Church of Christ (not to be confused with the “Churches of Christ”) is about as mainstream as you can get. They are known for traditional worship services and a historical commitment to social justice.

And Trinity? They are the quintessential black Chicago church. When question came up at another Chicago church about whether there was something racist in the way a particular ritual was being planned, the question asked was, “What do they do at Trinity?” Trinity sets the standard for racially correct behavior.

In a Chicago Tribune piece, Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, talked about the formation of the South Side church :

Many black Christians were leaving the church for other religious traditions, including the Black Hebrew Israelites and the Nation of Islam, who taught that Christianity was a white man’s religion imposed on them by slaveholders.

“They didn’t know African-American history,” Wright said. “They were leaving the churches by the boatloads. The church seemed so disconnected from their struggle for dignity and humanity.”

Wright set out to show young people how other major religions also participated in the slave trade, how many abolitionists were Christians and how Jesus’ concern for the oppressed related to the struggles of the black community….

Wright sought to build on the black theology of liberation introduced in 1968 by Rev. James Cone of New York, by emphasizing Africa’s contribution to Christianity rather than that of mainstream white theologians.

“To show there is an independent form of thinking there about religion that stands on its own, that’s really more life-giving than what you get from Europe,” Cone said. “Black people who come from that approach have a very healthy understanding of who they are.”

To bolster that pride, Wright takes members of his flock to different African nations every year. Wright also encourages youths in the congregation to attend historically black colleges and universities, sponsoring a scholarship fair each year.

Obama’s reaction to the Trinity’s points?:

…Obama said it was important to understand the document as a whole rather than highlight individual tenets. “Commitment to God, black community, commitment to the black family, the black work ethic, self-discipline and self-respect,” he said. “Those are values that the conservative movement in particular has suggested are necessary for black advancement.

“So I would be puzzled that they would object or quibble with the bulk of a document that basically espouses profoundly conservative values of self-reliance and self-help….”

In his published memoirs, Obama said even he was stopped by Trinity’s tenet to disavow “middleclassness” when he first read it two decades ago in a church pamphlet. The brochure implored upwardly mobile church members not to distance themselves from less fortunate Trinity worshipers.

“As I read it, at least, it was a very simple argument taken directly from Scripture: `To whom much is given much is required,'” Obama said in the interview.

But Obama scoffed at the suggestion that Trinity espouses a value system that seeks to help blacks exclusively. “If I say to anybody in Iowa–white, black, Hispanic or Asian–that my church believes in the African-American community strengthening families or adhering to the black work ethic or being committed to self-discipline and self-respect and not forgetting where you came from, I don’t think that’s something anybody would object to.

So what’s the bottom line? It looks to me like Barack Obama is the only person exercising any leadership here.

Trinity needs to re-evaluate their points. Has nothing changed since 1968? When I returned from the Middle East after 9/11, whites were telling me “everything has changed; ‘they’ are not the enemy any more”. And with increasing numbers of blacks moving to the suburbs, the young have become more intolerant of social separation based on race. But let’s face it, whites know a whole lot more about blacks than blacks know about whites. While no one would argue with the continued need for blacks to strengthen their community, (well, almost no one) it’s time for them to stop being so nearsighted and look to their nation and the world. Has there really been no original black thought since MLK? Are they just going to keep re-reading King’s old speeches, and recycling decades-old ideas, or are they going to do some critical thinking and write some new ones? What have they learned on their trips to Africa? I’m serious. If they can write a “black value system”, they should be able to write a global value system as well. They should be able to devote some small fraction of their energy to providing leadership, not just for their own insular community, but for the nation.

It’s time for Trinity to form a new committee.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Related posts:

Jesus Lite and Victimology at Obama’s Still-Racist Trinity Church
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update 3/19/08: Thank you to everyone who comments here, even the people I don’t agree with. The remarks are original and heartfelt and very interesting. I check them every day even when I don’t have time to write something.

If I were the people at Trinity, I would keep coming back here from time to time to read the new comments.

This is a child friendly site. I don’t want to change what someone else writes here, but if anyone writes profanity or hate speech, I will change that one word to asterisks, and make a comment to show it was edited. The idea is to teach children by example what kind of speech is acceptable.

I wrote here above, and then again in the “Jesus Lite” essay after I visited Trinity, that Trinity has to change. At this point I don’t have any idea how, but I know it has to happen. Like everything else, it will probably be a process. Maybe the comments of readers here can help with that.

Where is the al Aqsa Web Cam?

Last Friday, after a disturbance at the site of a sidewalk repair at the Moor’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, a webcam was placed outside the construction site to reassure Arab critics. But where is the webcam? Reports place a temporary wooden sidewalk next to and impinging on the women’s section of the Western Wall, the place most Jews prefer to pray at until the coming of their long-awaited Messiah.

Here is the BBC News diagram:
haram-alsharif-diagram.gif

Here are a few photos of the Western Wall in Jerusalem taken at the millineum.

westernwall172.jpg

The first photo is the men’s section of the western wall with a few men praying. In the background is the smaller and more crowded women’s section.

westernwall2-72.jpg

A little bit longer shot of the previous photo. Visible at the top of the wall are the two mosque domes, al-Aqsa on the right and the Mosque of Omar on the left. A half hour after I took this photo, there was a sound of loud chanting from the direction of the mosque entrance on the far right. Then there was a scuffle and several youths broke through from the direction of the mosque and were quickly taken into custody. Late I climbed the hill in the Jewish Quarter of the Old Town and looked back down on the plaza. On the right I could see the silhouettes of a line of soldiers with machine guns. It would make a great photo, I thought, then looking at the empty windows overlooking my position, and wondering if there was an official policy about what can be photographed, I decided it was one of those pictures I was not going to take.

haramalsharif72.jpg

Above the Western Wall is the Haram al-sharif temple complex. The building  straight ahead in the photo is the al-Aqsa Mosque, built by the Knights Templar. Underneath is said to be the stables of Soloman. Panning the camera ninety degrees to the left would show the gold-domed Mosque of Omar. Ninety degrees to the right would show the top of the Western Wall, above where the Jews are praying, several uniform-clad Israeli soldiers sitting on a bench above the wall, looking bored with their machine guns held relaxed.

Aqsa Webcam on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

A sidewalk gets damaged by snow. You repair it, right? Not if it’s in the Middle East.

In 2004, a sidewalk was damaged by snow and a minor earthquake. Unfortunately for this particular sidewalk, it happened to be in Jerusalem, at one of the gates to the Temple Mount

Sunday’s online issue of The Jordan Times takes up the story:

The Israeli government’s reasons for the new project seemed simple: The existing walkway partially collapsed in a 2004 snowstorm, it was unsafe and it had to be replaced.

Early this month, when archaeologists began a salvage dig outside the compound’s Magharebah Gate ahead of the walkway’s construction, the waqf said it had sovereignty over the ramp because it touched the compound and charged that Israel was harming an integral part of the holy site.

That was quickly followed by a more inflammatory charge: The dig was cover for another attempt to tunnel under the Islamic holy places and cause their collapse.

Israel claims that notified all relevant parties, including the waqf, before beginning construction. Muslim officials, however, said they were never consulted.

Adnan Husseini, the waqf’s director, told the Associated Press that there are “ongoing” Israeli attempts to undermine the mosques from below, and that he suspected Israeli archaeologists were currently tunnelling underneath the compound.

“We are against all of these excavations, because they threaten the future of the mosque,” Husseini said.

Husseini denies that Israel has any rightful claim on the compound, and has questioned the existence of any Jewish history there. A waqf booklet for tourists says the existence of the temples is supported by “no documented historical or archaeological evidence”.

Since the Magharebah Gate project started, there have been only limited clashes, including a scuffle between police and protesters Friday, and nobody has been seriously hurt.

But Israel has been condemned, reprimanded or warned by nearly every Muslim country. During a trip to Turkey this week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a demand that a Turkish team be allowed to observe the construction work to help calm Muslim fears. Turkey is Israel’s closest Muslim ally.

Israel also began broadcasting live images of the work site on the Internet Thursday.

A live webcam is now playing real time images from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is viewable with Internet Explorer.

A Friday article in The Jordan Times gave more details about Arab reaction.Sunday’s Jordan Times details the level of interest within Jordan (link to saved articles): meetings with high level officials, demonstrations in Zarqa (the hometown of the deceased terrorist al-Zarkawi), and concerned statements from the “professional organizations”, which are considered to be Jordan’s religious extremists and the only opposistion to the government.

Here is a link to a BBC News artitcle giving a brief history of the Temple mount, its significance to the major religions, and a map of the area under repair.

An article in Haaretz details the internal politics surrounding the project.

Just to make things more interesting, a Byzantine mosaic has now been discovered at the site.

New moon, time to organize

What you do at new moon brings results at full moon, advises the astro-weather for today. The new moon starts at exactly 10:13 this morning, but its influence started yesterday. Oh, and the moon is void of course from 10:13 to 12:29 this afternoon, meaning it’s not under any planetary influences. Any decisions you make during this time are supposed to need extraordinary amounts of follow-through energy to succeed.

My free-will horoscope says I am suffering from metaphysical jet lag, but in an interesting way. How exactly does one suffer in an interesting way? Never mind, it’s the “sacred advertisement” at the bottom of the page that’s the most interesting.

SACRED ADVERTISEMENT
Discordianism is one of the rare religions that takes account of Ralph Abraham’s assertion that heart physiologists find more chaos in the healthy heart than in the sick heart. Here’s a sampling of Discordian tenets. 1. Everyone is a saint, especially you. 2. Meditation consists primarily of cruising around looking for good luck. 3. Eating hot dog buns is prohibited, except on Friday, when it’s compulsory. 4. When you’re stuck in a rut, you must speak in tongues, handle snakes, and experience phantasmagoria. 5. Your guardian angel loves you better when your room is a mess. 6. Bowling alleys are sacred; you must protect them from desecration. 7. The Goddess will solve all your problems if you solve all hers.

Discordianism? Apparently this is either a real religion disguised as a joke or a joke disguised as a real religion. It seems to be a cross between Murphy’s Law and the koan.

Posted in Curiosities. Comments Off on New moon, time to organize