On Virtue

“When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.”

Frédéric Bastiat

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On Liberty

If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.

Samuel Adams, 1775

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LET FREEDOM WIN: A Roadmap for Victory in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (March 2006)

When considering solutions to the vexing conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Levant, the goal that is usually defined by diplomats, academics, and journalists is peace; but as John Ruskin said “You may either win peace or buy it – win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil.”[i]While peace is certainly a laudable goal, too often, all else is sacrificed to this end and with disastrous consequences.  History is replete with examples of a peace, declared prematurely, or defined by a third party, which cannot hold.  The current standoff at the 38th parallel between the United States and North Korea is more than a half-century old now, and the cease-fire declared there resolved nothing, while arguably condemning millions to die of starvation and execution at the hands of communist tyrants.  The premature cessation of hostilities by the U.S. and its allies in Operation Desert Storm similarly left the dictator Sadaam Hussein (who was strongly supported by Palestinian Arabs) in power to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, finance suicide attacks in Israel, and necessitate a large U.S. presence in the Saudi desert, inflaming militant Islamic anger at the west.  Peace alone cannot be defined as victory; rather victory is a means through which peace may be achieved.

Historical Jewish claim to Judea

The ancient Hebrew’s, ancestors to today’s Jewish race were among the first people to establish permanent settlements on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.  This area, known variously to history as Judea, Palestine, the Levant, and Israel was the land originally promised by God to the Jewish people through the Prophet Abraham, Patriarch of the great monotheistic western faiths.  Since antiquity the Jewish settlers there have been periodically massacred, enslaved, dominated, and driven off their land by the likes of the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Crusaders, and Turks.  One such oppressor, the Romans coined the term Palestine, in around 135 A.D. in a vain attempt to extinguish forever the Jews’ connection to their land after a revolt against their pagan overlords was crushed in particularly brutal fashion.[ii]  However, despite these repeated attempts to exterminate and permanently disperse their people, a core group of Jewish inhabitants have remained there for over 3 millennia.  These stewards of the Jewish homeland have, at great personal peril, retained their peoples’ claim to the Promised Land ever since.

In the late 19th century, a new “Aliyah”, or return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land began, which culminated in 1948 with the creation of the modern state of Israel.  Among the many reasons for this emigration were the brutal treatment of Jews in Arab lands where they are considered “Dhimmi”, or second-class citizens; in fact, many thousands of Jews were forcibly expelled from their homes in Arab lands, most settling in  Israel, their property confiscated by their former governments.[iii]  In Europe, Jews were subject to discrimination and occasional pogroms, or outbreaks of violence that peaked with the holocaust in the late 1930’s.   In this mass-liquidation of Jewish civilians, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of Palestine’s Muslim community, aided the Nazi-German architects of the final solution.  As historian Joan Peters put it “The Grand Mufti…staunch friend of Hitler and coordinator with Germany in the final solution to the Jewish problem-was personally responsible for the concentration camp slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews, if not more.”[iv]

Once these Jewish pilgrims arrived in Palestine they generally purchased land there from largely Arab absentee-landowners.  Later, as Zionism, or commitment by the world’s Jewry to a return to the land of Zion (or Israel) became a more formal and organized movement, blocks of land were purchased collectively by Jewish organizations.  These lands were improved and irrigated and whole communities developed on them.  This influx of industrious new Jewish settlers soon drew increasing numbers of poor Arabs to Palestine in hopes of finding work on the newly cultivated lands.  This dual Arab-Jewish immigration into the heretofore largely uninhabited region, described by Peters as “under-populated land, its revolving populace perennially depleted in number because of exploitation, reckless plundering, nomadism, endless tribal uprisings, and natural disasters.”[v] Would soon flare up into sectarian violence, as both groups would claim the land as their own.

Israel’s legal claim to its homeland

The fall of the Ottoman Empire, which had controlled the Middle East for the previous 400 years to the Allies in WWI, created a power vacuum in the region.  To address this, the League of Nations tasked the victors with Mandatory authority, or administrative control in various areas of the region.  The intent of the mandate was to create local municipal governments and to eventually transfer sovereignty to the people indigenous to the region.  The Jews of Palestine quickly complied, establishing the institutions necessary to administer a modern state.  The Palestinian Arabs, consistent with their behavior throughout, refused because, in the words of historians Ian Bickerton and Carla Klausner “The Arabs did not wish to legitimize a situation that they rejected in principle.”[vi]

The British were given Mandatory authority in Palestine, which, contrary to current understanding of geography, extended well beyond the current borders of Israel.  The area defined as Palestine then extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Syria and Lebanon to the North, The Hejaz (or Saudi Arabia) and Iraq to the east, and to the south, Egypt.  By virtue of the Balfour Declaration, which formally declared that the British government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”[vii], all of Palestine was designated as the Jewish homeland. The inclusion of this document in the preamble to the Palestine Mandate, by the League of Nations gave this view the force of international law. [viii]    Despite this, as Peters puts it “Britain nevertheless quietly gouged out roughly three-fourths of the Palestine territory mandated for the Jewish homeland into an Arab emirate, Transjordan, while the mandate ostensibly remained in force but in violation of its terms.”[ix]  This act created a de-facto Arab state in Palestine, arguably in violation of international law.  This state – Jordan still exists today, nullifying Arab complaints of the lack of a homeland in Palestine.

The stated basis for this partition was a letter from Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, to Emir Feisal, the son of “Sherif Hussein of Mecca, ruler of the Hejaz, perhaps the Arab figure at that time with the greatest prestige and power.”[x]  Feisal claimed that in this letter, dated October 24, 1915, the British promised an Arab homeland in Palestine.  McMahon, for his part, explicitly denied this claim in 1937 saying “It was not intended by me in giving this pledge to (then) King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised.”[xi]  Arab sovereignty was promised rather, and granted in the Hejaz, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.   Since Palestine was never intended by any earlier agreements to be an independent Arab homeland, and since 75% of Palestine already is a Palestinian state, the remaining portion of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River is, by any legal definition, the indivisible Jewish homeland guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration, and codified in the League of Nations Mandate – that is, Israel.

Why then, did the British carve out an Arab homeland from its Palestine Mandate, heretofore legally promised to the Jews? Partially to re-pay the Arab leaders, Emirs Hussein and Abdullah (who was promptly named King of Transjordan) for aiding the Allies by leading the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in the First World War; and partly to appease the Arabs who even then were engaged in terrorism.  Indeed in 1939, shortly after Chamberlain declared “peace in our time”, thus condemning the Polish people, and soon the rest of Europe to Hitler’s Wrath, a white paper, or British policy statement was issued, which severely restricted Jewish Immigration into Palestine.  This act of appeasement which, they felt would reduce Arab terror attacks while earning the Arab loyalty they’d need for the coming second world war, condemned many thousands of Jews to their fate under Hitler.  And British and U.N. acts of double-dealing, whether self-serving, anti-Semitic, or due to outright incompetence coupled with Arab intransigence and belligerence further stoked the flames of discontent.

In 1948, after several attempts to mediate a plan for disposition of the Palestine Mandate agreeable to all parties were met by Arab refusal to compromise or even negotiate, the U.N. proposed to partition the area west of the Jordan into Jewish and Arab sectors, with Jerusalem as a special international zone.  The Arabs rejected this sensible compromise and instead, in May of 1948, invaded Israel.  This attack marked the beginning of the Arab refugee issue; as Peters puts it “The invading Arab governments were certain of a quick victory; leaders warned the Arabs in Israel to run for their lives.”[xii]  With the notable exception of Jordan, these Arab governments have since refused to grant displaced Arabs citizenship, exposing their expressed concern for Palestinian Arab welfare as the self-serving ploy it is.  By wars end, with the subsequent annexation of the West Bank by Jordan, Israel was left with barely 17% of the area originally allocated to it by the League of Nations for the Jewish homeland.[xiii]

In 1967, after again being attacked by the combined Arab armies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, Israel took the West Bank from Jordan; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the Gaza strip from Egypt.  These conquests, won in a war started by their enemies “provided Israel with strategic depth” and “more defensible borders.”[xiv]  Moreover, these areas are now sovereign Israeli soil, not occupied territories.  The Arabs then, have no legal or moral claim to that area of Palestine west of the Jordan River.

The Solution

For true peace to prevail, in any conflict, a decisive and unambiguous victory must be achieved whereby the vanquished capitulates unconditionally, ceding to the victor the right to define an agreeable and lasting peace.  In the Arab-Israeli conflict, premature peace negotiations and agreements, generally imposed upon them by outside powers, have deprived Israel, a western democracy, of total victory over their enemies, who cynically use each peace interval to rearm and regroup in the vain hope of future victory.

In this spirit the most just and practical solution to this heretofore-intractable problem is, however painful in the short-term, for Israel to view the recent landslide election victory of Hamas, a terrorist organization whose principal purpose for existence is the destruction of Israel, as a declaration of war.  Israel should openly and clearly state this view and demand the clear and irrevocable renunciation of its stated goal by the Hamas leadership.  If Hamas fails to do so Israel should use the next major terrorist attack on its soil as a pretext to the resumption of a state of all-out war with the Palestinian Arabs who, through their overwhelming vote margin against the “peacemakers” of the Fatah Party, have themselves functionally declared war on Israel. As a sovereign nation and full member state of the U.N., the Israeli government has a legal right, and a moral obligation to its citizens to defend its borders and quell domestic uprisings.  In this new war, Israel should not relent until total victory is achieved even if that means driving the militant Arabs remaining west of the Jordan River over the Allenby Bridge into Jordan; or walling off those areas of the West Bank Israel is willing to cede to the Arabs, leaving them to their fate-whether annexation by Jordan, which has already granted citizenship to all non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs, or eventual statehood.

For Israel to allow a belligerent fifth column of Muslims dedicated to its destruction to remain within its sovereign borders is tantamount to national suicide and is unacceptable as a national policy.  The results of such a policy are self-evident not only in Israel but can be seen as well in Indian Kashmir, where a similar minority of Muslim malcontents have been instrumental in inciting three wars between India and Pakistan in the past half-century.  When peace is declared before victory, the result is a self-perpetuating standoff or an interlude between violent flare-ups as seen on the Korean peninsula, in Kashmir, and in Israel.  The west must stand with Israel, the only Democracy in the area until a lasting peace may be achieved through victory.


[i] H.L. Mencken, ed., A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles, from Ancient and Modern Sources (N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 897

.

[ii] Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial (U.S.A.: JKAP Publications, 2002), 149

[iii] Mitchell G Bard, Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Md., U.S.A.: AICE, 2002), 24

[iv] Peters, 363

[v] Peters, 241

[vi] Ian J. Bickerton and Carla L. Klausner, A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 4th ed. (N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005), 52

[vii], Bickerton and Klausner, 60

[viii] Bickerton and Klausner, 44

[ix] Peters, 239

[x] Bickerton and Klausner, 37

[xi] Peters, 519

[xii] Peters, 13

[xiii] Bard, 35

[xiv] Bickerton and Klausner, 151

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Hello world!

Welcome to the place where I get my opinions off my chest so I don’t drive my family and friends nuts with my rants.  This site is my personal therapist.

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Memo to Ralph Malph: Sit On It! (November 2006)

After reading a few of columnist Ralph Peters’ increasingly bizarre articles in the New York Post such as this and this, I felt the overwhelming need to respond because, although it was nice to see Mr. Peters take time off from his usual job of blasting the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, it was a tad disconcerting to see him set his sights instead on American citizens and European Christians whose views on the nexus between terrorism and Islam differ from his own.  In these two over-the-top columns he basically accused the West of instigating attacks by Muslim terrorists, thereby aiding and abetting those who seek to destroy liberty, modernity, and moderation.

In the first column, entitled “Islam Haters”, Peters not only compares those with whom he disagrees to the KKK and blast them as anti-Semitic in a text-book exercise in Stalinist intimidation; he also compares the more barbaric passages in the Koran and Islamic tradition to the Old Testament book of Joshua and to Christian tradition!  This exercise in moral equivalence is so insidious that it cannot go unchallenged.

The Koran is considered by Muslims to be the eternal word of God Himself as revealed to the Prophet Mohammad verbatim by the Angel Gabriel in 610 A.D.  It is revered by Muslims as perfect and universal.  The actions of the Prophet Mohammad are also considered divinely inspired and thus perfect.  The Judeo-Christian Bible, in contrast was written by men, all of whom were prophets or Apostles but none claimed that what they wrote was dictated verbatim by God (with the exception of the Ten Commandments and quotes from Jesus- both of which are benign, not violent.) There is room in Western tradition, then for interpretation and an allowance for human error.  Any deviation from the text of the Koran is considered apostasy under Islamic law- punishable by death; thus when the Koran (in Sura 9:5) commands Muslims to “slay the Idolaters wherever you find them.” It is not a historical narrative of a past battle as in the book of Joshua, but rather a mandate for right behavior in God’s service.  It is also, not coincidentally, one of the many Koranic passages often quoted by bin-Laden in justifying his Jihad against the West.  I would like Mr. Peters to quote the New Testament passage which authorizes a Christian to commit murder.

In contrast to the messages of love, forgiveness, and tolerance both practiced and taught by Jesus, The Prophet Mohammad advocated and practiced raiding, aggressive warfare (jihad), and the subjugation of infidels and personally ordered the beheadings of bound captives and the execution by stoning of adulterers.  To compare religiously-motivated violence by Christians, which is a direct violation of the teachings and example of Jesus, to that of Muslims, which is in-line with the teachings and actions of the Prophet is hence both morally repugnant and logically and historically false.

Mr. Peters claims that Islam was “hijacked” by the practitioners of jihad, who have “perverted a great religion.”  Amir Taheri, another NY Post columnist, has also argued that those who quote the Koran to justify violence and oppression have hijacked Islam to achieve political ends.  Taheri calls this “neo-Islam”- a political movement, not an expression of religion; however, in Islam there is no distinction between religion and politics.  The Prophet himself served as both spiritual guide to Muslims and as head of the Islamic state, as did the Caliphs who succeeded him.  And one of the stated goals of the Jihadist movement is a restoration of that same Caliphate under which one man would rule the entire world under sharia, or oppressive Islamic law.

The actions of many terrorists and tyrants are quite consistent with those of the Prophet and the traditions of Islamic law.  After the famous battle of Badr, for example, the head of a man named Abu Jahl was presented to Mohammad who then “gave thanks to God.”  During the same battle, a man named Uqba was captured, bound, and brought before the Prophet.  Uqba begged for mercy imploring of his captor “But who will look after my children, o Mohammad?”  The Prophet responded “Hell!” and ordered the prisoner killed.  If the Prophet was divinely inspired in all he did, as Islamic doctrine holds, then was not the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi truly serving his God when he sawed off the head of a bound infidel captive such as Nick Berg?

To overlook, as Peters and Taheri suggest, the exhortations to violence, subjugation, and intolerance found in the Koran would create an impossible paradox: Muslims are not given a line-item veto with which to cherry-pick benign Koranic verses (generally those that dictate conduct between Muslims) while dismissing the others (those that instruct believers to mistreat or kill non-believers) as mere relics of a by-gone era.  If the Koran is the perfect word of God, as Islam holds, then such discrimination would amount to apostasy- punishable by death under Islamic law; otherwise this act, taken to its logical conclusion would fatally compromise the validity of the Koran itself and expose Mohammad as a false prophet (would God have revealed some untruths to a true prophet?)  This exercise in rationalizing the Koran is thus self-invalidating.

This of course is not to suggest that all Muslims are blood-thirsty terrorists, rather that such terrorists do find ample justification for their acts in the Koran and hadith of the Prophet.

Peters also writes with obvious contempt that the “haters” with whom he disagrees have never served in the military, with the implication that they thus have no right to an opinion on the central issue of our generation.  I would suggest, as a member of the law-enforcement community, that by his odious logic Peters is thereby precluded from having a legitimate opinion on crime-related issues (including terrorism) since he has never walked a foot-post in an American city.

In his latest rant, entitled “The Eurabia Myth” he excoriates Europeans not for their excessive tolerance of a non-assimilated and hostile Muslim minority; or their irrational genuflection to post-Christian multiculturalism; or their resultant inability to effectively defend themselves, nor aid us in the war on terror.  His animus is reserved instead for the tiny and insignificant cadre of neo-Nazi haters whose attributes he broad-brushes across the continent to smear all of Europe.

He criticizes the 15th century Spaniards for expelling the Muslims from their land, but not the Muslim armies that conquered it in the first place; he rightly criticizes the holocaust, but without crediting the hundreds of thousands of European’s who died to stop it or bothering to mention the Arab-Muslim involvement with the Nazi’s;  he criticizes the Crusaders for their excesses during their campaigns to re-take Christian lands, but gives the Muslims a free pass for conquering them in the first place; he calls the “Turkish execution of the Armenian genocide” in which more than a million Christians were slaughtered “messy”, while neglecting to condemn such barbarity.

He also refuses to acknowledge the facts about the demographic changes taking place in Europe which threaten to destroy its Christian heritage and commitment to freedom and moderation.

The fact is, Europe’s rejection of its own great Christian history has allowed the intolerant and irrational Muslim fifth column to gain strength daily against a self-indulgent and self-loathing Europe whose elite’s and revisionist historians (aided now by Ralph Peters) have destroyed all sense of pride in the great Western tradition and thus removed the motivation to defend it against the forces of Muslim reaction and hate.

I consider Ralph Peters to be neither a dhimmi nor a dim-wit, but rather a great patriot who served his country with distinction.  I also generally look forward to his columns in the Post which are usually full of sober analysis and insightful commentary on military matters.  However, these two columns contain neither balance nor context, instead substituting hyperbolic rhetoric for facts and truth.  And the levels of dismissive arrogance displayed in these columns are matched only by his staggering ignorance of the true nature of Islam and its most rigorous adherents.  Perhaps Mr. Peters should stick to military issues and avoid the bitter social critiques in these two recent deeply flawed and intolerant columns.

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SECULARIZATION: The Singular Hope for Freedom, Modernity, and Human Rights in the Middle East (May 2006)

For many centuries, the people of the Middle East have been trapped in a quasi-dark age where the enlightened western concepts of secular government, individual liberty, and human rights have failed to penetrate.  The principal cause of this resistance to embrace modern political innovations is a stubborn adherence to Islamic law.  Its effects have been a stagnation of cultural, technological, and economic development, strained relations with the outside world, and endemic violence. The only realistic remedy to this tragic state of affairs is a radical program of secularization which explicitly marginalizes Islam and establishes representative and secular governments in place of the current crop of theocracies, monarchies, and dictatorships.

The prospects for such secularization and liberalization however are complicated by the peculiarities of Islam itself and by the discovery in the twentieth century of vast oil deposits in the region.  The monopolization of oil wealth by corrupt Middle Eastern governments and the dependence on that commodity by the liberal nations of the West have conspired to create a stasis of sorts whereby the freedom and well-being of the people in the region were sacrificed by the West in the name of stability and easy access to oil.  The entrenched rulers of the wealthy oil-producing nations, for their part use their vast wealth to at once provide generous social benefits to the people, creating a perpetual state of dependence and quiescence; to amass large military and security forces using imported technologies (whose main function is to brutally suppress, based on Islamic law, any domestic liberalization movements); to prevent liberalization of their economies and thus forestall the emergence of a vibrant and politically active middle class; and through state run religious schools (madras’s) and media outlets they deflect the attention of the frustrated masses towards the West and Israel, setting them up as straw-men and blaming them for the ills that have befallen the Islamic world.

For this purpose Islam is well-suited for among its basic precepts is a disdain for infidels, or those who refuse to recognize Allah as the one true God and Mohammad as the last of His prophets, and the concept of jihad, or holy war which makes the spread of the house of Islam, or lands under Islamic rule (dar-al-Islam) against the house of war, or non-Muslim states (dar-al-harb) obligatory for able-bodied Muslims.[i]  In sura 5:51 the Koran also prohibits friendship between Muslims and unbelievers: “Believers, take neither the Jews nor Christians for your friends.  They are friends with one another.  Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number.”[ii]  This further complicates efforts by western nations to foment popular movements among Muslim populations against their oppressors, a tactic which was wildly successful in Eastern Europe during the cold war.

These Islamic concepts of superiority, violence, and intolerance are routinely and cynically exploited by hard-line Islamic theocrats (such as the Iranian Mullahs) and seemingly moderate monarchs (such as the Saudi royal family) alike to consolidate their power by focusing their subjects’ animus towards the West.  And the West, prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, were loathe to intervene of behalf of the masses in the Middle East for fear of losing its access to cheap oil.  The result has been a perpetuation of the status-quo with Islam serving as both the source of the lack of freedom and human rights in the region and the primary tool by which change has been precluded.

The Roots of Islamic Law

Islamic law or sharia was developed on the bases of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and the hadith, which is a collection of reliable accounts, or sunna of sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammad.  These sources, in Islamic tradition are considered infallible as the Koran is the very word of God as revealed to His Prophet, and Mohammad is considered to be rightly guided by God, thus also infallible.  A third repository of infallibility, (based on a saying of the Prophet: “My community will not agree upon an error”)[iii] in Islamic tradition is the ijma, or the consensus of believers.  This refers to the          Ulama, or the community of Muslim scholars whose opinions, or ijtihad on matters of Islamic law are considered final and irrevocable.  In the words of historian H.A.R. Gibb “When, therefore a consensus of opinions had been attained by the scholars of the second and third centuries (by about 900 A.D.) on any given point, the promulgation of new ideas on the exposition of the relevant texts of the Koran and hadith was as good as forbidden.”  Furthermore, “Any attempt to raise the question of the import of a text in such a way as to deny the validity of the solution already given and accepted by consensus became a bid’a, an act of innovation, that is to say, heresy.”[iv]  Since all sources of sharia are considered divine and infallible, Islamic law has remained largely unchanged for more than a thousand years in spite of global trends toward secularization and political liberalization.  The lack of any recognition of human law makes democracy impossible in a strictly Islamic state.

Unlike Christianity which suffered three centuries of persecution (before the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced it, making it the official religion of the empire), and has a doctrinal predisposition towards secular government: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God That which are God’s” {Matthew 22.17}, Islam was almost immediately burdened with temporal governance due to its stunning early military successes.  For this reason, Islam became very early on more than just a faith, but a comprehensive set of rules on everything from inheritance and personal hygiene to war-making.  In the words of Charles Watson “By a million roots, penetrating every phase of life, all of them with religious significance, it (Islam) is able to maintain its hold upon the life of Muslim peoples.”[v]  This also partly accounts for Islam’s resistance to change.

 

Islamic Law vs. Human Rights

Under Islamic law inequality is institutionalized: women and non-Muslims are formally and legally inferior to Muslim men.  Domestic violence (including death by stoning) against women is not only acceptable under sharia, but may be considered a religious duty as it was endorsed by the Prophet himself and is enshrined in the Koran; because it is believed men cannot control their carnal desires around aroused women, clitoridectomy, or female genital mutilations are commonplace[vi], and for the same reason niqab, or total body coverings are mandatory for females in public under sharia; men may have up to four wives and several concubines (temporary wives) under Islamic law and can divorce their wives on a whim, claiming custody of their children, while the reverse does not apply; and men may marry and consummate with girls as young as nine years of age. All of these examples of injustice, and many more can be traced directly to the three infallible sources of Islamic law.

While women suffer brutally under Islamic law, atheists and converts from Islam are considered apostates and are to be summarily executed.  “People of the book”, or Jews and Christians are the subject of punishing and humiliating rules and restrictions.   They are also forbidden to testify in court against a Muslim and therefore may be victimized with impunity by their Muslim neighbors without legal recourse.  And in spite of their official superiority over women and religious minorities individual liberty, even among Muslim men is virtually non-existent.

Prospects for Reform

Since Islam is incompatible with democracy and human rights and due to the concept of infallibility it cannot be adapted to modern realities, the only realistic avenue for the advancement of freedom in the Middle East is for religion to be removed from the public domain entirely.  In the words of Azam Kamguian “Attempting to modernize or reform Islam will only prolong the age-old oppression and subordination of women in Islam-stricken societies.  Rather than modernizing Islam, it must be caged … Islam must become subordinate to secularism and the secular state.”[vii]

How can the entrenched impediments to secularization and democratization, namely Islam and oil wealth be overcome?  The attacks of September 11, 2001 have paradoxically presented the free world and the oppressed people of the Islamic world with a great and finite window of opportunity: The United States and its Western allies have been shaken from their twentieth-century, real-politic foreign policy mindset towards the tyrants of the oil-rich Middle East.  The removal of the repressive former regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the terror attacks on the U.S. may be the beginning of a democratic domino-effect in the region to the extent that the popularly elected, democratic governments their can resist a reversion to Islamic law.

The example of secular Turkey may also serve as a guide and inspiration, and if the experiments in democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan are successful they may join Turkey in forming an axis-of-freedom of sorts in the region, giving great momentum to the democratization movement throughout the Islamic world.  And in Iran, the birthplace of the modern Islamist movement, a huge and restless majority of pro-western youth exists, which if given the proper amount of support and encouragement, may effect regime change their without western military intervention.  The infrastructure of republican government (elected parliament and executive) is also in place in Iran, which, though currently under the heel of the Ayatollah and his Islamic revolutionary council, could in the event of a toppling of the Mullahs prevent the sort of chaotic transition to democracy that has marred the liberation of Iraq.  The latest and most dangerous variable in this complex matrix is the pending acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Iranian regime and its promise to obliterate Israel which may fatally alter this calculus and preclude the possibility of peaceful regime change.  It is entirely possible that the recent saber-rattling in Tehran is their attempt to force a pre-emptive attack by The U.S. or Israel in a desperate bid to stave off an inevitable insurrection by using a rally-round-the-flag defense of the homeland.

Two other important trends are the information revolution which enables people trapped behind the Islamic curtain to communicate and coordinate with the outside world (often) without government censorship or monitoring; and the emergence of alternative energy sources which, over the long term will reduce the West’s dependence on Mid-East oil, thus its tolerance for repressive regimes.

Only time will tell if these trends, combined with the emergence of democratic governments in the heart of the Middle East will help the reform movements in the region attain the critical mass needed to effect change.  But is it at least possible that the modern spasm of Islamist violence is not, as we in the West fear, a resurgence of the aggressive Islamic conquests of the middle ages but rather a reactionary last gasp by radicals to combat the inexorable global shift towards secularization and human rights in the post cold-war era?  Can the current age of hijackings and car bombings be akin to the Nazi’s doomed and desperate offensive into the Ardennes in 1944, or the Japanese last stand on bloody Okinawa?  Certainly their motives are the same: to maximize American losses to force a premature peace rather than unconditional surrender when victory was already out of reach, thus chasing the U.S. out of the region leaving her enemies free to plot further treachery.  If there is to be any hope for change in the Middle East the U.S. must remain as steadfast now as in the final days of World War II.


[i] The Koran, Translated by N.J. Dawood.  London: Penguin,2003, 361

[ii] The Koran, 85

[iii] Lewis, Bernard.  The Middle East: A Brief History of the last 2,000 Years.  N.Y.: Scribner,1995, 226

[iv] Gibb, H.A.R.  Mohammedanism, an Historical Survey.  London, Oxford University Press, 1950  http://www.answering-islam.org/books/gibb/sharia.htm

[v] Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society, “The Totalitarian Nature of Islam”, 30 April, 2006 http://www.secularism.org/humanrights/totalitarianism.htm

[vi] Weiner, Lauren, “Islam and Women”, Policy Review, 30 April 2006

http://www.policyreview.org/oct04/weiner_print.html

[vii] Kamguian, Azam, “Islam and the Liberation of Women in the Middle East”, Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society, 30 April, 2006

http://www.secularism.org/women/liberation.html

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The Slow Death of Free Market Capitalism (January 2010)

For the better part of the last century the trend has been for the lines separating big business and big government to slowly blur as the rights and liberties of individuals and small businesses slowly erode.  This trend has accelerated since late 2008 at the onset of the credit crunch – which itself became inevitable after the government insinuated itself in the private sector mortgage business through such measures as the Community Reinvestment Act and the creation of quasi-government companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Now, the Obama Administration is reportedly considering levying a special tax on the nation’s largest banks and financial firms to re-coup some of the TARP bailout money for the U.S. Treasury.  The furor this has caused on the part of business leaders, coupled with the outrage over last year’s special tax on the AIG bonuses is almost as amusing as it is alarming.  It is amusing to see the same Wall Street executives who crawled, hat-in-hand, to the federal government for bailout money finally realize what we critics of the legislation had been warning all along: federal largesse always comes with strings attached; and that sometimes those strings can strangle those they were ostensibly meant to help.  It is alarming to see how quickly the president and members of congress reacted to the public backlash caused by last year’s bonuses by passing a law more chilling (a blatantly unconstitutional bill of attainder which specifically targeted the bonus recipients) than any enacted by congress in recent memory.  They are now considering a similarly unconstitutional tax on the banks themselves.  This turn of events begs two simple questions: how did we get here?  What went wrong?

Our modern banking and finance system can trace its earliest recognizable roots back to the Middle Ages.  It was during this time that a coherent and workable system to finance long-distance trade developed to facilitate both pilgrimages to the Holy Land during the Crusades and the exchange of goods between distant and disparate cultures from Western Europe to Asia via the turbulent and dangerous trade routes in the Middle East.  For this purpose bills of exchange were issued by entrepreneurial bankers in Italian cities such as Genoa and Florence, and by the mighty order of warrior-monks called the Knights Templar (named for their original role of protecting the church – or temple – of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem) so that a traveler could deposit rather than carry cash or gold and be given a receipt or bill of exchange, before a long and dangerous journey.  They could then, upon arriving at their destination, exchange this document for their wealth – minus a transaction fee.  It was in this way that our modern system of international finance began.

Later, the role of banking expanded at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution as bankers and financiers were used by industrialists and entrepreneurs to raise capital from investors to start and expand companies which produced tangible goods and provided needed services.  The point of all this is that in the beginning, the finance industry served a useful purpose for the broader economy and helped bring about economic opportunity and freedom to a growing middle class.

This, however, is no longer the case.  Wall Street no longer represents merely a mutually beneficial meeting place between industry and investors.  Instead, thanks to a toxic combination of greed, incompetence, and government meddling, many of Wall Street’s best and brightest spend their time cooking up complex and opaque financial instruments such as credit default swaps and derivatives whose primary purpose is to enrich speculators and circumvent taxes, not to finance growth in the broader economy.

This type of activity would be perfectly legitimate in a purely capitalist system under which the basic laws of risk/reward, supply/demand, caveat emptor, laissez faire government, and binding contracts prevailed.  Unfortunately, thanks to big-government progressives and corrupt business leaders, our economic system no longer qualifies as capitalism.  Instead we’ve created a grotesque caricature of Adam Smith’s vision which bears a greater resemblance to Marx’s the Communist Manifesto than the Wealth of Nations.  What we have now is an insidious amalgam of historically discredited leftist economic and political systems such as socialism and fascism which favors an ever shrinking cabal of elites in government, business, and labor at the expense of an exhausted middle class groaning under the combined weight of this three-headed leviathan.

The result is a system where a massive and powerful labor union such as the UAW can contribute to the collapse of a once great company like General Motors by piling unsustainable cost obligations on the firm, then use its government connections to bail it out at taxpayer expense.  We see a massive and powerful financial firm such as Goldman Sachs flood successive administrations with former executives, and then use this leverage to orchestrate the demise of its two biggest competitors, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, and the bail out of insurer AIG to protect its multi-billion dollar investment during the credit crisis.  And we see firms such as General Electric push the government to pass environmental regulations compelling citizens to buy its “green technologies” from energy-efficient light bulbs to windmills.

This type of system first reared its ugly head at the dawn of the “Progressive” era when, for example, the titans of the meat-packing industry pushed the government to establish onerous federal standards on their industry to bankrupt their smaller competitors who could not meet the increasing cost of compliance.  It expanded under FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, with Nixon’s wage and price controls and the passage of CRA under Carter.  It was briefly and modestly reversed by Ronald Reagan only to re-emerge under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush with such measures as CRA expansion and the Wall Street bailout.

Gone are the days of supply-side economics where a firm endeavors simply to produce a good product at a fair price absent government meddling.  Looking to gain a competitive edge over smaller, less-connected competitors, the captains of industry invite and encourage government intervention in the free-market economy, then bristle when the government intrudes on their own prerogatives.  We then see ever greater and more intrusive measures by a political establishment seeking greater control of the means of production and wealth creation as a means of re-distribution using the public backlash against corporate excesses as a pretext.

This process is reminiscent of the scene in the movie Goodfellas (scroll ahead to 6:00) where the hapless restaurateur invites the mafia boss (Paulie) to be his partner in order to protect him from the mob’s own thug (Tommy).  What the businessman did not anticipate was that once they gained an interest in the firm, the mob would systematically destroy it from within while repeating the line, “f-you, pay me.”  And like a once-legitimate business getting mixed up with the mob, any business that gets in bed with the government is, by definition, the junior partner.  Business leaders have only themselves to blame for this mess in which they find themselves.

The only remedy for this problem is for business leaders at all levels to re-dedicate themselves to competitive, free-market principles and forswear any and all government intervention and help and for Republicans, as the center-right party in America, to re-dedicate themselves to the founding principles of limited government and laissez-faire economics.   For if current trends continue the legacy of individual liberty the citizens of this country have enjoyed for generations will be crushed by the imploding bulk of this axis of greed comprised of the leaders of big labor, big business, and big government.

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