Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Notes on what worries me about the contemporary world

The following is an outline of concerns I put together after trying (with little success) to explain to someone with a very different point of view why I am so concerned about the world situation at this time. I fear that many of the values that most Americans take for granted are at risk. This is my own list of worries. It does not include the kinds of things that many people would include. There is nothing here about the environment or homeland security, etc. The statement seems at this moment to have two foci: my problems with the American administration; my problems with circumstances in the Muslim world.

1. Why am I so troubled about the contemporary situation?

1.1 The Bush administration has not made a serious enough commitment to Afghanistan/Pakistan.

  • They secured Kabul [daytime] but much uncertainty remains.
  • They have not found a way to deal with tribal territory, which currently not only protects Osama but is still running madrassas that teach young men to hate the West.

1.2 The Bush administration invaded Iraq in such a clumsy way that we are sure to have trouble there for years

1.3 The administration flouted the advice and opinion of other state leaders and so created distrust among our closest friends.

1.4 They invaded preemptively, a very un-American action

1.5 They supposed that Saddam has WMD and could use them to shut down Saudi oil flows with nuclear blasts [and thereby cut world oil supplies by 12% [the worst we have seen so far was only 3%]]

1.6 They thought it would not cost much because the oil production of Iraq could pay for it.

1.7 They thought it was a way to break up money flows that nourish the radical movement against Israel

>They could shut down Iran’s support for Hizbullah and Iraq / Syria’s support for radical Sunni groups among the Palestinians

1.8 They used the attack on Afghanistan as a kind of model for the Iraqi attack

1.9 They expected the Iraqis to welcome us as the Afghans did

1.10 They thought we could set up a ruling council similar to that which was put in motion in Afghanistan

1.11 They seem to have underestimated Saddam’s radical supporters.

1.12 They seem to have prepared inadequately for the post-war situation

>The presence of American troops in Iraq is providing grounds for the radical Islamists to train young men for anti-Western war, just as they are being trained to fight against the Russians in Chechnia, and against the Indians in Kashmir, and against the Christians in the Moluccas, and against the Serbs in Bosnia.

1.13 In general, the approach of the Bush administration and the elected representatives in congress and the senate has been to defer all the big problems/ questions to later.They are spending money in huge amounts but have no idea how it is to be paid for.They are leaving all the fiscal issues to be dealt with by the next two generations – “as far as the eye can see”.

>In general the Bush administration seems essentially responsive to large business interests and are secretive about the way they have come to their policies [Chaney re energy; Bush/Chaney are known to have personal connections with Kenneth Lay, former head of Enron.]

>The religious communities within the United States [Christian; but also Jewish?] seem tragically misaligned with regard to the current dangers to Western values:The leadership of the main denominations [Christian, but also Jewish?] seem too fixed on local issues – abortion, gay marriage, gay ordination – to focus on the serious threats to our society.The evangelical leaders are likewise fixed on the same provincial issues and also on the “signs” that these are the “last times” before the return of Christ; thus, they are committed to Israel [whose rise is considered a fulfillment of prophecy] without regard to the abuses of the Israeli government or the Israeli policies that are fostering hatred of the West among many Muslims.

>The “left” in the West seems fixed on opposing Bush policy in Iraq and therefore seems blindly unaware of the threat to their own values by the radical Islamist movements.

>The American public is dangerously apathetic:we are still getting less than 50% of eligible voters to participate in elections.

>In the mean time moneyed interests exert controlling interests on the behavior of elected officials, whereas the ordinary public – many of whom have no institutions to lobby for them – are apathetic.

>In particular, there is a dangerous informal tie between the leaders of our country and those of Saudi Arabia, representing interests that in other contexts are inimical to American culture – that is, they are working against notions of tolerance, pluralism of institutions, democracy.

>There is a movement against the US and the West that is truly antithetical to western values.It is a committed and dedicated although it lacks a clear alternative ideology. (NYT 12/8/03 “Rebels without a cause”; Napoleoni, Modern Jehad)

>What I think about most Muslims:

>Most Muslims are not Arabs

>Most Muslims are not much concerned about theMiddle East.

>Most Muslims are not radical

>But many are enticed and/ or offended by Western culture [Pakistan: control of films but not of videos; every kind of smut is available on video]

>What I think about radical Islam

>This is an infinitesimal number (out of 1.4 billion) but they are politically active and dangerously committed

>Islamists are a creation of radical strains of Islamic doctrine, some of them very old [Wahhabism, Deobandism].Some are modern applications of old traditions in more modern form [Jamaat-IslamiPakistan; Napoleoni calls Maududi a Marxist/Leninist]

>Wahhabism [Saudi Arabia]

>Muslim Brethren [a modern movement in Egypt]

>Deobandism [a reactionary movement in India from mid-19th century]

>Sudanese Islam [a recrudescence of 19th c. Mahdism?]

>Islamists were emboldened by

>the Iranian Revolution, in which after an internal struggle Shi`ite clerics took over Iran.

>the war in Afghanistan, where CIA/ISI invited and trained zealous mujahedin to fight the Soviet Union

>ManyIslamists are being recruited from the ranks of the young and unemployed.In much of the region of the Middle East and Central Asia half of the population are under 20 years of age.

>Islamists are being created and perpetuated

>in Pakistan,

>where mujahedin are needed to wage a war in the name of Islam in Kashmir:

>where, in Peshawar and Quetta, Taliban are running free.

>whose tribal peoples have traditionally seen themselves as faithful defenders of Islam against the encroachments of outsiders and outside religions into their territory.Their people are protecting Osama and Mulla M. Omar.

>in the Middle East, where Palestinians [presumed to be Muslim] are fighting Israel

>in Saudi Arabia ,where many radical mullahs still preach war and hatred of the West [NYT 11/29/03]

>And they are being deployed in wars they take to be holy wars,

>in the Middle East

>in Pakistan and Afghanistan

>in Bosnia which was a secular Muslim movement originally and was then co-opted by radical Muslims,

>in Chechnia which was a secular Muslim movement originally and has become co-opted by radical Muslims,

>In Sudan where Muslims are fighting tribal peoples in south

>And there are other wars where radical Islamic fighters are likely contributing to local conflict:

>In the Moluccas, where Muslims and Christians are fighting,

>In the Philippines, where local resistance to the state on Mindanau has been co-opted by “Abu-Sayyaf”, a radical Muslim group funded by Saudi Arabia,

>In Nigeria where Muslims in the north are trying to establish sharia law vs a mainly Christian south.


>believe the existence of the oppressive regimes of the Middle East is enabled by US and Western powers

>believe their zeal won the war against the Soviet Union; the most radical of them believe that American support against the Soviets was incidental;

>believe Westerners are effete and will cut and run if warfare becomes too costly in lives:Examples are the flight of American Marines from Lebanon (after a suicide bomber killed 241 marines), Mogadishu (Somalia), Vietnam.

>are well funded by huge amounts of money:some of it in legal enterprises [oil industry, other local industries], some of it in illegal trade and barter [drugs, weapons, other contraband] (Napoleoni, Modern Jehad; Baer, Sleeping with the Devil)

>At the same time the peoples of the Muslim world are diverse and very divided

>Many of the most educated people in Middle East have been Christians, although many of them have left/ fled to the West

>Pan- Arabism (which held several states together, including Saddam’s Iraqi state) was a secular movement encouraged by Christians (Saddam’s PM [or foreign minister?] came from a Christian community)

>There is among the Muslim populaces a strong distrust between Shi`a and Sunni

>Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan preached that it was a religious duty to kill Shi`a

>Iranian Shi`a are distrusted by most other Muslim nations because of theirShi`ism:even Iraqi Shi`a distance themselves from the Iranian Shi`a

>However, at higher levels there seems to be a clandestine accommodation between leaders of the two sects:

>Son of Osama has been living in Teheran

>Saudi and Iranian regimes seem to have made an accommodation on some issues (at the highest levels)

>Virtually all the oil resources of the Middle East are in Shi`a occupied territories, which adds to the tensions between Sunni and Shi`a.

>In eastern Saudi Arabia, where Shi`a are predominant

>In southern Iraq

>In Iran

>In the Muslim world a struggle has been going on between secularists and Islamists.[Will it continue and become more serious within the Muslim community?]

>Egyptian government vs Muslim Brotherhood; the radical elements of the Muslim Brethren fled to Saudi Arabia after Sadat’s assassination

>Algeria, where Arab-Afghans battled for control of the country for several years

>Libya: where Islamists have wanted to assassinate Ghaddafi

>Turkey:where army stands guard over secularism

>Indonesia:where radicals have been considered benign, although they have blown up a bar in Bali

>Some important Muslim countries are divided in multiple ways

>Pakistan [said to have 50 nuclear warheads]:BarelvisvsDeobandis; rich, self serving oligarchy vs poor, landless; tribalsvs government; Baluchistan, Punjab, vs Tribal Pushtun areas.And a few women are in virtual slavery.

>Afghanistan:westernized secular Muslims are conduit of Western support and money vs localized (and mainly rural) coalitions; Kabulis and other urban communities [Herat, Mazar, Kandahar] vs rural peoples

>A question: Is the younger generation up to these challenges?They will have to do better than my generation has done.

Dangerous implications of media conglomerates

"[T]wo thirds of the newspaper markets in America are monopolies. … [As a result,] reporters, editors and critics become caged birds singing the company tune in the information-commodities racket. When they begin to have more in common with the chairman of the board than with the working stiffs who read and watch, journalism turns to slush …. I keep coming back to the subject of media conglomeration because it can take the oxygen out of democracy. The founders of this country believed a free and rambunctious press was essential to the protection of our freedoms. They couldn't envision the rise of giant megamedia conglomerates whose interests converge with state power to produce a conspiracy against the people. I think they would be aghast at how this union of media and government has produced the very kind of imperial power against which they rebelled. "

From an essay by Bill Moyers named Media and Democracy.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Why am I, a humble follower of Jesus, so troubled by the Bush administration (which claims to be Christian)?

Here are some reasons:

The administration is against allowing crime victims to sue irresponsible gun makers [NYT 3/3/04 A26]. I believe that the rule of law requires that victims should have access to legal means for redress.

The administration opposes continuing the ban on assault rifles. I believe that assault rifles have no place in a civilized society.

The administration opposes having background checks on weapons buyers at gun shows. I believe that in this nation, in which the number of persons shot per capita exceeds by many times that of any other country, there is a need to control the distribution of firearms. I believe our country should require everyone who buys a gun to register, just as everyone who drives a car should register, and I believe background checks should be required for anyone purchasing a device whose sole purpose is to kill.

The President misrepresented the truth in his state-of-the-union message to Congress when he said that uranium had been acquired from Niger by Saddam Hussein in order for Iraq to make nuclear bombs. Ambassador Joseph C Wilson IV had already investigated the rumor and reported that it was false.

The administration tried to punish Ambassador Joseph C Wilson IV for revealing that the President knew that he was misrepresenting the truth in his state-of-the-union message to Congress (when he stated that Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger in order to make nuclear bombs). In contravention of the law (which makes it a felony) someone [said to be in Chaney’s office] made many calls to journalists to reveal that the wife of Ambassador Wilson was a CIA operative. This endangered not only her but the contacts she had made in Africa.

The administration has refused to reveal who were consulted in the construction of the energy bill. Could there be any other reason than that a preponderance of big energy corporations were among the advisors? And could even some who were accused of illegal behavior (such as Kenneth Lay) been among them?

The administration has flouted the treaties made with other countries, such as the Kyoto Agreement (which was a framework laid down by 38 developed countries [including the US under previous administrations] to prevent global warming).

The administration has taken contradictory positions on the role of the CIA in the decision to invade Iraq. In 2002-3 they criticized the CIA for not recognizing the danger posed by Iraq. In 2004 they criticized the CIA for overstating the danger. This looks too much like scapegoating the CIA in order for the responsible persons to avoid criticism.

The administration has proposed huge expenditures to develop a missile shield that virtually no technical expert believes is feasible.

The administration has proposed huge expenditures for placing human being on Mars -- this at a time when the budget ahead looks dangerous and when the middle and lower class of this country are becoming less solvent.

The administration as its first act was to reduce the taxes of the super-rich for the next several years and it intends to make that reduction permanent. In the mean time the middle and lower classes are suffering. Its policy has shrunk the federal government revenues in a time of war.

The administration insisted on going to war in Iraq despite the advice of its own CIA and the warnings of other nations.

The administration claimed the attack on Iraq was an act of war against terror. In order to legitimate their action they claimed that Saddam Hussain was in league with Al Qaeda. Never once has it revealed that Saddam Hussain had a reputation for killing radical Muslim leaders and was in fact widely despised by the Islamic leaders in the Muslim world until the first Iraq War, at which time they supported Saddam against the Americans. Since then there has never been evidence that Osama or any of the leaders of Al Qaeda had a positive relationship with Saddam.

The effect of this attack by the administration on Iraq was to divert attention from the real War on Terror, which was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in places where Osama ben Ladin and Mullah Muhammad Omar could hide because they were beyond the reach of government and where the local populations were generally supportive.

The administration withheld information on the actual costs of the drug bill so that Congress acted on faulty information. NYT 3/18/04

The week of 3/17/04 the administration dropped its commitment to the health and survival of millions of poor women abroad because of its opposition to family planning. At a diplomatic meeting of 38 nations in Santiago, the US delegation alone refused to join a routine statement of support for the international agreement on population and development approved at a United Nations summit in Cairo 10 years ago. At about the same time President Bush was marking International Women's Day by touting his military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, claiming they have liberated thousands of women from lives of tyranny and oppression. I believe that the needs of poor women abroad deserve substantial help, and I see no reason to oppose family planning in nations of the third world.

A note to TV host Tucker Carlson Sun, 8 Aug 2004

Dear Mr Tucker Carlson,

I was stunned that you could not grasp why so many Americans are so intensely offended by President Bush. I do not "hate" Bush but I believe his administration is guilty of serious and dangerous errors. The problem with the Bush administration has been articulated well by many people -- Jimmy Carter said it well at the Democratic convention, for instance.

The Bush administration started out right by attacking Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan but it turned aside to fulfill an agenda already announced before the 2000 election by the people who formed his administration. They started a second war, despite the warnings of our allies. They called it a "preemptive war," and, in order to justify it, they implied that somehow Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attack (their word "link" was deliberately ambiguous and imprecise, surely you will agree).

So we are in two wars. To the one that we should be fighting (in Afghanistan and Pakistan) we have committed, begrudgingly, about 13,000 troops. To the one the Bush people wanted to engage even before 9/11 we have committed 140,000 troops. The financial costs of the Iraq war as you know are astronomical (more than 87 billion dollars and counting), and the human costs (over 900 dead and counting) are tragic. The Iraq war was from the beginning unjustified and inexcusable. And when that war is finally over -- or when our country has given up and withdrawn our troops (which would now be a mistake, of course) -- there will still be Al Qaeda, who have found sanctuary in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and whose funding is coming from Saudi Arabia. Our Congress impeached the previous president for dalliances with an intern. What should be done to this president?

Robert L Canfield.

Note: There are two errors in this note: We have between 15,000-20,000 troops in Afghanistan, and [according to a recent NYTimes] we have spent about 140 $billion in Iraq (and counting).

Prisoner abuse by American troops.

Tragic to say, the scale of abuses and the rank of those involved in abuses are turning out to be heartbreaking. But another emerging tragedy is the unwillingness of our administration to admit to the problem. As one of the articles here indicates, it is a return to the unwillingness to admit to genocide in Rwanda at a time when honesty would have required costly involvement. The following articles on the issue are posted on the comments:

Susan Sontag on Torture
American troops complicit in massacre of Taliban
American leadership complicit in abuse of prisoners.
Abuse in American prisons