RSS feed for entries


It’s about the power, stupid

Mark Lilla, professor at Columbia University, has written a long article“The Politics of God” in the Aug. 19, 2007, NYTimes. Shorter Lilla: people who think belief and state should be separated exist, but lots of people want God, the whole God, and nothing but the God. The article explores the history of and people’s need for religion in politics.

[O]ur problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.


Lilla’s analysis is fine if you accept his premise, which is that this is about religion, about people’s sense of their place in the world, about feeling comfortable in the world. But he seems to be forgetting some significant points from very recent history in the course of reaching back to the 1500s. Read more »

    Print This Post Print This Post

If Rushdie’s knighthood is an insult…

If Rushdie’s knighthood is a huge insult that demands an apology and a retraction of the offending knighthood, then there a few other insults that need to be addressed.

I am deeply offended by the treatment of women in many countries. A heartfelt apology is certainly in order, but even more, I want a retraction. Get rid of all those laws that deprive women of freedom of movement, of the right to vote, of something so damn basic as the right to choose their own clothing.

I am terribly offended that there are still governments who censor political speech. I want to see those practices stopped now, thank you.

I am appalled that there are governments that use torture. I expect to see that stopped — yesterday! — and all those heads of state and their henchmen tried for crimes against humanity.

And if these things aren’t done to my satisfaction, then . . . well, then we come to the difference between me and the Rushdie apoplectics. They talk of racing out and blowing things up. Me? I’ll probably write a strong letter to my blog.

That’s the other difference between me and them: I have a much better time of it.

Technorati tags: Rushdie, knighthood, politics, religion, current events

    Print This Post Print This Post

The Pope, the Jihad, and the Sword

What is it about popes? With rare exceptions, like John XXIII, what a bunch of benighted enablers of balderdash. Maybe it has to do with the selection process being limited to a few old men in skirts.

Now the current one has managed to quote a fourteenth century emperor as if he had some relevance six hundred years later. (Quoted from the BBC)

…[H]e [the emperor] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

That from the head of a religion that gave people the Inquisition and witch-burning. That from the head of a religion that was so famous for converting people by fire and sword that it’s a joke in one of the world’s most indispensable books, 1066 and All That.

The sad thing is, old Ratzinger–sorry, Benedict XVI–was actually trying to make a good point. Violence has no place in religion, which is sort of like saying that moms and apple pie go together. You’ll get no argument from anyone, except of course the people trying to use religion as an excuse for their own greed or hatred. That, too, is not limited to Islam or Christianity. You could probably dig up a paleolithic shaman with ten followers, and find a couple grunting slogans to justify killing their neighbors.

Ratzinger-Benedict was also trying to say that narrow Western concepts of reason interfere with dialogue with non-Western cultures. An attitude of “The facts, ma’am, just give me the facts” is indeed too limited to encompass any of the finer things in life. The Westerners have a lot to learn. So does everyone else. Worshipping gods made in our own image is not working out for us.

John Lennon said it best:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Technorati tags: Pope, Islam, Christianity, terrorism, violence, religion

    Print This Post Print This Post

God is no excuse

I’ve had it with being bullied by bigots hiding behind cutouts of gods made in their own image. Enough already.

Burn witches for God. Kill heathens for God. Let people die of Aids for God. And so on and on and on and on. The latest was that God is so huffy about having his picture taken, it was worth killing people over it.

Enough with pretending that these so-called religions pre-empt every other value, from free speech to life itself. To hell with them. Let them go back where they came from.

God is no excuse for killing people. Anyone who pretends so, is not religious. God is no excuse for destroying women. Or for throwing acid in their faces, or for pretending they’re half-human. God is no excuse for letting children starve, while forcing women to produce starving children. God is no excuse for ANY suffering inflicted by one human being on another.

Enough with the rest of us losing all our fight the moment someone pulls out a God-shaped facsimile. The Vatican didn’t condemn the genocide of the Jews when it happened, and it took them damn decades to mumble an apology. Don’t tell me that’s not a shame on all Catholicism. Don’t tell me something is a religion when its leaders would rather protect their priests than condemn sex crimes against children. We’re told that Islam doesn’t actually have anything against women, that all the anti-women sentiment in Islamic countries is cultural. Fine. Then condemn the people who use the religion to justify their “honor” killings and all their hate crimes. Make women judges and imams (and, for the Catholics, priests). Until then, don’t make excuses for hatred.

God is no excuse for spewing hate speech, not even in a sermon. Especially not in a sermon. God is no excuse for spewing lies. If the facts don’t agree with your particular god-story, then tough. God is no excuse to shout down the facts. Especially since God is supposed to have made them.

The irony is that hiding bigotry under a flag full of God is idolatry, in the real meaning of the word. That would be funny, if it didn’t cause oceans of suffering.

People talk of culture wars and clashes of civilizations. Damn right there’s a clash. It’s between people of good faith, with or without a religion, and theocrats dictating how others should live.

It’s time we stopped letting them get away with it. Stop dignifying the theocrats’ excuses with the name of religion. They may be weird cultural practices, or cults, or delusions, or power grabs. People who advocate hurting other people don’t worship God, and we have to stop letting them pretend they do. God is no excuse for the things they do.

Technorati tags: freedom, democracy, human rights, theocrats, fairness, Islamism, literalismfundamentalism, totalitarianismCharlie Hebdo

    Print This Post Print This Post

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on THE CARTOONS

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, BBC photo
Why isn’t she running the world? She knows right from wrong, she and Malalai Joya are the two bravest people on the planet, and Ayaan has gone through trial by horror. She made a film with her partner, Theo van Gogh, about women in Islam. He got murdered for it. If anyone understands the price of free speech, it’s Ayaan. This is what she has to say about it:

From the BBC:

Dutch MP backs Muhammad cartoons

The Somali-born Dutch MP who describes herself as a “dissident of Islam” has backed the Danish newspaper that first printed the Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

[She] said it was “correct to publish the cartoons” in Jyllands Posten and “right to republish them”.

Ms Hirsi Ali … said… “today the open society is challenged by Islamism”. … “Within Islam exists a hardline Islamist movement that rejects democratic freedoms and wants to destroy them.”

[She] criticised European leaders for not standing by Denmark and urged politicians [and I could think of a few others!] to stop appeasing fundamentalists.

She also said that although the Prophet Muhammad did a lot of good things, his decree that homosexuals and apostates should be killed was incompatible with democracy. … Ms Hirsi Ali said the furore over the cartoons had exposed the fear among artists and journalists in Europe to “analyse or criticise intolerant aspects of Islam”.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Free speech, T-shirts, Cartoons, and Everything

What do spam, Islamists, porn, Cindy Sheehan, and cartoons have in common? Free speech. It’s everywhere these days, a constant din. We need to figure out what’s free and what’s just speech before we go deaf.

In the high and far off times, when the Founding Dads were mulling over the liberties essential to the life of a free society, free speech was front and center. They were talking about free political speech, which explains points of view or criticizes them. I doubt there’s any dispute that the free flow of ideas is essential to democracy. People may not feel that democracy is necessary, but if you do want democracy, you can’t have it without free political speech.

So far, so good, but talking to yourself in a closed room isn’t really the point. The free *flow* of ideas means people need to hear as well as speak. That leads to radical conclusion #1: Broadcast information is an important method of delivering ideas, so free airtime has to be available to air different points of view. The time needs to be taxpayer-funded *at cost* because the free flow of ideas is the lifeblood of democracy. I know the broadcast giants would have foaming fits if the public actually had some use of the public airwaves. That’s just too bad.

Illegal takeovers of the kind that have gutted traditional broadcasting are not limited to old media. There is the issue of “pipes” and the internet. In the US, the government and a few large companies own major portions of the backbone, the “pipes,” that allow the broadband internet to function. Some of those companies have started making noises about how they’re going to promote their own “products” on “their” pipes, and start charging others more for the use of the network.

The internet was started by the government, carried forward by the free contributions of countless academics and others, and the basic fiber optic cables were laid down with taxpayer money. The companies who now have responsibility for running parts of these networks received all that immense value for free. The companies need to pay back all that value first, if they think the internet shouldn’t be free. (More on these issues by Christopher Stern at WaPo, Jeffrey Benner at, and on “content-based billing” by Feliks Welfeld at Remember, the companies are NOT the ones generating the content. They just want to charge for it, apparently simply because they think they can.)

The whole idea of charging for the network is as antisocial and counterproductive as charging everyone to set foot on the road. The net is a social good and a natural monopoly, like highways. Like them, it needs to be recognized as such, and to be regulated and freely available the same way.

Tangentially, another natural monopoly and essential utility of the internet is the ability to search it. That, too, needs to be freely available and regulated for the good of all. (Yes, Google, I’m looking at you.) Bill Thompson has some more thoughts on that subject.

Religious or philosophical expression is another cornerstone of free speech, and not one subject to much controversy. Without that freedom, the central quest of finding our own place in the universe becomes crippled. The whole point of a free society is that the only limits are not harming others, and it certainly covers the freedom to search for our God in our own way.

Here again, the need to be heard is important, so nobody can have a much bigger megaphone than anyone else. That’s the idea behind insisting that government cannot promote any given religion. If it does, other religions quickly become suppressed mutterings in small rooms. People may not want free societies, but if they do, then separation of church and state is essential to the freedom of religion. Lately, this seems to be turning back into a new concept.

That was the easy part. Now comes the hard part. Cartoons. They’ve been much in the news lately. A Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed in the context of a discussion about free speech and whether it was right that Muslims tried to insist that everyone, not just other Muslims, had to refrain from showing images of the Prophet. Four months went by. Nobody really noticed. The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by millions of Muslims took place. Once again, there was insufficient planning and organization with the result that several hundred people were trampled to death. This is not the first time that’s happened. There were rumblings that the Saudi government should “do something.” The Saudis started the storm about some four month-old cartoons. (Insight into this affair from the incomparable Religious Policeman, and other posts earlier and later.)

That’s the background on that particular controversy, but there is a real issue at its heart. Is respect for other people’s viewpoints more or less important than free speech? The way I would answer that question is by taking both choices to their potential conclusions. If respect is more important, then any speech that offends someone has to be silenced. If applied to everyone, nobody would have any free speech. On the other hand, if free speech is more important, then some people would have to avert their eyes to avoid offense. So long as they are able to do that, giving free speech priority enables everyone to live according to their own lights.

In the interests of following that principle myself: note that a copy of one of the cartoons appears below. It says it all, as far as I’m concerned. A link to all twelve of the famous cartoons: The Shadow of the Olive Tree . [Update 2013-03-31. A cursory search indicates that the cartoons have been removed at news sites. The only copies I could find are on the Wayback Machine.]

cartoon by Rasmus Sand Hoyer, two Muslim women whose eyes only are visible, looking horrified, and a Muslim man with a black rectangle blinding his vision.

Then there’s Tom Toles’ cartoon that offended the Joint Chiefs of Staff so much. “Beyond tasteless” said the top military brass.

quadruple amputee lying in hospital bed, while Dr. Rumsfeld says, I'm listing your condition as battle-hardened

The cartoon is a real avert-your-eyes piece of work, but not because of Tom Toles. What’s tasteless is a useless war that destroys people, and a country that hardly takes care of the vets afterward. The cartoon points that out. Starkly. The cartoon would be tasteless if Toles thought that was funny. He’s outraged. What’s tasteless is worrying about a cartoon rather than sharing the outrage. This is such an obvious example of free speech being used to air criticism that I’m not sure why the Joint Chiefs, who are presumably in the business of defending those freedoms with their lives, need to have this explained to them. If they don’t like the cartoon, they have it in their hands to make it irrelevant.

Moving right along to the other burning question: t-shirts. In the days when clothes were clothes, you had to carry a placard to make a point. Now, through the miracles of modern technology, we can print slogans on t-shirts and bill caps, which enables Cindy Sheehan and a congressman’s wife to appear at the State of the Union speech wearing t-shirts that support the troops, each in her own way. How far do you take the outlawing of meaningful clothing? If words or numbers are forbidden, how about pictures? One could wear a shirt printed with Picasso’s Guernica painting. Is it art or is it a Statement, and who gets to decide? If a near-Muslim aversion to any representational imagery is enforced, will pink triangles become illegal because they make a statement about gays? How about just the color pink, if triangles are deemed too obvious?

You see where I’m going with this. It wouldn’t take much to end in rules that require everyone to wear identical clothing in sober shades of gray. This is ridiculous. I can understand that on decorous occasions one doesn’t want the visual landscape cluttered with people’s personal billboards. And I can also understand that potentially offensive sexual or religious messages are deprecated, because there is no way to avert your eyes when someone is in your face with their clothing. But editing political statements on people’s clothing during a political occasion is absurd. It’s nothing but shouting down the opposition, and that is suppression of free speech.

What about those other wellsprings of offensiveness, porn and spam? Let’s take them in order. The idea behind free speech is that some of it is essential to a free society, and the rest of it is nobody’s business but your own. If porn had no effects beyond the consumer of it, there would be nothing to regulate. However, porn does have demonstrable effects on people’s minds. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be so worried about children seeing it. It is an infection of the imagination that may or may not cause harmful consequences to others. Whatever else it is, it is definitely not a social good. It’s as gray an area as you could ever hope to find.

That leads to Radical Conclusion #2. Porn as a voluntary, private matter shouldn’t be regulated. It should be invisible to those of us who don’t want to see it, but to those who do, it’s their business. Achieving that would mean separate Internet domains, changes to magazine cover art, and so on through more sad examples than I have space for.

There is, however, another aspect to porn, the aspect of infecting imagination and the addictiveness of it for some people. Most people’s imaginations don’t reach all that far, but broadcasting the slickest, extremest fantasies of a few gives everyone access to the drug in its stronger forms. I think it is a real mistake to allow that. People should be limited to their own imaginations, and the way to do that would be Radical Conclusion #2a: allow non-commercial porn, but not any other kind. Actors, producers, distributors, in short, everyone involved would have to be working for free, purely because they liked what they were doing so much. Nor could they sell advertising or make ads.

[Update 2013-03-31. The amount I know about porn could, obviously, fit on a postage stamp. It has since come to my attention, e.g. 1, 2, that some of the most damaging porn is non-commercial. (A search for “rapes posted online” gave well over ten million results when I tried it today.) So forget the non-commercial distinction. The only real distinction is between harmful versus harmless. And porn has disappeared so far down the sewer that it’s not even called porn if nobody is degraded, humiliated, or damaged.]

(I’m purposely avoiding the whole question of art versus pornography. They’re easy to distinguish at the extremes, impossible in the middle. Where to draw the dividing line is a matter of taste, and doesn’t really affect the main argument that volunteer pornography harmless erotica shouldn’t be regulated, except to enable people to avoid it. So much art is produced for a pittance that it would probably fall under that umbrella in any case.)

Hate speech is another form of offensiveness with a big gray area where it shades into political or religious speech. There is one simple distinction that can be made, following the same principle that makes it illegal to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Speech that advocates harm to others is increasingly being considered illegal hate speech in many countries. This is not a radical conclusion. What is radical is the idea that we should apply that measure to entertainment as well. Advocating harm against a person because of their membership in a group is not entertainment. It’s illegal hate speech. For instance, it is not okay to put women through meat grinders any more than it is to lynch blacks, whether it’s for politics, or for religion, or, God help us, for “entertainment.”

Finally, we get back to an easy one: spam. The justification behind spam is something called “commercial free speech.” In plain English, that says that if I have something to sell, I can say as much as I want about it. The idea behind political free speech has been applied to something totally different. It’s as if someone said, “Salt is essential to life. Therefore I’ll pickle you in salt.”

The idea behind free speech–one more time–is the free flow of ideas. Not the free flow of dollars. There is no such thing as commercial free speech. Speech that is not about ideas, but is about making a buck, does not need protection for the good of a free society, and, in fact, cannot have protection for the good of a free society. That’s why we have truth in advertising laws. Radical conclusion #3: We need to get our heads around the fact that telemarketers, spammers, junk mailers, and the whole boiling of pestiferous blots on the body politic are not exercising free speech. They’re trying to sell us stuff. One citizen is not normally allowed to harass another. That comes under the definition of causing harm. So when will some brave politician finally point out that all this garbage is nothing less than harassment and it has to stop?

Interestingly enough, the other side of “commercial” free speech doesn’t get much respect. Individuals who complain about their experiences with a company are being sued for slander or annoyance or who-knows-what-all. The principle in operation seems to be that if you’re a company it’s free speech, not harassment, but if you’re just a wee little individual spending your own time and money, then it’s the other way around. Before this complete travesty gets any further out of hand, individuals’ rights to discuss their experiences on an unpaid, uncompensated basis must be totally protected.

So . . . where are we now? The short form is this: Speech that’s a drug or an amusement or is trying to make a buck is fine so long as it’s not in anyone’s face. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. But speech about ideas, any ideas, that does not advocate hate crimes, should and must be free. Without that, there can be no free society.

Update, March 1, 2006:

Turns out, I’m fiddling at the feet of giants. They’ve weighed in on the cartoon controversy much better than I can. From the BBC report on Writers issue cartoon row warning.
Signed by:
Salman Rushdie – Indian-born British writer with fatwa issued ordering his execution for The Satanic Verses
Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Somali-born Dutch MP [see next post, and link also in link list]
Taslima Nasreen – exiled Bangladeshi writer, with fatwa issued ordering her execution
Bernard-Henri Levy – French philosopher
Chahla Chafiq – Iranian writer exiled in France
Caroline Fourest – French writer
Irshad Manji – Ugandan refugee and writer living in Canada [link]
Mehdi Mozaffari – Iranian academic exiled in Denmark
Maryam Namazie – Iranian writer living in Britain
Antoine Sfeir – director of French review examining Middle East
Ibn Warraq – US academic of Indian/Pakistani origin
Philippe Val – director of Charlie Hebdo

“We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.”

“It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.”

“Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present,” the writers added, saying it is nurtured by fears and frustrations.

Not just Islamism, I would add. All totalitarian fundamentalisms–Christian, Hindu, all of them–bring ignorance, war, and death in the name of some god made in their own image and likeness.

Technorati tags: free speech, cartoons, Danish cartoons, cartoons of Mohammed, hate speech, protests, regulation

    Print This Post Print This Post

You can’t believe in evolution

[This is a re-posting of an earlier post, with the comments turned on this time. Unfortunately, current events–read: “Kansas” [Oct24, 2005: good grief, and now Dover!]–keep making it relevant. It’s amazing that almost a century after the Scopes monkey trial, we STILL have to argue about this nonsense.]

Evolution is said to be one dogma among many, nothing more than part of the orthodoxy known as science. Other beliefs are just as valid, and they deserve equal time because anything less is unfair.

There is only one thing wrong with this viewpoint. Evolution is not a belief. Even though nobody is ever going to see birds evolving from dinosaurs, evolution does not rest on the same sort of faith as, say, belief in an afterlife. You might as well say you believe in stars or electrons because you, personally, have never seen great flaming balls of gas or infinitesimal blips zipping by. Switching on a lamp or a computer doesn’t feel like an act of faith. (Well, maybe just a little bit, in the case of computers.) The physical world isn’t something to believe in. It’s just there. Likewise, believing in science would be like believing in a yardstick. It’s just a way of studying that world.

Science is defined by a method, and that method explicitly involves only measurable objects and testable predictions whose results can be independently verified. That means science doesn’t work on anything that can’t be measured and verified. It does *not* mean that everything immeasurable is unimportant. Quite the contrary, since love, joy, hate, hope, beauty, and God are all beyond measurement. Science doesn’t have the tools to tell us anything about them.

What science can tell us about is the physical world, and it is so effective in its own limited range that it’s given us vast power. This has a whole slew of unscientific consequences. Humans, as a matter of observable fact, adore power, so science has acquired a mantle of god-like authority that doesn’t remotely fit. Scientists, who are human beings in their spare time, tend to like the authority and all the perks that go with it, and they’ve certainly come up with their own share of stupid orthodoxies. But that has nothing to do with science itself. Science is not, and by its nature cannot be, a belief system any more than carpentry could be.

So where does that leave evolution? It’s called the Theory of Evolution, and in order to understand what that means one has to understand how scientists use language. Truth is immeasurable, so science can’t find truth. It doesn’t try to. It talks only about the likelihood that a given result will be observed again.

All scientific conclusions are probability statements: an observation is repeated a number of times and, say, nine times out of ten the results confirm a given idea, so . . . the idea is thrown out. A ninety percent chance of being right is not good enough. The probability of being right has to be nineteen out of twenty in the biological sciences. It has to approach ninety nine out of a hundred in the physical sciences. Imagine applying those standards in your personal life.

In science, that’s just the beginning. The hypothesis, which is an expensive word for educated guess, is merely said to be confirmed once it passes that bar. These guesses are dignified with the name of “theory” when they have been confirmed so many times there is no real chance they won’t continue being confirmed. They are called “laws” when that certainty becomes crushing, but even laws are probability statements. The law of gravity is a probability statement with an extraordinarily low chance of not working.

Against that backdrop, evolution is called a theory because there are so many facts in its favor. It’s a parallel case to our understanding of stars and electrons. We have no personal experience of any of them, but scientists who have studied the facts have come up with coherent explanations that pan out. Evolution can explain practical things, such as how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance and why measles epidemics run in cycles, and it can provide mind-altering insights such as that insects and mammals have the same basic body plan, except the plan is back to front.

None of the other ideas for explaining the patterns of life rests on any facts that contradict evolution. The theory of intelligent design (and “theory” is used here in its common meaning) has not been able to show the existence of intelligence in the design, using scientific methods. Creationists can’t show that creation occurred. If the scientific method is not used, the result is not science.

People who argue against evolution can, and do, fit some of the facts into their theories, but they have to ignore all the facts that disagree, which is about as far from the scientific method as you can get. They have no measurable observations and no testable, independently verifiable predictions.

Intelligent design and creationism, by those or any other names, are not competing scientific theories. They are simply theories. They may deserve equal time, but only with their equals in the realm of ideas. Discussing intelligent design in a class on evolution is like considering theories on good government when building a rocket ship.

At the heart of the problem lies confusion about science and religion. Both may have authority and try to explain the world, but the worlds they’re trying to explain are different, the way they explain things is different, and their authority rests on different foundations. Science is not, *and cannot be*, in conflict with religion because they address fundamentally different questions. Facts can certainly contradict specific scriptures, because God’s stenographers do suffer the occasional hiccup, but that doesn’t mean science can suddenly answer cosmic questions about the reason for our existence, or that religion becomes a good way to cure AIDS.

Using religion, or anything else for that matter, to argue against facts is a hopeless endeavor. You can’t argue with facts any more than you can believe in them. And evolution is as close to a fact as biology gets. In Bill Bryson’s inimitable words, denying evolution proves conclusively that the danger for those who try it is not that they may be descended from apes but that they may be overtaken by them.

Technorati tags: evolution intelligent design creationism

    Print This Post Print This Post

Losing it in Iraq

Is anyone else boggling?

Here we are, in a country founded on the separation of church and state, yet we can’t figure out how to balance a Shia majority in Iraq against the minority neighbors they would like to overrun. (Because, let’s face it, the sudden Shia commitment to elections is not a symptom of conversion to democratic ideals.)

Granted, the idea of separating church and state is “out there” for some Middle Easterners. It is also out there for an administration that hopes to be re-elected with the help of fundamentalists. But these aren’t the only available voices. Where are the constitutional scholars, the journalists, or the ninth grade civics students who could point out that this is a problem with an obvious solution?

There’s a good bit of talk about the impossibility of keeping religion out of politics because the “Iraqi people” want Islamic government.

I hadn’t realized we cared what the Iraqis want. We invaded their country because it suited us. We killed thousands of their citizens. Yet now we’re saying it would be too rude to tell them they can have any government they want, so long as it’s secular. I know nation-building is for softies, but this is ridiculous.

And, furthermore, who are these “Iraqi people” who want things? Almost two thirds of the Iraqis, two thirds, are women. They can’t all be like Ann Coulter. Many of them are on record as being quite progressive. Obviously, these women are not “Iraqi people” since what they want doesn’t enter the picture. I’m not even talking about how Iraqi men feel. I’m talking about a two thirds majority that doesn’t seem to exist for Bremer and Bush.

It’s also unclear why we’re ignoring our own democratic principles when they could address so many problems for us. Separating church and state and paying attention to a two thirds majority could reduce the influence of fanatical Islamists, which we say is our goal.

Mysteries are supposed to be solved by considering motives, and the effects of US occupation in Iraq are clear enough, even if the rhetoric makes no sense. Oil installations are the only things protected from looting. Taxpayer money flows to crony corporations. It all feels like a bad echo of the attempts in the 1950s to install puppet dictators in Central America. Now, it’s not cheap fruit we’re trying to extract, but cheap oil. The “unforeseen” consequences won’t be illegal aliens. Instead, we’ll have our hands full of illegal terrorists.

How long can we sustain this planet-sized gap between what we say here and what we do there? When the terrorists refuse to seethe quietly in their own part of the world, will we boggle again about why they hate us so much?

(Written March 19, 2004, but misposted.)

Technorati tags: Iraq, Islam, Christianity, terrorism, violence, religion, separation of church and state

    Print This Post Print This Post