Saturday, January 16, 2010

"For the role of the church concerned him deeply.

As a potential minister, he was more determined than ever to be like Benjamin Mays and serve God and humanity from his pulpit. As a consequence, King was not content simply to follow Crozer's prescribed course of study. On his own, he began a serious quest for a philosophical method to eliminate social evil, a quest that sent him poring over the works of the great social philosophers, "from Plato to Aristotle," as he wrote later, "down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke."

While he gained something from each of these thinkers, it was the theologian Walter Rauschenbusch who initially influenced him the most. In the turbulent 1890s, this tall, deaf, bearded scholar had taught church history at Rochester Theological Seminary, embroiled in ecclesiastical controversies of a bygone industrial America. Beyond his study, a Social Gospel movement blazed in industrial America, as modernist Christians attacked the evils of unbridled capitalism and sought to make their religion relevant to the problems of the modern world. As the new century dawned, educated young clergymen across America demanded that social justice be defined in Christian terms.

Swept up in this tempest of reform, Rauschenbush abandoned recondite scholarship and became the leading prophet of the new Social Gospel. In Christianity and the Social Crisis and other impassioned books, he blamed capitalism for all the squalor and want that plagued the land. Damning business as "the last entrenchment of autocracy," capitalism as "a mammonistic organization with which Christianity can never be content," Rauschenbusch summoned Christians to build a new social order - a true Christian commonwealth - in which moral law would replace Darwin's law of the jungle. Such a commonwealth had been the original mission of Christianity, Rauschenbusch contended, since Christ had called for a kingdom of God on earth, a whole way of life dedicated to the moral reconstruction of society. Theologians and ecclesiastics, however, had misconstrued Christ's teachings and founded not a kingdom but a church, which then amassed interests of its own. But what really shattered Christ's dream was the industrial revolution, which spawned capitalism and a whole era of competition, greed, and plunder. Still, Rauschenbusch did not attribute such evil to man himself, for man was basically good, intrinsically perfectible, able to become like Christ. No, sin was the product of an evil society - in this case, capitalist society. Exploitation, prostitution, crime - all were inherent in a social system that exalted profit over virtue, selfishness over brotherhood. The time had come, Rauschenbusch asserted, for Christians to eradicate capitalism, socialize vital economic resources, and establish God's kingdom as Christ originally intended. The time had come to usher in "the glad tomorrow," when man would inhabit a sinless Christian commonwealth based on love, cooperation, and solidarity.

At Crozer, King read Rauschenbusch in a state of high excitement. Here was the Christian activism he longed for. While he though Rauschenbusch perilously close to equating God's kingdom with a specific social and economic system, which no Christian should ever do, King nevertheless became an ardent disciple. As he said later, Rauschenbusch provided him with a theological foundation for social concerns he'd had since he was a boy. And he engaged in spiritual debates with anybody - professor and preachers alike - who held that man had only a limited capacity for improvement and that the church should confine itself to matters of the soul. A socially relevant faith must deal with the whole man - his body and soul, his material and spiritual well-being. It must work for the kingdom "down here" as well as "over yonder." Any religion that stressed only the souls of men and not their social and economic conditions was "a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial."

-pg. 24-25 of Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Stephen B. Oates

Friday, January 15, 2010

"What matters about Islam

is that it did not produce the modern world. If modernity ends in a technologically-induced holocaust, then survivors will probably hail the religion's wisdom in not authoring something similar.[76] If, however, it survives, and continues to produce a global monoculture where the past is forgotten, and where international laws and customs are increasingly restrictive of cultural difference, then Islam is likely to remain the world's great heresy. In that case, Kepnes' description ofIslam's historic status as the rejected Ishmaelite, ha-ger, may not prove so unhelpful as he suggests. What if Ishmael actually wishes to be rejected, since the one who is doing the rejecting has ended up creating a world without God? Grounded in our stubbornly immobile liturgy and doctrine, we Ishmaelites should serve the invaluable, though deeply resented, function of a culture which would like to be an Other, even if that is no longer quite possible.

-Tim Winter, ‘Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur: a response to Koshul and Kepnes,’ in Basit Bilal Koshul and Stephen Kepnes (eds.), Scripture, Reason, and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the ‘Other’, Understanding the ‘Self’ (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 168-169.

"Are we to conclude that modern Islam,

so often sympathetic to the Enlightenment's claims, and in its Islamist version one of their most powerful instantiations, has been deeply mistaken? The totalitarian forms of Enlightenment reason which recurred throughout the twentieth century have discredited it in the eyes of many; and are now less dangerous only because postmodernism seems to have abolished so many of the Enlightenment's key beliefs.[74] If the ideal of freedom is now based less on ideas of inalienable natural rights than on the notion that all truth is relative, then perhaps mainstream Islamist thinking will need to unhitch itself more explicitly from the broadly Western paradigms which it accepted for most of the twentieth century. Yet the relation Islam/Enlightenment seems predicated on simplistic definitions of both. Islamism may be an Enlightenment project, but conservative Sufism (for instance) is probably not. Conversely, even without adopting a postmodern perspective we are not so willing today to assume a necessary antithesis between tradition and reason.[75] The way forward, probably, is to recognize that Islam genuinely converges with Enlightenment concerns on some issues, in the way indicated at the beginning of this chapter; while on other matters, notably the Enlightenment's individualism and its increasingly Promethean confidence in humanity's autonomous capacities, it is likely to demur radically.

-Tim Winter, ‘Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur: a response to Koshul and Kepnes,’ in Basit Bilal Koshul and Stephen Kepnes (eds.), Scripture, Reason, and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the ‘Other’, Understanding the ‘Self’ (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 168.

"Abdul Wadod Shalabi speaks of 'spiritual entropy,'

a topos rooted in a genre of pessimistic hadiths.[64] For him, such entropy is "the backbone of history, a dialectic far more profound than that of the Marxist, who sees the process from beneath, as it were, and imagines it to be grounds for optimism."[65] The conclusion must be that modern Islam is hence deeply ambivalent, with Islamists, as befits their Enlightenment roots, generally more upbeat than traditionalists and Sufis. It is significant that messianic expectations, common in the Islamic past and conspicuous in nineteenth century responses to Western encroachment (Mahdism, Bahii'ism, Qadianism), are largely absent from modern Islamist discourse, which instead stresses "planning" and "unity" as the keys to establishing the "Islamic State."

Islamism's implicit repudiation of classical Muslim messianism is demonstrated further in its rigorism. Again, this is a sign of distance from classical assumptions: Prophetic predictions of entropy came coupled with the idea that God will require less from his servants as time goes on. One hadith tells the Prophet's companions, who lived in the "Age of Felicity" ('asr al-sa'ada): "You are living in a time when someone who renounces a tenth of what is enjoined upon him will be destroyed; but a time will come when someone who performs a tenth of what is enjoined upon him will be saved."[66] Traditional Sunnism took this to mean that the law should be applied more gently as time went on. For instance, even one of the most rigorous of Ottoman jurists, al-BirgivI (1523-1573), thought that his age was so distant from the Prophet's time that it was forbidden for the jurist to apply any but the most easy and gentle interpretations of the Shari'a.[67] Under modern conditions, however, Islamists, heirs to Enlightenment beliefs about instrumental reason and the Utopian perfectibility of the world, have repudiated this by typically insisting on interpretations more rigorous even than the mainstream Sharia of early Islamic times.

-Tim Winter, ‘Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur: a response to Koshul and Kepnes,’ in Basit Bilal Koshul and Stephen Kepnes (eds.), Scripture, Reason, and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the ‘Other’, Understanding the ‘Self’ (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 165-166.

"Despite brave talk of a 'dialogue of civilizations'

proposed by the United Nations and the Iranian ex-president Khatami, not a single Islamic civilization remains. Individual Muslims may frequently be embedded in neighborhoods or congregations whose values are substantially pre-Enlightenment, but nowhere do those social modules remain part of a functioning civilization. Our larger embeddedness lies always within political and economic structures borrowed from the values and administrative methods of the West. Even modern Islamism, which claims to be the Third World's great revolt against the imposition of the West's monoculture, typically defines itself in solidly Western terms as a "vanguard" (tali'a), "movement" (haraka), or, when finally ensconced in the palace of a fallen tyrant, as an "Islamic Republic." Hence John Gray's diagnosis: "The ideologues of political Islam are western voices, no less than Marx or Hayek. The struggle with radical Islam is yet another western family quarrel."(1) Islamic civilization as such did not long outlive the Ottoman tanzimat reforms, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, and Clive's destruction of Mogul India.

Muslim thinkers therefore tend to contemplate the Enlightenment from within. Whether we adopt liberal readings of our scriptures, or fundamentalist or conservative positions, we admit that our civilization has been profoundly defeated, and that our role, whether as revolutionaries, collaborators, or academics, is at root a subaltern one. It is true that the rapid spread of Islamism is not always considered by outside observers to be proof of a Muslim willingness to adapt to modernity; in fact, modern Islamic movements are typically presented as symptoms of the sole remaining Other's desperate resistance to the universal march of reason and science. But a broader perspective will readily reject this. Islamism is far from the liberal entailments of the Enlightenment, but it is closely allied to the more totalitarian possibilities which the Enlightenment unleashed. (2)

-Tim Winter, ‘Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur: a response to Koshul and Kepnes,’ in Basit Bilal Koshul and Stephen Kepnes (eds.), Scripture, Reason, and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the ‘Other’, Understanding the ‘Self’ (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 150.

Mental Health: Deficiencies in Treatment of Depression

January 12, 2010

Mental Health: Deficiencies in Treatment of Depression

Researchers reported last week that antidepressant drugs seemed to be effective mainly in people with severe depression, not those with milder forms. Now another study is reporting that only about half of all Americans with depression receive treatment of any kind.

Moreover, only 1 in 5 are getting care — talk therapy, medication or both — that conforms to American Psychiatric Association guidelines, according to the study, which appears in the January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The findings were based on nationally representative surveys of 15,762 adults from February 2001 to November 2003.

Over all, more patients used talk therapy (44 percent) than drug therapy (33 percent). Mexican-Americans and African-Americans were less likely than other groups to receive treatment of any kind.

“For minorities especially, psychotherapy may be more acceptable than antidepressants,” said the lead author of the study, Hector M. Gonz├ílez, assistant professor of family medicine and public health at Wayne State University in Detroit. “The take-home message is that maybe we should be trying to reach out to these particular minorities more with psychotherapy.”

Conyers: Review FBI case on imam

While federal prosecutors were trying to protect vital evidence in a case against a group they described as Islamic extremists, U.S. Rep. John Conyers asked the U.S. Attorney General on Wednesday for a thorough investigation into the shooting death of the group's leader, Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah.

Conyers, a Detroit Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the Justice Department's civil rights division to investigate whether the FBI violated First Amendment freedoms by using undercover agents in mosques and other houses of worship.
Continue reading at

(Thanks to Hussam Ayloush and Faiza)

(Thanks to Dawud Walid)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Message from ISNA president Dr. Ingrid Mattson on the Haitian Earthquake

It has been reported that a prominent Christian leader, Pat Robertson, has said that Haiti has been “cursed” by a “pact with the devil.” Fortunately, this is not the mainstream Christian position and my friend, the Reverend Paul Raushenbush, has rejected Robertson’s “blaming the victims” theology. Religious leaders must take a stance against extremist voices in their community, and I am glad to see Rev. Raushenbush respond to Robertson’s ridiculous and offensive suggestions.

As Muslims, we believe that human suffering is not always explainable or understandable. We do know that innocent people suffer all the time, from sickness and natural disaster, and that in such cases, we are required to do two things: First, pray and remember, as the Qur’an says that “to God we belong and to Him we return.” Second, we must help those who are suffering. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, reported in a Sacred Hadith that if we want to be close to God, we should visit the sick and feed the needy. On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will say, “O son of Adam, I fell ill and you did not visit me.” The person will say, “O Lord, how could I visit you when You are the Lord of the worlds?” He will say, “Did you not know that So-and-so fell ill and you did not visit him? If you had visited him, you would have found Me with him [the hadith continues].”

We realize from this hadith that the path to closeness with God is, after worship, service to humanity. Perhaps the most needy collectivity of people in the world today are the Haitians after enduring this terrible earthquake. Helping the Haitians in this time of need is certainly a sign of religious sincerity.

It is also important to realize, however, that this is much more than a “natural” disaster – that this suffering is not just part of God’s inscrutable plan. As was the case of the devastation that followed hurricane Katrina, human negligence and oppression made a challenging natural event into a disaster of hugely devastating proportions.

We cannot understand this disaster without asking the question, why is Haiti the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere? The sad reality is that the people of Haiti have endured almost constant oppression and injustice since the first arrival of European colonialists five centuries ago. The indigenous population was nearly completely exterminated following the arrival of Christopher Columbus, and then hundreds of thousands of Africans were enslaved and transported to Haiti, where they endured possibly the most brutal conditions ever experienced by humanity. Deep and enduring oppression continued under French colonialism, and every time Haitians attempted to assert their independence, they were brutally suppressed. After finally winning national independence in the nineteenth century, Haitians did not remain free of foreign interference, and were occupied by the United States in the early twentieth century. Imperialism was followed by a series of dictators in the second half of the twentieth century. Only recently have Haitians been able to restore democratic rule.

As we know from the experience of people across the Middle East and Africa, centuries of colonialism and imperialism destroy cultures, families, and all social and economic structures that are needed for a functioning society. The people of Haiti are desperately poor because they have endured centuries of injustice and oppression. It is because of their poverty that their homes and buildings were utterly unsuitable to endure a major earthquake, which scientists have predicted for many years. It is because of their poverty that the people of Haiti do not have even the basic infrastructure and equipment they now need to dig their people out of collapsed buildings and provide them with urgently needed care.

This Friday, I ask Imams, Khateebs, and other Muslim leaders to share the message of religious sincerity and compassion with their communities. We need to discuss the significance of the collective obligation to help the poor and needy, to ensure that we go beyond occasional charity to help reform oppressive social and economic structures. Finally, this is a lesson in human solidarity. Our community knows very well the devastation caused to Muslim societies by colonialism and imperialism, but we do not often recognize that others in the world have also suffered from the same history. Surely God will lift up the Muslim community and ease the suffering of our people if we sincerely and earnestly serve our brothers and sisters in humanity – the sons and daughters of Adam - who also cry out for relief.

Juan Cole: Pat Robertson's Racist Blaming of Haitian Victims; and the Televangelist Misuse of History

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

“Beyond its substance (to which I shall turn momentarily) learned Sufism confers the additional advantage of attaching its participants to a tradition

Tradition, of course, is the repository of tried and tested wisdom, heroes and heroines, and a deep sense of belonging that defies the tendency of modern society to break down community and isolate individuals. Without tradition, each generation begins almost anew, deeply distrustful of its predecessor and having to learn old lessons all over again. This is all the more critical in the case of Blackamericans. For the loss of the African past, on the one hand, and the deep distrust of the European past, on the other, have denied Blackamericans the luxury of being able to look back for trusted insights and answers that they can embrace as their own. This has essentially forced them into a posture of perpetual on-the-job training, especially as regards religion and the life of the spirit.

Yet, traditions are also notorious for growing old, foolish, and blind, losing sight of the historical contexts and forces that produced them, imaging themselves that have come down like revelation from heaven, inalterable in every aspect. Sufism, even if we restrict it to its personal piety side, has shown the extent to which it is subject to this. Indeed, it has ranked among the most expedient of all expressions of Islam as a front for religious chicanery, gurucharlatanism, and cultlike exploitation. Blackamerican Muslims must be careful and discriminating in the manner in which they approach this legacy. And they must not be afraid to ignore what they deem to be irrelevant or harmful and add what they deem to be useful or necessary. Rather than restrict themselves to a single order, a single figure or a single Sufi text, Blackamerican Muslims should avail themselves of the best from the entire tradition of Sufism, in a spirit of autodidactic license and responsibility. Even here, however, the goal should be the concepts, emphasis, and accumulated wisdom of learned Sufism, not the institutional structures, romantic exaggerations, or fossilized liturgical practices. Especially to be avoided, moreover, are the religiously fraudulent excesses and escapades of the Muslim world’s popular Sufism along with Modern Islam’s often blind and virulent prejudices against Sufism in all its forms.”

-pg. 193 of Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection by Dr. Sherman Abdal-Hakim Jackson

Haiti Earthquake Appeal

Haiti Chief Says Thousands May Be Dead

NYT: A Year of Terror Plots, Through a Second Prism

Mute symbols of Islam

The Ethical Message of Islam: Interview with Dr. Ebrahim Moosa

Thanks to Dustin for this!

"It is this concept of gratitude that makes Ibn 'Abbad's writing so important for today.

In a time when fear and horror are growing, when hopelessness seems to prevail in large segments of the population, and when it is almost fashionable, in certain circles, to see everything in a negative light, Ibn 'Abbad can teach his readers that there is always a reason and a way to thank God for something - and the more this constant gratitude grows the more it becomes a habitus of the soul, and man does no longer worry unnecessarily: He feels safe "like a child in God's lap," as the master of Ronda says with a beautiful image that can be easily adopted by Christians as well.

We do not find any references to ecstatic experiences in Ibn 'Abbad's work - and that may endear him to those who find mysticism not very attractive for a modern, sober mind. He has not been surrounded by miracle stories and legends, as have so many other Sufis - and that again may make him acceptable to many readers who tend to shy away from all too exaggerated claims to miracles in any religious tradition. We rather find in Ibn 'Abbad a quiet friend in whim we can trust, a man who does not dazzle us with flashes of glorious ideas or confuse us with theosophical pretentiousness; a friend who does not press his ideas at us but rather waits until we come and listen to him and thus slowly understand his deep responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of his readers.

...through this translation, the figure of a man who appears made of pale gold - gold that has been cast in the crucible time and again but knows that the master of the crucible means well, for has he not every reason to thank Him who purifies him with loving care? Few are this man's works, and they need to be patiently read; but the reward is great for those who look for a Sufi teacher whose attitude can be shared by modern man and is relevant in our day.

-from Annemarie Schimmel's preface to Ibn 'Abbad of Ronda: Letters on the Sufi Pathtranslated by John Renard, pg. xiii-xiv.

NY cabbie [Bangladeshi Mohammad “Mukal” Asadujjaman] returns $21K in purse to passenger

Photo of the driver

Thanks to Wajahat for this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"For Ibn 'Abbad, there is one central concern for man's progress on his path toward God: that is, to grow in gratitude and in certitude.

Certitude, the unquestioning trust in God's wisdom, is the highest state the wayfarer can hope for, and he who has reached it will not need any revelations of hidden mysteries: His is the clear vision. But certitude is connected with gratitude. The early Sufis had defined, in dozens of sayings, the complementary stage of sabr [patience] and shukr [gratitude] and had discussed the relative value of each of them. But for Ibn 'Abbad, gratitude is the heart of the matter. In his letters he admonishes his disciples and friends to be grateful for everything that happens: When God leads a man through afflictions, it means that He wants this person to turn again to Him Whom he had forgotten in the midst of worldly planning and scheming. He knows that there are three forms of gratitude: in the heart, on the tongue by praising the Lord, and most importantly, by actions: to prove one's gratitude by fulfilling God's law and to show active love for the neighbor as well. Ibn 'Abbad would wholeheartedly have agreed with the old Sufi formulation that the final stage of gratitude is "gratitude for being able to render thanks."

-from Annemarie Schimmel's preface to Ibn 'Abbad of Ronda: Letters on the Sufi Pathtranslated by John Renard, pg. xiii.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on Taking a Sufi Shaykh

Neil Postman, Stuart McMillen: Aldous Huxley versus George Orwell

IMAN’s Community Cafe Returns to NYC

Do You Need a Shaykh?

Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali's translation of a question posed by the great Imam al-Shatibi to Ibn 'Abbad al-Rundi (who is known for his commentary on the Hikam of Ibn 'Ata Allah)

"Ibn 'Abbad appears before the modern reader as someone who was always composed and calm.

He never claimed to have even attained dhauq [the immediate "tasting" of spiritual bliss], but was content with what he learned, as he writes modestly, by studying the books of the early masters. His whole thought is center on the purification of man's soul in order to fulfill the obligations of absolute monotheism. He is convinced that exaggerated attempts are good for nothing: even someone who leads an impeccable ascetic life for the sake of asceticism is still in the claws of self-love, the worst quality. For there is only the One one whom man can rely; only One who is responsible for everything created, and that is God, the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge. To serve Him in sincerity is man's duty and privilege. Man can neither rely on himself nor on other creatures - his only source of help is God, and he has to understand and realize that whatever comes from God is good and has to be accepted gratefully. Even to try to fight the nafs by human means is futile - only God can rescue man from its ruses if man gives himself completely into His hands."

-from Annemarie Schimmel's preface to Ibn 'Abbad of Ronda: Letters on the Sufi Path translated by John Renard, pg. xii-xiii.

This passage from the Qur'an stood out to me recently:

It's from the last page of Sura An-Nahl (16).

"120. Abraham was indeed a leader, submissive to Allah, of pure faith. He was never of the polytheists.

121. Showing thankfulness for His blessings; He chose him and guided him to a straight path.

122. And We gave him good in this world, and in the Hereafter he shall be among the virtuous.

123. Then We revealed to you [O Muhammad]: "Follow the religion of Abraham, of pure faith; he was not of the polytheists."

124. The Sabbath was ordained only for those who disagreed [as to its observance]; and your Lord will judge between on the Day of Resurrection concerning that in which they differ.

125. Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner. For your Lord knows best those who have strayed from His path, and He knows best who are rightly-guided.

126. If you punish [O believers], then punish with the like of that which you were punished. But if you endure patiently, this is indeed better for those who are patient.

127. Endure patiently [O Muhammad]; your endurance is only by Allah. Grieve not for them [the disbelievers], nor distress yourself because of what they devise.

128. Allah is with those who fear [Him] and those who act with excellence.

-pg. 281 of The Majestic Qur'an: An English Rendition of its Meanings

Monday, January 11, 2010

"It is essential to present Islam in a contemporary language which can be understood by those who have not had long years of training in the

traditional Islamic sciences even if their mother tongue happens to be still Arabic, Persian, Turkish or one of the other Islamic languages. The presentation of Islam in a contemporary language, which fortunately, again, has been carried out to some extent already and with which we have ourselves dealt in the first part of this book and elsewhere, needs to be carried out further and meanwhile young Muslims must learn what is at the heart of their religion and what it is that has enabled Islam to preserve a way of life and of salvation for humanity even after some fourteen hundred years...also the inner dimensions of their own religion which has provided the answers to the deepest philosophical and existential questions facing the ummah.

-240-241 of A Young Muslim's Guide to the Modern World by Seyeed Hossein Nasr

George Monbiot: The Holocaust We Will Not See

Avatar half-tells a story we would all prefer to forget

Stephen M. Walt: On our terrorism problem

My point is not to rehash the whole debate over the invasion of Iraq (although to be honest, I don't think there's much debate to be had over the folly of that particular decision). My point is simply to reiterate that any serious effort to deal with our terrorism problem has to be multi-faceted, and has to include explicit consideration of the things we do that may encourage violent, anti-American movements. Only a complete head-in-the-sand approach to the issue would deny the connection between various aspects of U.S. foreign and military policy (military interventions, targeted assassinations, unconditional support for Israel, cozy relations with Arab dictatorships, etc.) and the fact that groups like al Qaeda keep finding people like al-Balawi to recruit to their cause.

Stephen M. Walt: "Ain't That Tough Enough?"

The point is that you can be tough without being hawkish, and that’s usually preferable to the mindless militarism that most politicians adopt to show their faux “toughness.” And that’s why it’s much more important that a president be smart and strategic and able to identify the right policy choices, and not worry very much about whether he’s being sufficient “tough” to satisfy his critics. And if Obama tries to base his foreign policy on proving to the GOP he meets their definition of "tough," he'll end up exactly where the GOP's former standard-bearer did.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Frank Rich: The Other Plot to Wreck America

THERE may not be a person in America without a strong opinion about what coulda, shoulda been done to prevent the underwear bomber from boarding that Christmas flight to Detroit. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all become counterterrorists. But in the 16 months since that other calamity in downtown New York — the crash precipitated by the 9/15 failure of Lehman Brothers — most of us are still ignorant about what Warren Buffett called the “financial weapons of mass destruction” that wrecked our economy. Fluent as we are in Al Qaeda and body scanners, when it comes to synthetic C.D.O.’s and credit-default swaps, not so much.

What we don’t know will hurt us, and quite possibly on a more devastating scale than any Qaeda attack. Americans must be told the full story of how Wall Street gamed and inflated the housing bubble, made out like bandits, and then left millions of households in ruin. Without that reckoning, there will be no public clamor for serious reform of a financial system that was as cunningly breached as airline security at the Amsterdam airport. And without reform, another massive attack on our economic security is guaranteed. Now that it can count on government bailouts, Wall Street has more incentive than ever to pump up its risks — secure that it can keep the bonanzas while we get stuck with the losses.

The window for change is rapidly closing. Health care, Afghanistan and the terrorism panic may have exhausted Washington’s already limited capacity for heavy lifting, especially in an election year. The White House’s chief economic hand, Lawrence Summers, has repeatedly announced that “everybody agrees that the recession is over” — which is technically true from an economist’s perspective and certainly true on Wall Street, where bailed-out banks are reporting record profits and bonuses. The contrary voices of Americans who have lost pay, jobs, homes and savings are either patronized or drowned out entirely by a political system where the banking lobby rules in both parties and the revolving door between finance and government never stops spinning. [Continue reading]

NYT: Officials Hid Truth About Immigrant Deaths in Jail

Juan Cole: Obama: The Age of the War on Al-Qaeda

Obama most unfortunately has allowed the right wing to maneuver him in to reviving the use of the word 'war,' and he is now talking about a 'war on al-Qaeda.' It is not a war, and cannot be fought like a war, and the word is just as misleading now as it was in the Bush-Cheney era. It is a counter-terrorism struggle. Highlighting al-Qaeda, moreover, gives Bin Laden what he always wanted, to parlay a few thousand cranks with weapons training into the central preoccupation of a superpower. Why not say, for our democracy to flourish, we must do good counter-terrorism? Wars imply a Pentagon role, and military action alone is more likely to provoke terrorism than to end it. In fact, if Bush had not invaded Iraq, al-Qaeda might well have died off by now.

Obama again talked about winning hearts and minds for the US in the Muslim world. But as the case of the Palestinian/Jordanian double agent, Humam al-Balawi, who detonated a suicide bomb at Forward Operating Base Campbell in Afghanistan showed, as long as the US backs Israeli encroachments on Palestinian land and Israeli attacks on and sieges of Palestinians, winning hearts and minds is complicated and in many cases impossible. The American right wing keeps repeating the stupid mantra that extremists and militants are 'evil' or 'hate us for who we are.' Maybe some are obsessed like that. But most do cite specific policies that enrage them, like the invasion of Iraq or the gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Vigilante violence is always wrong, and their grievances give them no warrant to harm innocents (which is evil). But if winning hearts and minds is the issue, then US policy in the Middle East is an impediment. The large US footprint Obama is creating in Afghanistan has the potential to be another such obstacle.

A viable Palestinian state, a US withdrawal from Iraq, and an end to the Afghanistan war would do more to drain the swamp of al-Qaeda collectively than all the intelligence reviews and reorganizations in the world.