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TRUTHS ABOUT “AMERICAN SNIPER” AND THE MILITARY

In Entertainment, History, Military, Social commentary on January 26, 2015 at 1:02 am

Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, American Sniper, has become the most controversial film now being considered as Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars.

The Academy Awards ceremonies are scheduled for February 22.

Clint Eastwood

The criticism is coming from the Left, and this has triggered outrage from the Right.  Some of this criticism is correct and fair, but some of it isn’t.

The film suggests the Iraq war was in response to 9/11. The movie cuts from American Sniper Chris Kyle watching 9/11 on TV to him serving in Iraq.  Critics charge that this implies a connection between the two.

FACT: This film is a biography of Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in American history.  It is not a documentary.  And, in fact, Kyle did his service in Iraq.

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in “American Sniper”

The movie depicts a terrorist sniper who becomes Kyle’s evil nemesis.  Named “Mustafa,” he is portrayed as a Syrian Olympics champion marksman.  In a furious mano-a-mano duel, Mustafa almost nails Kyle.  But, at the end of the movie, he meets his end with a well-placed bullet from Kyle’s rifle.

FACT: Mustafa is mentioned in a single–and short–paragraph in Kyle’s book.  Kyle admits: “I never saw him, but other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we thought was him.” So the Mustafa-Kyle duel never occurred.

But Eastwood clearly decided its inclusion was necessary to make a dramatic finish for his movie.  This is what’s known as “dramatic license” in filmmaking.

The movie portrays Chris Kyle as tormented by his rising casualty rate among Iraqis.  During his fourth tour of duty in Iraq as depicted in the film, he agonizes over the possible need to shoot a child who’s about to pick up a dropped rocket launcher.  He mutters, “Don’t pick it up,” and when the child runs off, leaving it behind, Kyle feels relieved.

FACT: Throughout his autobiography–on which the film is based–Kyle makes clear his contempt and hatred for Iraqis.  He brags of having told a military investigator: “I don’t shoot people with Korans.  I’d like to, but I don’t.”

He refers to his Iraqi enemies as “savages.”  And, having been credited with killing 160 Iraqis, Kyle writes: “I only wish I had killed more….I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.”

Chris Kyle was a hate-filled killer, but the movie turns him into a hero.  

FACT: It’s entirely natural for soldiers to hate their enemies.  They live in a world where they–or their comrades–can be blown away at any moment.  So they fear and hate those they know are intent on their destruction.

The toughening-up process starts in boot camp, where the restraints of pacifism and individuality are broken down.   The purpose of boot camp is to turn “boys” into “fighting men.” This must be done in weeks, so the process is shockingly brutal.

Soldiers who aren’t toughened by boot camp are by the battlefield. As General George S. Patton famously warned: “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll  know what to do.”

General George S. Patton

During the Indian wars, soldiers called Indians “Red niggers.” In World War II–the “Good War”–America’s servicemen fought “Japs” and “Krauts.”

During the Vietnam war, Vietnamese became “dinks” and “gooks.” Today our servicemen and women refer (unofficially) to their Islamic enemies as “ragheads” or “sand niggers.”

“In Kyle’s version of the Iraq war, the parties consisted of Americans, who are good by virtue of being American, and fanatic Muslims whose ‘savage, despicable evil’ led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christians.”  –Laura Miller, in Salon

FACT: British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart noted in his introduction to the memoirs of World War II German General Heinz Guderian, the creator of the Blitzkrieg theory:

“[Guderian] did not question the cause which he and his troops were serving, or the duty of fighting for their country. It was sufficient for him that she was at war and thus in danger, however it had come about.

“As a dutiful soldier, he had to assume that his country’s cause was just, and that she was defending herself against would-be conquerors.”

Heinz Guderian

What proved true for Guderian proved equally true for Kyle–and for soldiers in armies throughout the world.

Moreover, every great war movie tells its story from a given viewpoint–German, Russian, American, British.  In All Quiet on the Western Front, the narrator is a young, idealistic German soldier who is disallusioned by the horrors of war.  When he dies at the end of the movie, we feel saddened by his loss.

Similarly, when we learn, at the end of American Sniper, that Chris Kyle was killed while trying to help a fellow veteran, we feel a similar loss.

In the end, a biographical or historical movie can tell only so much.  It is for the audience to decide its meaning–and whether to learn more about that subject through their own researches.

A WARNING FROM HISTORY–AND FILM

In Politics, History, Social commentary, Military on January 26, 2015 at 12:37 am

January 26, 2015, marks the 130th anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White Nile and the Blue Nile.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

Khartoum in the 1800s

From March 18, 1884 to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamists intent on slaughtering everyone in the city.

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison:The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seen antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama Administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dicator, “President” Bashar al Assad.

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia Muslims.

And now, with Syria, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Consider the combatants:

On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government. Hizbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.

A sworn enemy of Israel, it has kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hizbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.

It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.-Muslim “holy war.”

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon.

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version of Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.

Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film:“For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie, “Khartoum” itself.

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.

It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

FETUS FANATICS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on January 22, 2015 at 9:21 pm

January 22, 2015 marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark case legalizing abortion.

And, to highlight this occasion, Right-wing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted 242-179 to pass a bill to codify a ban on federal funding for abortions. The bill would:

  • Restrict a woman’s ability to buy private insurance plans that include abortion coverage;
  • Deny small businesses a business tax credit if they include abortion care in their health insurance plans;
  • Prevent women from having their abortions covered by Medicaid; and
  • Prevent the District of Columbia from using its own local funds to subsidize abortion care.

The bill’s vote was deliberately timed to coincide with the annual “Right to Life” march in Washington, D.C. by abortion protesters. So what’s responsible for all this fetus fanaticism? Several factors.

First, there is an energized constituency for politicians willing to wave this red flag.  Almost every major Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has tapped into this voting bloc.  And each has found plenty of votes to be gotten from it.

Second, many fetus fanatics simply dislike women.  They fear and resent the women’s movement, which has given women the right to enter the workforce and compete directly with men.

They especially hate the legal right of a woman to avoid becoming pregnant via birth control–or to abort the result of a male’s sperm if they do.  They see this as a personal rejection. The Right is made up overwhelmingly of white males.  Many of these men long for a Christianized version of the Taliban.

They crave a world where women meekly cater to their every demand and believe only what their male masters approve for them to believe.

Third, many fetus fanatics feel guilty about their own past sexual transgressions–especially if these resulted in pregnancy. And they want to prevent others from living the same life they did.

Some of these people are well-intentioned.  Even so, they usurp unto themselves a God-like right to intrude on the most intimate decisions for others–regardless of what those people may need or want.

Fourth, many leaders of the fetus-fanatics movement are independently wealthy.  Even if abortion were outlawed for the vast majority, these privileged caliphs could always bribe a willing doctor–here or abroad–to perform such an operation on their wife, daughter and/or mistress.

Fifth, many fetus fanatics are “pro-life” when it comes to fetuses, but hypocritically refuse to support the needs of children from low-income families.  This includes refusing to provide funding for food and medical care. Sixth, many fetus fanatics embrace contradictory goals.  On one hand, most of them claim they want to “get government off the backs of the people.”  That usually means allowing corporations to pollute, sell dangerous products and treat their employees as slaves.

On the other hand, they want to insert the government into the vagina of every woman.  That means empowering State and Federal authorities to prevent women from getting an abortion–even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Seventh, many fetus fanatics are just as opposed to birth control as they are to abortion. Thus, when Georgia University law student Sandra Fluke asked Congress to require insurance companies to cover birth control, Rush Limbaugh branded her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Eighth, many fetus fanatics are “family values” hypocrites.  For example: Representative Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), an anti-abortion, “family values” doctor, had an affair with a patient and later pressured her to get an abortion.

He also supported two abortions by his then-wife, Susan.  According to divorce records, the first was for “therapeutic reasons” and the second because “things were not going well.”

Scott DesJarlais and his current wife, Amy.

Ninth, many fetus fanatics are not truly “pro-life.”  They totally oppose abortion under most–if not all–circumstances.   But they also fully support:

  • making military-style assault weapons available to nutcases;
  • capital punishment;
  • going to war for almost any reason;
  • wholesale massacres of wildlife;
  • despoiling of the environment; and
  • even nuclear war.

And many of those who fanatically defend the right of a fetus to emerge from the womb just as fanatically oppose welfare for those mothers who can’t support that newborn.

Tenth, many fetus fanatics believe that since their religion teaches that abortion is wrong, they have a moral duty to enforce that belief on others.

This is especially true for evangelical Christians.  These are the same people who condemn Muslims–such as those in Saudi Arabia–for segregating women, forbidding them to drive and forcing them to wear head scarfs or chadors–loose, usually black robes.

Taliban: Islam’s version of the “Right-to-Life” movement

But while they condemn Islamics for their general intolerance of others’ religious beliefs, they lust to impose their own upon those who belong to other churches.  Or who belong to no church at all.

* * * * *

It’s time to face the blunt truth: A “Conservative Victory,” as Sean Hannity put it, would impose an anti-women Taliban on America.

A woman who seeks to control her own destiny would be insane to vote for a Right-wing candidate.  Just as it would have been insane for a Jewish citizen to give his vote–and his life–to Adolf Hitler.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART FOUR (END)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary, Law, Military on January 22, 2015 at 12:10 am

On February 18, 2012, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum warned about the “phony theology” of President Barack Obama.

“It’s not about you,” Santorum told supporters of the right-wing Tea Party in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs.

“It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”

Rick Santorum

Which raises an interesting question: What would a Bible-based agenda mean for the country?

The death penalty would be vastly expanded to cover such “crimes” as:

  • Sabbath-breaking: Because the Lord considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.  (Exodus 31:12-15)
  • Adultery:  If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
  • Fornication: A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death.  (Leviticus 21:9)
  • Nonbelievers: They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13)
  • Homosexuality:  If a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.  Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20-13)

A modern-day stoning–in Somalia

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution–which forbids slavery–would be repealed. The Bible not only permits slavery but lays out rules for its practice–such as:

  • When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. (Exodus 21-7)
  • However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. (Leviticus 25:44-45)
  • Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)

Almost all scientific progress would be discarded, since most of its findings conflict with the Bible:

  • One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4). This claim is totally contradicted by what astronomers now know about the eventual fate of the Earth: In about 7.6 billion years, the sun will exhaust its nuclear fuels.  This will vastly increase its heat and gravitational pull, and at least Mercury, Earth and Venus will be vaporized.

The sun

  • The Bible speaks of a world where physical laws are often violated by the will of God.   Thus, Jesus turns water into wine and raises Lazarus from the dead; Jonah lives inside a fish for three days; Noah dies at 950 years; and demons are exorcised.
  • In Biblical times, mental illness was seen as a manifestation of demonic possession.  Today we know that mental illness has nothing to do with evil spirits.

Laws guaranteeing equal rights for women would be repealed:

  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 12:10)
  • Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
  • A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. (1 Timothy 2:11)
  • But if…and evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsman shall stone her to death. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

Military conflicts would be fought without regard to the Geneva Convention–as the Israelites did:

  • “You are my battle-ax and sword,” says the Lord.  “With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms.  With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer.  With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens.  With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers.”  (Jeremiah 51:20-23)

Depiction of the taking of Jericho by the Israelites

  • Samuel said to Saul, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15, 1-3) 

* * * * *

Yes, a nation governed by “a theology based on the Bible” would be one far different from the United States we know today.

Since a number of Old Testament practices might lend themselves to easy abuse, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 21, 2015 at 12:20 am

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, America’s most famous preacher, spends a lot of time thinking about who qualifies as a Christian–and who doesn’t.

He said just that on the February 21, 2012 edition of the MSNBC show, “Morning Joe.”

Images of Franklin Graham – Google Search

Franklin Graham

First, however, he offered his views on the relative Christian dedication of the major contenders for the Presidency in 2012:

President Barack Obama: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam…. I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:“Newt’s been married several times… but he could make a good candidate. I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.”

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum: “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. I think he is, no question, a man of faith.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: “I’m just saying most Christians would not recognize Mormonism. Of course they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that they believe in, too, that we don’t accept theologically.”

Toward the end of the program, Mike Barnicle, one of the panelists interviewing Graham, said: “You must spend a big part of the day checking out what you conceive to be people’s depth of faith, in terms of measuring.”

“This is my business,” replied Graham. “You guys go through newspapers every day. I look at a person’s political interest, but more importantly I look at their spiritual interests….

“You have to go by what a person says, and how they live their lives. Are they faithful church-goers? Or do they just go when the cameras are on them?”

Another man who dedicated his life to judging the religious commitment of others was Bernard Gui, the chief inquisitor at Toulouse from 1308 to 1322.

His inquisition of those suspected or accused of heresy led to over 900 guilty verdicts. Of those convicted during examination by Gui, 42 were executed–by being burned at the stake.

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

Interrogator: You call your faith Christian, for you consider ours as false and heretical. But I ask whether you have ever believed as true another faith than that which the Roman Church holds to be true?

Accused Heretic: I believe the true faith which the Roman Church believes, and which you openly preach to us.

Interrogator: Perhaps you have some of your sect at Rome whom you call the Roman Church. I, when I preach, say many things, some of which are common to us both, as that God liveth, and you believe some of what I preach. Nevertheless you may be a heretic in not believing other matters which are to be believed.

Accused Heretic: I believe all things that a Christian should believe.

Interrogator: I know your tricks. What the members of your sect believe you hold to be that which a Christian should believe. But we waste time in this fencing. Say simply, Do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

Accused Heretic: I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe in Christ born of the Virgin, suffered, risen, and ascended to heaven?

Accused Heretic: (Briskly) I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe the bread and wine in the mass performed by the priests to be changed into the body and blood of Christ by divine virtue?

Accused Heretic: Ought I not to believe this?

Interrogator: I don’t ask if you ought to believe, but if you do believe.

Accused Heretic: I believe whatever you and other good doctors order me to believe.

Inquisitor: Those good doctors are the masters of your sect; if I accord with them you believe with me; if not, not.

Accused Heretic: I willingly believe with you if you teach what is good to me.

Inquisitor: You consider it good to you if I teach what your other masters teach. Say, then, do you believe the body of our Lord, Jesus Christ to be in the altar?

Accused Heretic: (Promptly) I believe that a body is there, and that all bodies are of our Lord.

Interrogator: I ask whether the body there is of the Lord who was born of the Virgin, hung on the cross, arose from the dead, ascended, etc.

Accused Heretic: And you, sir, do you not believe it?

Interrogator: I believe it wholly.

Accused Heretic: I believe likewise.

Men like Franklin Graham and Bernard Gui do not seek a golden future. They crave to return to a “golden” past–which includes the one-time power of Christians to impose their religious beliefs on others.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary, Law, Military on January 20, 2015 at 12:05 am

American right-wing elements have recently raised the cry that President Barack Obama is waging “a war on religion.”

It’s clear that GOP candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney intend to make this a major theme of their respective campaigns for President.

Obama supports a woman’s right

  • to obtain abortion–including in cases of rape and incest;
  • to obtain birth control; and
  • to obtain amniocentesis (pre-natal testing).

So, according to American fascists, the President is “waging a war against religion.”

Meanwhile, those Americans who do not support the theocratic agenda of the Right may well be confused.

Since access to such medical procedures as birth control and pre-natal testing has long been entirely legal, what’s all the fuss about?

Those Americans would be well-advised to learn a simple Russian phrase: “Kto-kovo.” This translates as “Who-whom.” Or, to be more precise: “Who can do what to whom?”

In short, the Right is not waging a “war for religious liberty.”

It’s waging a bitter struggle to establish a government that uses force or the threat of it to impose highly conservative religious beliefs on religionists who do not share such religious beliefs.

And on atheists or agnostics, who share none at all.

These Rightists and their theocratic allies have more in common with Tomas de Torquemada (1420 – 1498) the infamous Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, than with Jesus Christ.

Christ never ordered the torture or death of anyone. Torquemada–claiming to act in “defense” of the Roman Catholic Church–presided over the deaths of at least 2,000 “heretics.”

Tomas de Torquemada

Nor did these unfortunate victims of religious fanaticism meet their death quickly or painlessly. They died by perhaps the cruelest means possible–by being burned alive at the stake.

Torquemada didn’t hesitate to pronounce someone a heretic. He “knew” who such people were. They were Jews. They were Muslims. They were “lapsed Catholics” who, in his view, failed to show fervent devotion to the religious authorities who ruled their lives.

For such people, Torquemada believed, the only road to salvation lay in being “cleansed” of their sins. And nothing burns away impurities like fire.

But before the fire-stakes came the fire-mindset: The arrogance of “knowing” who qualified as “saved” and who would be forever “damned.”

Unless, of course, his or her soul had been “purified” by fire.

“Heretic” burned at the stake

This mindset was vividly put on display by no less a religious authority than Franklin Graham, son of America’s most famous preacher, Billy Graham.

Franklin Graham

Appearing on the MSNBC program, “Morning Joe,” on February 21, 2012, Graham was asked if he thought that Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney qualified as Christians.

On Obama, Graham said: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam… I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

On Santorum: “I think so. His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it… I think he’s a man of faith.”

On Gingrich: “I think Newt Gingrich is a Christian, at least he told me he is.”

On Romney: “Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith. They believe in Jesus Christ. They have a lot of other things they believe in too, that we don’t accept, theologically.”

Thus, Graham had no problem in pronouncing as “saved” a notorious multiple-adulterer like Gingrich, or a rights-denying religious zealot like Santorum.

But he clearly refused to pronounce as “saved” a longtime church-goer like Obama or a Mormon like Romney (whose faith, most evangelicals like Graham believe, is actually a non-Christian cult).

It’s easy to imagine Graham transported to the French city of Toulouse in the 14th century. And to imagine him wearing the robes of Bernardo Gui, the chief inquisitor of the Dominican Order during the Medieval Inquisition (1184 – 1230s).

Bernardo Gui

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

When a heretic is first brought up for examination, he assumes a confident air, as though secure in his innocence. I ask him why he has been brought before me. He replies, smiling and courteous, “Sir, I would be glad to learn the cause from you.”

Interrogator: You are accused as a heretic, and that you believe and teach otherwise than Holy Church believes.

Accused Heretic: (Raising his eyes to heaven, with an air of the greatest faith) Lord, thou knowest that I am innocent of this, and that I never held any faith other than that of true Christianity.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 17, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist in Saudi Arabia, decided to celebrate the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammed in a truly unique way.

Hamza Kashgar

In early February, 2012, he posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and Muhammad:

“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”

“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

“No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.”

The tweets sparked some 30,000 infuriated responses. Many Islamic clerics demanded that he face execution for blasphemy.

Kashgari posted an apology tweet: “I deleted my previous tweets because…I realized that they may have been offensive to the Prophet and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand.”

Soon afterward, King Abdullah ordered his arrest.

Saudi King King Abdullah 

Kashgari fled to Malaysia, another majority-Muslim country. He was quickly arrested by police as he passed through Kuala Lumpur international airport. Three days later, he was deported to Saudi Arabia.

Human rights groups feared that he would be executed for blasphemy, a capitol offense in Saudi Arabia.

After nearly two years in prison, Kashgari was freed on October 29, 2013. Kashgari used Twitter to inform his supporters of his release.

Outrageous? By Western standards, absolutely.

Clearly there is no tolerence in Saudi Arabia for the freedoms of thought and expression that Americans take for granted.

But before you say, “Religious oppression like that could never happen in the United States,” think again.

Right-wing American ayatollahs are now working overtime to create just that sort of society–where theocratic despotism rules the most intimate aspects of our lives.

One of these is the former GOP Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. In early January, 2012, he said that states should have the right to outlaw birth control without the interference of the Supreme Court.

Rick Santorum

In an interview with ABC News, Santorum said he opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling that made birth control legal:

“The state has a right to do that [ban contraception]. I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a Constitutional right. The state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have.

“That’s the thing I have said about the activism of the Supreme Court–they are creating rights, and it should be left up to the people to decide.”

In the landmark 1965 decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court struck down a law that made it a crime to sell contraceptives to married couples. The Constitution, ruled the Justices, protected a right to privacy.

Two years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court extended Griswold by striking down a law banning the sale of contraceptives to unmarried couples.

Santorum has left no doubt as to where he stands on contraception. On October 19, 2011, he said:

“One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘“Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’

“It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also…procreative.

“That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act….And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.”

“How things are supposed to be”–according to Right-wing fanatics like Santorum and the evangelicals who support them.

Like the Saudi religious religious zealots who demand the death of a “blasphemer,” they demand that their religious views should govern everyone. Both groups have far more in common than they want to admit.

The important difference–for Americans who value their freedom–is this:

The United States has a Supreme Court that can–and does–overturn laws that threaten civil liberties. Laws that GOP Presidential candidates clearly want to revive and force on those who don’t share their peculiar religious views.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The same holds true–in a democracy–for candidates who seek dictatorial power over their fellow citizens. Don’t give them your consent.

TWO TALIBANS: THEIRS AND OURS

In History, Politics, Social commentary on January 16, 2015 at 12:03 am

Malala Yousafzai is the 17-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head and neck by a Pakistani Taliban gunman.

Her “crime”?  Campaigning for the right of girls and women to pursue an education in Pakistan.

Malala Yousafzai

The attack came on October 9, 2012, when a Taliban gunman forced his way into a van full of schoolgirls, asked for her by name, and opened fire.

The assault provoked unprecedented levels of public outrage, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan—even among people who have in the past sympathized with the militants.

But the Taliban had a different outlook on it.

“For days and days, coverage of the Malala case has shown clearly that the Pakistani and international media are biased,” said a Pakistani Taliban commander in South Waziristan. “The Taliban cannot tolerate biased media.”

The commander, who called himself Jihad Yar, argued that death threats against the press are justified.  “Ninety-nine percent” of the reporters on the story, he claimed, were only using the shooting as an excuse to attack the Taliban.

Leaders of the Islamic Taliban

Yar did not apologize for the attempt to assassinate the girl, who passionately opposed the Taliban’s efforts to close girls’ schools.

“We have no regrets about what happened to Malala,” he said. “She was going to become a symbol of Western ideas, and the decision to eliminate her was correct.  If she was not important for the West’s agenda, why would a U.S. ambassador meet her?”

According to unnamed sources, the Taliban dispatched 12 suicide bombers against the news media.  And it is particularly eager to target female journalists.  Said Yar:

“They were at the U.S. Embassy party with wine glasses in their hands and wearing un-Islamic dress with Americans.”

But the Pakistani Taliban have no monopoly on hatred of women’s rights.

On February 4, 2013, two North Carolina state representatives introduced a bill to “clarify” state law to specifically prohibit the baring of women’s breasts.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 34, would make it a Class H felony to expose “external organs of sex and of excretion, including the nipple, or any portion of the areola, of the human female breast.”

North Carolina law already forbids “indecent exposure,” but doesn’t specifically define breasts as “private parts.”

Accused violators could face one to six months in prison.

Rep. Rayne Brown, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said, to some people, the issue might seem frivolous.  But “there are communities across this state, there’s local governments across this state, and also local law enforcement for whom this issue is really not a laughing matter.”

Rep. Rayne Brown

Brown said that she was prompted, in part, by the second annual topless protest and women’s rally in Asheville in August, 2012.  Asheville is about 130 miles from Brown’s own district.

Rep. Annie Mobley, D-Ahoskie, voiced concerns that the bill could affect people wearing “questionable fashions.”

“All we are doing is codifying the Supreme Court definition of ‘private parts,’” said House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry. “That’s it. “

Stevens said using pasties or other nipple coverings would protect women against prosecution. “They’d be good to go.”

For Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleaveland, the issue was a laughing matter: “You know what they say–duct tape fixes everything.”

So far, the bill seems to be stalled in the legislature.

And, not to be outdone, the Wisconsin state legislature enacted a budget for 2011-2013 that eliminated funding to family planning clinics that provide abortions or refer women to a clinic that performs the procedure.

In a press conference, Nicole Safar, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said that some 2,000 low-income women who rely on the clinics for cancer screening, breast exams, pregnancy testing, and other services would now be left out in the cold.

“They are small centers in small communities and they needed the state funding to make them financially viable,” said Planned Parenthood spokesperson Teri Huyck.

“It’s terribly unfortunate for the women who live in these areas. Without the state support, we didn’t have a choice.

“None of these centers provided abortion services.  There is nowhere else for low-income women to get these services. These centers focused on preventing unplanned pregnancies and reducing the need for abortions,” said Safar.

Due to the loss of $1.1 million in state funding, Planned Parenthood closed facilities in Beaver Dam, Johnson Creek, Chippewa Falls and Shawano between April and July.

For those who believe women should control their own lives, the message should be clear: This will never be possible in some parts of the world.

And these include Islamic countries and those states controlled by Rightist Republicans.

It is pointless to expect those who believe they are God’s anointed to renounce their absolutist beliefs.  Or to cease trying to gain absolute power over others–especially women.

In Afghanistan, the United States is waging a losing battle to eliminate the freedom-hating Islamic Taliban.

It would do better to start waging war against the freedom-hating Rightist Taliban within its own borders.

A WARNING FROM HISTORY–AND FILM

In Politics, History, Social commentary, Military, Entertainment on January 15, 2015 at 3:23 am

January 26, 2015, marks the 130th anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

Khartoum in the 1800s

From March 18, 1884 to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamists intent on slaughtering everyone in the city.

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents. By comparison:

The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seen antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama Administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dicator, “President” Bashar al Assad.

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia Muslims.

And now, with Syria, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Consider the combatants:

On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government. Hizbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.-Muslim “holy war.”

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon.

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.  Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version os Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear. He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens. In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.

Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces. Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence indicates that Gordon put up a fierce fight with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero. The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film:“For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie, “Khartoum” itself.

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.  It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

NO SENSE OF DECENCY

In History, Politics, Social commentary on January 15, 2015 at 12:56 am

“Senator, may we not drop this?….You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The speaker was Joseph N. Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army–then under investigation by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Submittee on Investigations for alleged Communist activities.

It was June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army-McCarthy hearings.

And it was the pivotal moment that finally destroyed the career of the Wisconsin Senator whose repeated slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years.

Joseph McCarthy

When the Senate gallery erupted in applause, McCarthy–totally surprised at his sudden reverse of fortune–was finished.

Today, however, other Americans could stand to remember the question asked by Welch: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Americans like Herman Cain.

Herman Cain

On January 28, 2012, he threw whatever support he might still have among the radical right to GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Newt Gingrich

Appearing with Gingrich at a Republican fundraiser, Cain said: “Speaker Gingrich is a patriot. Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas.

“I don’t care about where he stands in the polls.  And whether my endorsement helps him or not, that’s not the point. It’s to let my supporters know that he is the closest to what I represented when I was still a candidate.”

The closest to what I represented when I was still a candidate“?  That’s hardly a compliment.

Cain withdrew from the race in December, 2011–after four women charged him with sexual harassment during his tenure as CEO of the National Restaurant Association.

Gingrich, a notorious serial adulterer, twice began affairs and issued marriage proposals while he was still married to his first and second wives.

Then there’s Donald Trump.

Donald Trump

On April 17, 2011, toying with the idea of entering the Presidential race himself, he said this about Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and GOP candidate:

“He’d buy companies. He’d close companies. He’d get rid of jobs.  I’ve built a great company.  I’m a much bigger businessman and have a much, much bigger net worth. I mean my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney.

“Mitt Romney is a basically small-business guy, if you really think about  it. He was a hedge fund. He was a funds guy. He walked away with some money from a very good company that he didn’t create. He worked there. He didn’t create it.”

Trump added that Bain Capital, the hedge fund where Romney made millions of dollars before running for governor, didn’t create any jobs.  Whereas Trump claimed that he–Trump–had created “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

So at least some observers must have been puzzled when Trump announced, on February 2, 2012: “It’s my honor, real honor, and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney” for President.

“Mitt is tough, he’s smart, he’s sharp, he’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love. So, Governor Romney, go out and get ‘em. You can do it,” said Trump.

Mitt Romney

And Romney, in turn, had his own swooning-girl moment: “I’m so honored to have his endorsement. There are some things that you just can’t imagine in your life. This is one of them.”

Clearly, the word “hypocrisy” means nothing to Cain, Gingrich, Trump and Romney–all of whom still harbor Presidential ambitions.  But it should mean something to the rest of us.

In samurai Japan, officials who publicly disgraced themselves knew what to do.  The samurai code of seppeku told them when they had crossed the line into eternal disgrace.

And it gave them a way to redeem their lost honor: With a small “belly-cutting” knife and the help of a trusted assistant who sliced off their head to spare them the agonizing pain of disembowelment.

In the armies of America and Europe, the method was slightly different: A pistol in a private room.

Considering the ready availability of firearms among right-wing Republicans, redeeming lost honor shouldn’t be a problem for any of these men.

But of course it will be.  It takes more than a trigger-pull to “do the right thing.”  It takes insight to recognize that you’ve “done the wrong thing.”   And it takes courage to act on that insight.

In men who live only for their own egos and wallets, such insight and courage will be forever missing.   They are beyond redemption.

Their lives give proof to the warning offered in Matthew 7: 17-20:

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

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