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Archive for March, 2008

A Formidable Circle

In America the majority draws a formidable circle around thought. Inside those limits, the writer is free; but unhappiness awaits him if he leaves them…

-Alexis de Tocqueville

One of the more remarkable moments in what has turned out to be a dismal
political cycle came early on, in the May 2007 Republican debate, when
Congressman Ron Paul challenged the common wisdom about the Islamic
militants who carried out the 9/11 attacks:

Have you ever read why they attacked us? They attacked us because we’ve been
over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years. They don’t come here
to attack us because we are rich and free. They come here to attack us
because we are over there.

There was an audible gasp, like when the child in the fairy tale proclaims that the emperor is, in fact, naked.

Rudy Giuliani spoke up, and one sensed that he spoke for an outraged America:

That is an extraordinary statement…I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us he really didn’t mean it.

The congressman did not withdraw his comment, and the wagons circled. Dr. Paul was never taken seriously again by the media or the other candidates, who took to smirking when he spoke at later debates. His candidacy has long since been marginalized, and its promise has faded. And the Official Story stands again unchallenged: madmen attacked America because they hate our freedom and our way of life.

Curiously, though, one searches in vain in the writings of Osama bin Laden or
other Al Queda pronouncements for such a notion. Rather, they state that their struggle is a defensive jihad against the anti-Muslim aggression of the USA and its allies. And they cite American presence in the Arabian peninsula (the Islamic Holy Land), American support of oppressive police states in Muslim countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, etc), unconditional American support for Israel, American
invasions of Muslim countries and exploitation of Muslim oil resources, and American support for nations that oppress Muslims (China, Russia, and India). The Islamist makes a case that Muslims are under siege and are simply fighting back. While polls show only a minority of Muslims supports the tactics of Al Queda, the vast majority agrees that Islam is under attack by America and its European and Israeli allies.

So, who are you going to believe about the motives of the Salafi and Shia jihadists? Our professed enemies and those whose support they seek? Or our political leaders and pundits?

For starters, if you look to those making our foreign policy decisions, you will note an appalling lack of historical knowledge or analysis. Early in the Iraq war, an interviewer asked leading congressmen and senators, who had just voted for the invasion, to define the difference between a Shia and a Sunni Muslim.This drew blank looks and fumbled answers. Yet to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Islamic history the factional strife that the American invasion unleashed was no surprise.

Indeed, it is hard to see how the US could have intentionally designed a worse scenario for offending Muslim sensibilities than the one we pursued, even apart from Abu Ghraib and war’s “collateral damage”, ie, someone’s dead friends and neighbors.

We are being ruled either by fools or villains, and it is no comfort knowing that it is probably the former.

And yet the myth persists, that we are hated because we are good, because we are free. This is blindly self-flattering. It is like the man with the black eye, punched by his neighbor. When asked why he was struck, he responds, “Well, he has always resented my good looks, you know.”

When it is pointed out that the neighbor says he smacked him because he
had burgled his home, assaulted his wife and slashed his tires, the man
says, “Well, that is what he says, but the truth is he has always
resented my good looks.”

Tocqueville, again:

…the power that dominates [the majority paradigm] does not intend to be made sport of… The slightest reproach wounds it, the least prickly truth alarms it; and one must praise it from the forms of its language to its most solid virtues. No writer, whatever his renown may be, can escape the obligation of singing the praises of his fellow citizens. The majority, therefore, lives in perpetual adoration of itself; only foreigners or experience can make certain truths reach the ears of Americans.

And sometimes, not even foreigners and experience.

Daniel Nichols

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The Sword

Maclin Horton

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I Need to Look Up More

Maria, who is five, matter-of-factly: I can fly.

Daddy, startled: Oh really? You can fly?

Maria: Yes, sometimes I fly.

Daddy: Why don’t I ever see you?

Maria: Because you don’t look up.

Daniel Nichols

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Believe It Or Not

Maclin Horton

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Yes, quaint and curious war is
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is
Or help to half a crown.

—Thomas Hardy

You can read the whole poem here.

–Maclin Horton

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About That Preacher

Much has been made recently about the video clips of Barack Obama’s pastor’s offensive remarks, given in the course of several sermons at Mr Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ.

Never mind that many of the things he said are manifestly true. America is controlled by rich white people. America did kill innocent civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and in the firebombings of Tokyo, Dresden, etc). Osama bin Laden cited Hiroshima in offering a justification for the innocents whose murder he oversaw on September 11, after all. If that isn’t "chickens coming home to roost" I don’t know what is.

And whether white people want to think about it or not, the legacy of slavery continues to affect our present situation.

And when I think about the most inflammatory thing the Rev Wright said, the "God damn America" thing, I can’t help but wonder if that other Jeremiah, the Jewish prophet, would bless America, were he here, or condemn Her for Her sins.

None of this excuses the worst excesses of the Reverend; his travels to visit Quaddafi with Louis Farrakhan coming to mind, or his more paranoid speculations.

But to me this has a familiar ring.

Until recently my family and I were members, for six years, of St Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church. The pastor was about as complicated a man as the Rev Wright, gifted in many ways -intellectually, musically, linguistically- and tremendously compassionate: this was a man with a great heart. He was a gifted preacher and truly loved the Divine Liturgy, which he chanted in his resonant basso profundo, nearly as much as he loved his people.

And yet….

In 2003, just after the American invasion of Iraq, Father stated in the pulpit, in the course of a homily, his support for the war. I was stunned, and after the liturgy, at the coffee and donut social, I let him know that I was disappointed that he had imposed his personal political opinion during the Liturgy, an opinion that disagreed with the Pope’s stated opposition to the war.

The discussion grew heated, the first of several clashes between us.

But I didn’t leave the Church, even though Father had publicly expressed an opinion that to me was distasteful and wrongheaded.

And it did not diminish my recognition of his many fine qualities. To this day we are friends; I truly love the guy, blind spots and all (though to be fair, he like many Americans, has rethought his support for the war). We have him for dinner and enjoy his company, and I do not hesitate to praise him for his greatness of soul.

The idea that one must be flawless to merit love damns us all to lovelessness. I have lived with saints, real saints, in my life, and I saw their flaws. I am not an Obama supporter, but I see clearly how he could love his pastor, in all his complexity and contradictions.

Daniel Nichols

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Death of a Cat

Maclin Horton

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