musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Floridian Radicalism... Seriously?!

"Church plans Quran-burning event" reads the relatively obscure link on CNN's website. You can't be serious...

In what has largely just been a blogosphere outrage so far (although I would imagine this juicy of a story will go mainstream rather quickly), the "Dove World Outreach Center" has taken upon itself to launch a worldly, dove-like message of hate against Muslims. If you thought the Danish Muhammad cartoon incident was bad, brace yourself. This might just be worse.

Why? Because it's in America... as if radical Muslims needed another reason to hate America. Well, they got one anyways.

I'm not even going to touch on the idiocy of the event planned by "Pastor" Terry Jones from Hatesville, FL. That should be obvious if you have any sort of brain whatsoever. Feel free to cut and paste:

Dear Dove World Outreach Center:
Go [insert your favorite expletive here] yourself.
The Rest of Us Christians

But the issue did inspire me to write about radicalism, a practice that anyone who knows me will know I abhor. I don't really like radicalism about anything, but for the benefit of our Floridian nincompoops (I'm happy to see that that word actually passed Firefox's spell checker), I'll focus on religion.

Radicals don't really need much goading; most of them have probably made up their minds one way or another and not much you or I could say will change that. Radicals of the "Islamic" persuasion probably just see Qu'ran burning as an opportunity to recruit those "on the bubble" to their cause. Thanks Terry.

Radicals of the "Christian" variety (I put Islamic and Christian in quotes because I don't think radicals properly represent either religion) think that it's a good idea to burn the Muslim holy book. Thanks again Terry.

While we're on the subject of thanking Terry for things - muchas gracias in advance for the backlash that American soldiers, aid workers, etc. living in the Muslim world will receive as a result of your actions.

As with most things, I try and think of solutions when presented with a problem; in this case radicalism. But before I do that let's talk about what won't work when trying to get either side's radicals to grow a brain.

Let's assume that Christian radicals and Islamic radicals (I'm going to leave Jews out of this one entirely) have a common goal: either eradicate or convert the opposite side. Admittedly, the Islamists of today have been known to use some pretty violent acts to perpetuate their cause, while modern Christianists (I just made up a new word) burn holy books. But we shouldn't forget that Christianity was (and still has the potential to be) used as an excuse for brutality in the past and some of the rhetoric coming from the great State of Florida today is just as appalling as that coming from the other side.

So if the goal is to eradicate or convert, the method by which this is accomplished is hate. Whether claiming jihad against the heathens or calling Islam the religion of the devil, the tool is hate. And it's a very sharp tool indeed. However, if one looks rationally at a largely irrational situation, one can see fairly quickly that neither side will be eradicated or converted by hate from the other side. Radicalism will not end when one side "wins the war" against the other.

Which brings me to the solution, albeit one that will take time and will not be easy. Put simply, Christians must solve the problem of radical Christianity. And Muslims must solve the problem of radical Islam.

As a predominately Christian nation, there is nothing that America (or arguably non-Muslim Americans) can say or do that will dissuade Islamists from radicalism. I would even assume that quite often this has the opposite effect. It is up to Muslims - the moderate, peace loving, intelligent ones like my Turkish family, Pakistani colleague, and countless Iraqi friends - to unite against radicalism. You don't have to agree on which lineage is the true Islamic lineage from the Prophet or whether you pray five times a day or three; but you do have to agree that the Taliban, al Qaeda and other radical groups that promote violence and degrade women don't properly represent you and the deep traditions on which your faith is built.

Similarly, as a nation gripped by Islamophobia, there is not much even a moderate Muslim can say to a American Christian radical to change his/her mind. That has to come from us: the Christians of the world who strive for peace and reconciliation amongst all people of all races, nationalities, and faiths. We are the ones that must stand up against the hate represented by Pastor Jones and his bigoted parishioners. The National Association of Evangelicals is on the right track by calling for the cancellation of the bonfire, but the outrage also has to come from the people (see carefully-worded letter in italics above).
 Christianity, like Islam, at its core preaches love and moderation, giving followers a blueprint for how to lead better lives serving others. Yes, there are the occasional epic battles in the holy books, but I'm pretty sure some of those were just added later so that it would make a better movie.

To make a long story even longer... Love thy neighbor. Reject radicalism. Educate yourself about those things that you fear the most.

And by all means root against the University of Florida at any chance you get.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Tea is Bad for You

Some days when I get really bored (usually on Fridays and Saturdays when the office is closed) I stare blankly at the TV screen as I flip in between Fox News and MSNBC. This masochistic exercise has shown me a number of things, namely that there are crazies on both extreme sides of the aisle. But that's the key: they are on the extreme sides of the aisle.

Why? Because that's what America is buying today and let's face it, money talks.

Contrary to most of my fellow insignificant armchair pundits, I actually think the current 'dialogue' can be a good thing. For one, it shows that people are interested in where their tax dollars are going thus holding elected officials more accountable for their actions. For two, it's darn good television entertainment; I have no idea where Glen Beck and Keith Olbermann come up with some of their quips, but I can only guess that after the writer's strike of a few years back many of the once-funny SNL writers jumped off either the right or the left side of the ship straight into the arms of Fox and MSNBC.

The problem is when people start to take these two extremes too seriously, convincing themselves that attacking the other side is more productive than having substantive and reasonable debates on the issues. Worse is when these entertainers entice physical and non-physical violence (with no accountability/culpability for what they've said) against people who don't agree with them. Even worse, some seem to have convinced themselves that such extremism is mainstream, which leads me to the central point of this rant:

The Tea Party is bad for America.

I am a firm believer in a strong multi-party system and am the first to express fear over super majorities that limit debate. However, the strong push from the extreme right to not only say 'no' to, but also to ridicule, everything coming out of the White House and Democratic chambers of Capitol Hill is unhealthy. The American people deserve action, they deserve results, and they deserve to have their elected officials spend their time coming up with solutions as opposed to setting up one roadblock after another. Smart, conservative Congressmen/women should not have to fear for their reelection (or radical outbursts from the Tea Party) if they agree with a majority of a piece of legislation that includes two sentences regarded by Glenn Beck as unacceptable.

I'm not completely naive; I know that politics is a game of sorts, but there comes a point when 8 hours of Monopoly is enough and it's time to pass Go and collect $200. The unfortunate and ironic thing for a Republican Party that is still recovering from years of misguided leadership in the 2000s is that, by consolidating and reinforcing a base that will vote to the right no matter what, they are isolating the very independents to whom they must appeal to win.

The Tea Party represents a fractured group of frustrated (predominately white) people who unite under the simple idea that everything President Obama (the Socialist/Marxist/Nazi/Communist/Fascist/Maoist man blamed for miraculously being the extreme of both sides of the political spectrum at the same time) does is an effort on his part to destroy the United States of America as they see it. Born out of a disastrously long, complicated and thank-God-its-over health care debate, these group of angry Americans have lost all sense of reason and civility, something that will come back to bite them sooner rather than later.

Intelligent, compassionate, fiscally conservative and sensible Republicans running for office are being dragged to extremes by this extremely vocal minority of people who have garnered a lot of support... at least in the press where rallies of thousands of adoring fans are shown hanging on to every word scribbled onto a blackboard by Beck. Media manipulation is a two-way street, and the extreme right has become very adept at getting the attention of an ever growing group of people.

Tea Partiers point to the election of Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's seat as their crowning achievement, indicative of the power of their tactical persuasion. However, I'm not totally convinced that they made much difference in a place where the people of Massachusetts had voted for a man (Kennedy), not a party, for so long and at a time when health care (more specifically the lack of any progress of health care reform and the resulting attentive inaction of the Obama Administration increasingly threatening to push through health care reform at all costs) was dominating everyone's attention everywhere. I'm willing to bet a majority of people of Massachusetts voted against a super majority in the Senate that would make it easier for Democrats to push through health care reform without debate; not for the Tea Party.

Now that the health care mess is largely behind us (don't fool yourselves, 'Repeal Baby, Repeal' is not a viable option and they all know it), the Tea Partiers are grasping at straws in an attempt to keep themselves relevant. And, not surprisingly, at the head of the pack is our favorite beautiful woman-cum-governor-cum-ex governor-cum-celeb 'politician:' Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is not stupid. Much like Glenn Beck, she has built for herself a devoted following and, in the process, crowned herself queen of a burgeoning right wing media empire. That is shrewd business, not stupid. She has catapulted herself from unknown Alaska hockey mom to making millions of dollars despite having lost a national election. That's impressive, not stupid. However, like the Tea Partiers, Palin knows that her time in the limelight is finite and has chosen to say 'no' even louder instead of listening and providing fodder for meaningful cross-party debate.

Now that the 14-month health care debate that stalled every other inch of progress on anything is behind us, Obama can move on to other things on his agenda. Unfortunately for Palin and her Tea friends, he has done this with a vengeance. For better or for worse, Obama has tackled student loan reform, foreign energy dependence ('yeah, but he isn't doing enough off-shore drilling' is a pathetically weak comeback - I should know, I'm the king of pathetically weak comebacks), and nuclear non-proliferation (among other things - like a weekend visit to Afghanistan and not backing down in the face of Bibi Netanyahu's not-so-subtle slaps in the face) in such a way that no one who pays any attention can rationally say that he hasn't accomplished anything in his 15 month presidency. He may have accomplished things with which you're not happy, but he still accomplished them. This is an unfortunate situation for Republicans who bet their money on Obama's inability to perform and, for the sake of the party and for the good of the country, they need to shun the Tea Party and play the part of the compassionate, intelligent opposition they have the potential to be.

Fortunately, Palin and the rest have started to show the kinks in their once shiny armor. By comparing Obama's nuclear non-proliferation efforts to a schoolyard fight, she not only over-simplified a complex international issue, she also invited comparisons to her own competencies as a foreign policy expert. What did years as a community organizer teach Obama about nuclear politics? Probably not much. What did 15 months of regular briefs from America's brightest military and political minds (some of which, including the SecDef, served under W) teach the man with a law degree and higher than average intellect? A lot more than you, Sarah.

Even Newt Gingrich has tossed himself into the ring over the nuclear non-proliferation issues of today (and dare I say, the 2012 presidential race) when he appeared on the Hannity Show right after the caption "Obama Drastically Curtails U.S. Nuclear Defense Options" and between objective analysis from the fair and balanced Fox 'Newsman' about how Obama is the worst president in the history of mankind. Unfortunately for Newt, he was wrong in almost everything he said (as the 1-2 readers of this blog know I much prefer commenting on facts/issues others present rather than proving new ideas right or wrong, which takes way too much time... but in this case it was too easy - thank you Daily Show). For example, the Newt-Hannity love fest said that the U.S. would not retaliate whatsoever should it be attacked with chemical or biological weapons.

Let's think about that for a minute... does it make any sense to you? Do you really think the brightest military experts on the planet would endorse such a policy, much less any policy that willingly endangers the United States of America? Just in case you are now flagellating yourself over the use of your common sense, seek comfort in the fact that none of the policy initiatives championed by the Obama Administration say these things. So from where did these seemingly factual (cue Hannity checking an official looking document on his desk and saying "that's what he said!") statements come? My guess is that he's a victim of the Tea Party-inspired radicalization of the right, but as usual your guess is as good as mine.

Fortunately for Newt, Fox News viewers are unlikely to fact-check his statements by reading the New START Treaty and Protocol with Russia or the DoD's Nuclear Posture Review. Unfortunately for the rest of America, Fox News viewers are unlikely to fact-check his statements.

Here's my prediction: if Republicans continue to move to the right at the behest of a loud minority of extreme right-handers, they will lose even more ground and, as a consequence, become more and more radicalized. It may not be seen in 2010 since saying 'no' 4,593 times and calling the President of the United States rude (yet never anti-patriotic) names may resonate just long enough to garner a few votes by this November, but by 2012 the right must chart a more pragmatic path. This is especially true if the economy continues to recover despite what many Republicans have been calling 'dangerous' economic policies. Presidents and their parties don't get re-elected during economic downturns; unfortunately for Republicans (and regardless of whether the Democrats had anything to do with it or not) the economy is on the way up.

The bottom line is this: Tea Party 'conservatives' are the extreme, even if we choose to disregard the 'patriots' among them who yell obscenities at Congressmen and devote themselves to cleaning their militia-issued shotguns each night. Their ideas are emotionally burdened, destructive, disorganized, and bad for America. They should of course be allowed their voice - it is a free country after all. It's ultimately up to voters to decide whether the Tea Party is right or wrong.

I think they're wrong and that the writing is on the wall for an extremely divisive political movement. I just hope America can read.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Just Another (Exciting) Day in Paradise

Normally if I told you I had an exciting day, you should immediately worry. Excitement is not something that is valued heavily in Iraq. Nonetheless, I am surprised to say that I had an exciting (and dare I say fun) day.

After sludging through a two-day soaking rain that left behind mountains of mud on our street, this morning began with a flawlessly clear sky and a brisk breeze that reminded me that summer, thankfully, has not arrived yet. I promptly turned around and retrieved my jacket.

Upon arriving in the office, I was happy to see my full staff waiting for me after we had been a skeleton crew all last week. In case you didn't know (which, to be fair, why would you?), Friday marked the end of an annual 40-day festival/pilgrimage whereby the entire Shia population of Iraq and its neighbors think that it is a good idea to march, on foot, from wherever they are to the holy city of Kerbala. Friday was also a big day for the rest of us because it marked the end of the nightly 3 hour sermons blaring from the mosque next door through speakers provided by the CPA (thanks Bremer - much appreciated).

As you can imagine, hundreds of thousands of people walking down highways, over bridges, and through towns like Hillah can cause quite a logistical nightmare for those of us heathens who don't observe the tradition and still try to work *gasp* during this time. It also seemed to be an opportune time for one group of Muslims to plant bombs in large crowds of other Muslims, killing innocent women and children. Needless to say, many of our staff - including the entire Kerbala office - were unable to go to work last week.

My database specialist just happens to live in between Hillah and Kerbala, so before piling on the mountains of work I have for him, I asked about his week 'working' from home.

"No sir, I was working."

Ok, right, sure you were working...

"No really, I was working. I was caring for the pilgrims!"

Well, at least he's honest. Turns out that this middle-aged pious man, his wife and their three children, played host to wave after wave of strangers arriving from all over to commemorate Ashura, the day of the death of Imam Hussein at the Battle of Kerbala. Hussein is the most revered (at least to the Shia) of the Prophet Mohammad's fabled 12 imams and, not-so-coincidentally, his grandson. Opening his home and feeding up to 25 people a night, my database manager had indeed shown his Muslim brethren incredibly gracious hospitality, even giving up his own bed one night to a weary family of travelers.

I have a newfound respect for this man who sometimes annoys me with his seemingly selfish behavior at work (he is constantly asking for a promotion, a raise, etc.). His relentless ambition (or pestering, I haven't decided which) aside, he and his family represent all that is good in Islam; an innate kindness to others so natural to them, so pure.

After lunch, I set out on my next adventure: trying to renew my US Government badge. This is not an easy task for those of us that don't live on a military base with regular access to the badging office, so I hopped on an existing 'mission' (that's what our heavily armed taxi cab rides are called) to the nearest base. Unfortunately for me, I forgot that today is Sunday and, despite the fact that I work on the Iraqi schedule, those living in the American bubbl... I mean base, don't work on Sundays. It's apparently the day of rest. Or something.

No worries, I brought a good book to read and if that doesn't work I have become very adept at counting clouds.

"Yo! Can you get the ball for us?"

Hmmm, do I help out the soldiers and touch their nasty, mud-caked volleyball in my nice Nautica cable crew sweater protecting my nicer J. Crew button down?

Sure, I heard myself say, but only if you let me play!

Thus commenced the worst game of beach volleyball I've ever been a part of. Forget bump, set, spike, we were still working on the whole hand eye coordination thing. And, to make it even more interesting, I was on the team with the foul mouthed Latino G.I. Joe and his buddy the five foot tall triangle with a flat top. We didn't stand a chance.

Funnily enough though, after rolling up my sleeves and simplifying my vernacular (I know, I'm a condescending, pompous jerk... sue me), I started to really have fun. These Joes were just kids having a good time - the only thing missing was some beer in a nearby cooler, any form of female and... well, I guess a lot of things were missing. But for a moment there I got lost in this place, carefree and just one of the boys. They asked what I was doing here and, after a bit of explanation, one of the Joes said that he had almost gone to the Peace Corps but the Army paid better, so he understood what I did kinda.

Yeah... Peace Corps... yeah something like that. Kinda.

I've been known to be hard on the US and its foreign policies in Iraq, not to mention critical of the not so uncommon teenage American soldier in an airport wearing a "Iraq, F&$* Yeah!" t-shirt, but these guys were, consistent profanity aside, pleasant and undeniably friendly. Don't tell them I said that though, they might lose some 'man points' if their commanding officer finds out...

For the second time today, I regained a bit of faith in something I had begun to doubt.

Arriving back at the compound I noticed a game of ping pong happening between some of our Iraqi staff and, naturally, I couldn't walk by without partaking. I don't know what was so funny about the entire group of halfway decent English speaking Iraqis and one horrible Arabic speaking whitey playing ping pong in the twilight, but we didn't stop laughing the entire way to 21.

Speaking of twilight, do not see that horrible movie "Twilight: New Moon." Trust me, I barely missed the TV screen when the remote just shot out of my hand towards it during yet another painfully painful, heart-wrenchingly heart-wrenching, utterly stupid scene of a girl who wants to be a vampire - or was it a werewolf? Who cares. Don't watch it.

Now if only I have the will power (read: stupidity) to wake up in the middle of the night to watch two American football teams square off over some crystal bowl.

Doubtful. I'm not sure how much excitement I can take in one day...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ready and Abel

Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past couple of months, I'd like to inform you that my intrepid girlfriend, Lauren, has moved to sunny Juba in South Sudan where the Tusker is cold and the Nile is wide.

For much more interesting stories than the ones found here about her escapades in a place some have endearingly called the armpit of the developing world (stay tuned to Ready and Abel for her assessment), click here.