Thursday, December 22, 2005

Iraq's election result: a divided nation

By Patrick Cockburn
Published: 21 December 2005
Reprinted from The Independant

Iraq is disintegrating. The first results from the parliamentary election last week show the country is dividing between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions.

Religious fundamentalists now have the upper hand. The secular and nationalist candidate backed by the US and Britain was humiliatingly defeated.

The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces. The Kurds have already achieved quasi-independence and their voting reflected that.

The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.

Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities. Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator, said: "In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq."

The success of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of Shia religious parties, has been far greater than expected according to preliminary results. It won 58 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, while Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister strongly supported by Tony Blair, got only 14 per cent of the vote. In Basra, Iraq's second city, 77 per cent of voters supported the Alliance and only 11 per cent Mr Allawi.

The election was portrayed by President George Bush as a sign of success for US policies in Iraq but, in fact, means the triumph of America's enemies inside and outside the country.

Iran will be pleased that the Shia religious parties which it has supported, have become the strongest political force.

Ironically, Mr Bush is increasingly dependent within Iraq on the co-operation and restraint of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the eradication of Israel. It is the allies of the Iranian theocracy who are growing in influence by the day and have triumphed in the election. The US will fear that development greatly as it constantly reminds the world of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran may be happier with a weakened Iraq in which it is a predominant influence rather than see the country entirely break up.

Another victor in the election is the fiery nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia fought fierce battles with US troops last year. The US military said at the time it intended "to kill or capture him".

Mr Bush cited the recapture of the holy city of Najaf from the Mehdi Army in August 2004 as an important success for the US Army. Mr Sadr will now be one of the most influential leaders within the coalition.

All the parties which did well in the election have strength only within their own community. The Shia coalition succeeded because the Shia make up 60 per cent of Iraqis but won almost no votes among the Kurds or Sunni, each of whom is about 20 per cent of the population. The Sunni and the Kurdish parties won no support outside their own communities.

The US ambassador in Baghdad, Zilmay Khalilzad, sounded almost despairing yesterday as he reviewed the results of the election. "It looks as if people have preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identities," he said. "But for Iraq to succeed there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian co-operation."

The election also means a decisive switch from a secular Iraq to a country in which, outside Kurdistan, religious law will be paramount. Mr Allawi, who ran a well-financed campaign, was the main secular hope but that did not translate into votes. The other main non-religious candidate, Ahmed Chalabi, won less than 1 per cent of the vote in Baghdad and will be lucky to win a single seat in the new 275-member Council of Representatives.

"People underestimate how religious Iraq has become," said one Iraqi observer. "Iran is really a secular society with a religious leadership, but Iraq will be a religious society with a religious leadership." Already most girls leaving schools in Baghdad wear headscarves. Women's rights in cases of divorce and inheritance are being eroded.

Sunni Arab leaders were aghast at the electoral triumph of the Shia, claiming fraud. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the Sunni Arab alliance, the Iraqi Accordance Front, said that if the electoral commission did not respond to their complaints they would "demand the elections be held again in Baghdad".

Mr Allawi's Iraqi National List also protested. Ibrahim al-Janabi, a party official, said: "The elections commission is not independent. It is influenced by political parties and by the government." But while there was probably some fraud and intimidation, the results of the election mirror the way in which the Shia majority in Iraq is systematically taking over the levers of power. Shia already control the ministry of the interior with 110,000 police and paramilitary units and most of the troops in the 80,000-strong army being trained by the US are Shia.

Mr Khalilzad said yesterday: "You can't have someone who is regarded as sectarian, for example, as Minister of the Interior." This is a not so-veiled criticism of the present minister, Bayan Jabr, a leading member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shia party. He is accused of running death squads and torture centres whose victims are Sunni Arabs.

It is unlikely that the Shia religious parties and militias will tolerate any rollback in their power. "They feel their day has come," said Mr Attiyah.

For six months the Shia have ruled Iraq in alliance with the Kurds. Kurdish leaders are not happy with the way this government has worked. The Kurds, supported by the US, will now try to dilute Shia control of government by bringing in Sunni ministers and Mr Allawi. But one Kurdish leader said: "We have a strategic alliance with the Shia religious parties we would be unwise to break."

The elections are also unlikely to see a diminution in armed resistance to the US by the Sunni community. Insurgent groups have made clear that they see winning seats in parliament as the opening of another front.

The break-up of Iraq has been brought closer by the election. The great majority of people who went to the polls voted as Shia, Sunni or Kurds - and not as Iraqis. The forces pulling Iraq apart are stronger than those holding it together. The election, billed by Mr Bush and Mr Blair as the birth of a new Iraqi state may in fact prove to be its funeral.

Monday, October 24, 2005

American debacle
By Zbigniew Brzezinski

LA TIMES October 9, 2005

Some 60 years ago Arnold Toynbee concluded, in his monumental "Study of History," that the ultimate cause of imperial collapse was "suicidal statecraft." Sadly for George W. Bush's place in history and - much more important - ominously for America's future, that adroit phrase increasingly seems applicable to the policies pursued by the United States since the cataclysm of 9/11.

Though there have been some hints that the Bush administration may be beginning to reassess the goals, so far defined largely by slogans, of its unsuccessful military intervention in Iraq, President Bush's speech Thursday was a throwback to the demagogic formulations he employed during the 2004 presidential campaign to justify a war that he himself started.

That war, advocated by a narrow circle of decision-makers for motives still not fully exposed, propagated publicly by rhetoric reliant on false assertions, has turned out to be much more costly in blood and money than anticipated. It has precipitated worldwide criticism. In the Middle East it has stamped the United States as the imperialistic successor to Britain and as a partner of Israel in the military repression of the Arabs. Fair or not, that perception has become widespread throughout the world of Islam.

Now, however, more than a reformulation of U.S. goals in Iraq is needed. The persistent reluctance of the administration to confront the political background of the terrorist menace has reinforced sympathy among Muslims for the terrorists. It is a self-delusion for Americans to be told that the terrorists are motivated mainly by an abstract "hatred of freedom" and that their acts are a reflection of a profound cultural hostility. If that were so, Stockholm or Rio de Janeiro would be as much at risk as New York City. Yet, in addition to New Yorkers, the principal victims of serious terrorist attacks have been Australians in Bali, Spaniards in Madrid, Israelis in Tel Aviv, Egyptians in the Sinai and Britons in London.

There is an obvious political thread connecting these events: The targets are America's allies and client states in its deepening military intervention in the Middle East. Terrorists are not born but shaped by events, experiences, impressions, hatreds, ethnic myths, historical memories, religious fanaticism and deliberate brainwashing. They are also shaped by images of what they see on television, and especially by feelings of outrage at what they perceive to be the brutal denigration of their religious kin's dignity by heavily armed foreigners. An intense political hatred for America, Britain and Israel is drawing recruits for terrorism not only from the Middle East but as far away as Ethiopia, Morocco, Pakistan, Indonesia and even the Caribbean.

America's ability to cope with nuclear nonproliferation has also suffered. The contrast between the attack on the militarily weak Iraq and America's forbearance of a nuclear-armed North Korea has strengthened the conviction of the Iranians that their security can only be enhanced by nuclear weapons. Moreover, the recent U.S. decision to assist India's nuclear program, driven largely by the desire for India's support for the war in Iraq and as a hedge against China, has made the U.S. look like a selective promoter of nuclear weapons proliferation. This double standard will complicate the quest for a constructive resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem.

Compounding such political dilemmas is the degradation of America's moral standing in the world. The country that has for decades stood tall in opposition to political repression, torture and other violations of human rights has been exposed as sanctioning practices that hardly qualify as respect for human dignity. Even more reprehensible is the fact that the shameful abuse and/or torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib was exposed not by an outraged administration but by the U.S. media. In response, the administration confined itself to punishing a few low-level perpetrators; none of the top civilian and military decision-makers in the Department of Defense and on the National Security Council who sanctioned "stress interrogations" (a.k.a. torture) were publicly disgraced, prosecuted or forced to resign. The administration's opposition to the International Criminal Court now seems quite self-serving.

Finally, complicating this sorry foreign policy record are war-related economic trends. The budgets for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security are now larger than the total budget of any nation, and they are likely to continue escalating as budget and trade deficits transform America into the world's No. 1 debtor nation. At the same time, the direct and indirect costs of the war in Iraq are mounting, even beyond the pessimistic prognoses of its early opponents, making a mockery of the administration's initial predictions. Every dollar so committed is a dollar not spent on investment, on scientific innovation or on education, all fundamentally relevant to America's long-term economic primacy in a highly competitive world.

It should be a source of special concern for thoughtful Americans that even nations known for their traditional affection for America have become openly critical of U.S. policy. As a result, large swathes of the world - including nations in East Asia, Europe and Latin America - have been quietly exploring ways of shaping regional associations tied less to the notions of transpacific, or transatlantic, or hemispheric cooperation with the United States. Geopolitical alienation from America could become a lasting and menacing reality.

That trend would especially benefit America's historic ill-wishers and future rivals. Sitting on the sidelines and sneering at America's ineptitude are Russia and China - Russia, because it is delighted to see Muslim hostility diverted from itself toward America, despite its own crimes in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and is eager to entice America into an anti-Islamic alliance; China, because it patiently follows the advice of its ancient strategic guru, Sun Tzu, who taught that the best way to win is to let your rival defeat himself.

In a very real sense, during the last four years the Bush team has dangerously undercut America's seemingly secure perch on top of the global totem pole by transforming a manageable, though serious, challenge largely of regional origin into an international debacle. Because America is extraordinarily powerful and rich, it can afford, for a while longer, a policy articulated with rhetorical excess and pursued with historical blindness. But in the process, America is likely to become isolated in a hostile world, increasingly vulnerable to terrorist acts and less and less able to exercise constructive global influence. Flailing away with a stick at a hornets' nest while loudly proclaiming "I will stay the course" is an exercise in catastrophic leadership.

But it need not be so. A real course correction is still possible, and it could start soon with a modest and common-sense initiative by the president to engage the Democratic congressional leadership in a serious effort to shape a bipartisan foreign policy for an increasingly divided and troubled nation. In a bipartisan setting, it would be easier not only to scale down the definition of success in Iraq but actually to get out - perhaps even as early as next year. And the sooner the U.S. leaves, the sooner the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis will either reach a political arrangement on their own or some combination of them will forcibly prevail.

With a foreign policy based on bipartisanship and with Iraq behind us, it would also be easier to shape a wider Middle East policy that constructively focuses on Iran and on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process while restoring the legitimacy of America's global role.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Dialogue and Alliance 19-1

This is the first half of the introduction to the forthcoming Dialogue and Alliance. I left out the article summaries that naturally fill out an issue introduction.

Dialogue and Alliance 19-1


The past 50 years or so can be described as the modern period of interreligious dialogue. During this time, interfaith activity matured into a world of ever-greater complexity and sophistication. Distinct aspects and elements of interfaith embedded and nascent in undifferentiated forms in earlier efforts became distinct.

The other shocking, indeed horrifying thing to note about this same time period of interfaith maturation is that this development coincides with our descent into the single worst state of interreligious relations in human history.

If we are honest we will acknowledge that we teeter on the brink of global nuclear holocaust on matters pertaining unequivocally to interreligious and conflict. Shiite Iran simultaneously supports martyrdom schools (a purely religious concept) and races down the path to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. Neo-Christian United States (already a nuclear power) similarly trains volunteers to be willing sacrifices to expand US culture and values, and finally Israel is a known nuclear power.

Leaving Muslim Pakistan, and Hindu India aside (both of which are nuclear powers), this is the current state of interreligious relations after 50 or 60 years of the most rapid, highly funded advance of interreligious activities, institutions, and consciousness in human history.

Why is this juxtaposition not more widely considered, especially among the bumper crop of interfaith organizations blossoming forth by the dozens and hundreds?

I do not exempt my own organizations and institutions in expressing concern over why the ever maturing and expanding interfaith movement has carried on its work under the shadow of such unthinkable and apocalyptic developments?

Dr.Moon, founder of organizations associated with this journal repeatedly called for the establishment of an enlightened body of religious leaders, leaders who transcend historical parochialism, leaders who laboring an environment of committed and unmitigated collaboration with each other first, and then with one accord with leaders of secular institutions (including governments). There is a good record of the many occasions in which this call was made publicly, beginning with his August 25, 2000 speech in the United Nations.

The interreligious dread that surrounds us today is directly related to insufficient efforts to implement these inspired insights. No organization with a keen and devoted interreligious mission in their brief should imagine themselves to be without responsibility for the current state of global affairs.

It is thus with a heart of repentance and renewed dedication that I move on now to introduce this valuable collection of articles and essays.

This issue of Dialogue and Alliance is an excellent guidebook to what interreligious dialogue has become, how is has diversified and become evermore complex in it threads and manifestations. The once undifferentiated fledging world of interfaith now flows through threads and streams that have taken on trajectories of their own.

Frank Kaufmann

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This is Fukuyama's Analysis of the Bush War

This first appeared in the New York Times


August 31, 2005
Invasion of the Isolationists

AS we mark four years since Sept. 11, 2001, one way to organize a review of what has happened in American foreign policy since that terrible day is with a question: To what extent has that policy flowed from the wellspring of American politics and culture, and to what extent has it flowed from the particularities of this president and this administration?

It is tempting to see continuity with the American character and foreign policy tradition in the Bush administration's response to 9/11, and many have done so. We have tended toward the forcefully unilateral when we have felt ourselves under duress; and we have spoken in highly idealistic cadences in such times, as well. Nevertheless, neither American political culture nor any underlying domestic pressures or constraints have determined the key decisions in American foreign policy since Sept. 11.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Americans would have allowed President Bush to lead them in any of several directions, and the nation was prepared to accept substantial risks and sacrifices. The Bush administration asked for no sacrifices from the average American, but after the quick fall of the Taliban it rolled the dice in a big way by moving to solve a longstanding problem only tangentially related to the threat from Al Qaeda - Iraq. In the process, it squandered the overwhelming public mandate it had received after Sept. 11. At the same time, it alienated most of its close allies, many of whom have since engaged in "soft balancing" against American influence, and stirred up anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

The Bush administration could instead have chosen to create a true alliance of democracies to fight the illiberal currents coming out of the Middle East. It could also have tightened economic sanctions and secured the return of arms inspectors to Iraq without going to war. It could have made a go at a new international regime to battle proliferation. All of these paths would have been in keeping with American foreign policy traditions. But Mr. Bush and his administration freely chose to do otherwise.

The administration's policy choices have not been restrained by domestic political concerns any more than by American foreign policy culture. Much has been made of the emergence of "red state" America, which supposedly constitutes the political base for President Bush's unilateralist foreign policy, and of the increased number of conservative Christians who supposedly shape the president's international agenda. But the extent and significance of these phenomena have been much exaggerated.

So much attention has been paid to these false determinants of administration policy that a different political dynamic has been underappreciated. Within the Republican Party, the Bush administration got support for the Iraq war from the neoconservatives (who lack a political base of their own but who provide considerable intellectual firepower) and from what Walter Russell Mead calls "Jacksonian America" - American nationalists whose instincts lead them toward a pugnacious isolationism.

Happenstance then magnified this unlikely alliance. Failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the inability to prove relevant connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda left the president, by the time of his second inaugural address, justifying the war exclusively in neoconservative terms: that is, as part of an idealistic policy of political transformation of the broader Middle East. The president's Jacksonian base, which provides the bulk of the troops serving and dying in Iraq, has no natural affinity for such a policy but would not abandon the commander in chief in the middle of a war, particularly if there is clear hope of success.

This war coalition is fragile, however, and vulnerable to mishap. If Jacksonians begin to perceive the war as unwinnable or a failure, there will be little future support for an expansive foreign policy that focuses on promoting democracy. That in turn could drive the 2008 Republican presidential primaries in ways likely to affect the future of American foreign policy as a whole.

Are we failing in Iraq? That's still unclear. The United States can control the situation militarily as long as it chooses to remain there in force, but our willingness to maintain the personnel levels necessary to stay the course is limited. The all-volunteer Army was never intended to fight a prolonged insurgency, and both the Army and Marine Corps face manpower and morale problems. While public support for staying in Iraq remains stable, powerful operational reasons are likely to drive the administration to lower force levels within the next year.

With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. If the United States withdraws prematurely, Iraq will slide into greater chaos. That would set off a chain of unfortunate events that will further damage American credibility around the world and ensure that the United States remains preoccupied with the Middle East to the detriment of other important regions - Asia, for example - for years to come.

We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.

Francis Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is editorial board chairman of a new magazine, The American Interest.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Future of Religion

Richard Rorty
Gianni Vattimo
Edited by Santiago Zabala
New York: Columbia University Press, 2005

91 pages

Reviewed by Frank Kaufmann

The Future of Religion is an outstanding and important work. The editor, Santiago Zabala studied under Gianni Vattimo, and is now a researcher at the Pontifical Lateran University. His published work has tended to revolve around his teacher, having published a “dialogue” with Vattimo ‘Weak Thought’ and the reduction of violence, in 2001, edited Vattimo’s Nihilism and emancipation, Ethics, Politics, and Law in 2003, The Future of Religion in 2005, and presently he is preparing a Festschrift for Vattimo comprising a towering line-up of contemporary philosophers and theologians.

Richard Rorty is a meteoric American philosopher of our time, burning his way through philosophies and universities leaving us with an exciting and significant intellectual biography. Those who know him at all know him for walking away from his home turf of analytic philosophy, finally calling it “nothing more than the last gasp of representationalism.” Rorty is professor of comparative religion and philosophy at Stanford University.

Gianni Vattimo, once a student of Gadamer and and Karl Loweth at Heidelberg, followed those roots to advance the “Gadamerian culture of dialogue.” Vattimo now teaches at his alma mater, Turin as professor of philosophy.

The slim volume has four sections, namely Santiago’s introduction entitled, “Religion without Theists or Atheists,” Rorty’s essay, “Anticlericalism and Atheism,” Vattimo’s “Age of Interpretation,” and finally a three way conversation (or perhaps a moderated two way conversation) entitled, “What is Religion’s Future after Metaphysics.”

The Future of Religion is not easy to read or understand. It requires that the reader have strong familiarity with 20th Century Western (Continental and American) philosophy, especially with what is called the “post-metaphysical” period. Even highly educated people lacking this specific narrow philosophical, theological, and linguistic training cannot easily follow the book’s content. Imagine reading a debate among computer programmers debating the competencies of Perl and Linux languages. As much as one might find the first few sentences of such a conversation fascinating, most would tend to lose the thread once terms such as C, sh, csh, grep, sed, awk, Fortran, COBOL, PL/I, BASIC-PLUS, SNOBOL, Lisp, Ada, C++, and Python, were treated as common parlance, needing no explanation.

As such The Future of Religion should be seen as a “trade” book, by philosophers for philosophers (and a very narrow band of philosophers at that!) Most even highly educated people would have NO IDEA what these three people are talking about. Add to that a starting point for the conversation that takes the “death of God” for granted, and a strong temptation arises to dismiss The Future of Religion along with a blast of related scattershot decrying “everything that’s wrong with this world.” To succumb to such a temptation, however, would be to err. Leaving the extreme “in group” quality of the discourse aside, The Future of Religion represents a genuinely valuable and intellectually important encounter. Jean Grondin from the University of Montreal calls Rorty and Vattimo “the two most preeminent figures of postmodernism.” Nancy Frankenberry of Dartmouth College calls them “two of the world’s leading philosophers.” Radical progress requires on occasion that peers be free to pursue the horizons of their expertise unfettered by having constantly to translate themselves.

The premise of The Future of Religion is well conceived and works well. In fact, as we shall see, it embodies the very philosophical commitments of the thinkers involved. Rorty and Vattimo stand at the edges of anti-foundationallsm or anti-essentialism. They think hard at the edges of the postmodernism and bring from this elite precipice some of of Western philosophy’s strongest challenges. In response the “death of God, and the deconstruction of metaphysics,” Rorty and Vattimo wandered off in different directions, Rorty through Dewey’s door of pragmatism, and Vattimo through Gadamer’s hermeneutics. Zabala thought these men should talk. The result of all agreeing to do so is The Future of Religion.

Terms and thinkers which inform this conversation and are requisite for readers to understand this volume include Nietzche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Gadamer, Dewey, Benedetto Croce, Derrida, nihilism, historicism, postmodernism, hermeneuticism, and neo-pragmatism.

The Death of God

The term “Death of God,” was probably coined to provoke and anger theists,. If so it surely succeeded, and along with this childish penchant among the precociously bright, proponents probably enjoyed the teen-style lament “you just don’t understand.” The milder term for the same philosophical collection is “radical theology.”

S.N Gundry rightfully notes that the “death of God” movement of the mid-60’s never coalesced around a single center or definition for the notion. Presently these philosophical innovations have both social and linguistic implications and influences:

The social or historical element has its late (1960’s) roots in Gabriel Vahanian’s book, God is Dead, in which he analyzed the historical elements that contributed to “the masses accepting atheism not so much as a theory but as a way of life” [Gundry:]. The linguistic side of the problem derives from “premise [that arose] among empirical analytic philosophers that real knowledge and meaning can be conveyed only by language that is empirically verifiable” [Gundry].

Together these sparked a fluid (and likely North Atlantic-centric) sense that “God” no longer functioned as a dominant or efficient category in modern society (giving birth to “this-worldly”, and secular theologies), and linguistically that the term “God” could no longer function as a verifiable or reliable referent. Thus “the death of God.”

The Rejection of Metaphysics

The “death of God,” is an unfortunate, provocative (albeit catchy and journalistically enticing) description of genuine and substantial philosophical challenges. Philosophy stumbled across three great difficulties regarding existence and experience. 1. Human existence is always “in history,” 2. Experience is always structured in the “linguistic a priori,” and finally 3. The devastating synthesis, namely the historicity of language itself!

These observations compel the rigorous philosopher to engage in the “deconstruction of metaphysics,” a task which results in “the end of logocentrism, the end of the privilege accorded by metaphysical thought to presence and voice incarnations of the Logos, capable of rendering Being available to a finite subject.” [Zabala: 6]

Rorty, Vatimmo and others thus reject any “authority that, in the guise of a scientific or ecclesiastical community, imposes something as objective truth.” (Zabala: 8] They insist rather in the “historicity of all knowledge,” believing that recognizing such allows for the dissolution of the modernistic dispute between religion and science (in which modernity gave science the upper hand). They speak of “the weight of objective structures,” and the “violence of dogmatism.” In its extreme, even “method,” and “grammar,” are looked upon with suspicion.

The vertigo and resulting sense of freefall coming from these positions is so intense that many react angrily and combatively to these philosophers and philosophical impulses. It is better, however, that such challenges be embraced, digested, considered and resolved, than merely opposed with a vigilante spirit. If people like Rorty and Vattimo have the stomach to stare these philosophical developments in the eye, we should pray diligently for their safe return from the Mount of disFiguration.

Rorty’s Hope

Rorty rejects the notion that philosophy can be done “a historically.” This means that philosophers believe our era is ready to grasp the relative nature of all beliefs, a theory that echoes Isaiah Berlin’s idea that there is “no Archimedian point” outside ourselves, our history, our language, or our concepts where we can stand we can stand to achieve and objective viewpoint toward all that we claim to know or believe." Postmodernists like Rorty are not blind to the implications of “a-ntology” (my neologism combining “a” as in apolitical, and “ntology” from the philosophical field “ontology.”).

He does not shy away from the implications of anti-foundationalism for moral and ethical concerns. Later in his essay he writes, “nor is there any need to attempt to reach an ahistorical, God’s-eye view of the relations between all human practices." [Rorty: 32]

How can Rorty (and later as we shall see the devout Catholic, Vattimo) remain so sanguine as the pillars of certitude crumble around them like the fall of the Roman Empire.

There is on the one side an admirable courage and integrity to these men who face the howling winds and philosophize on the edge. In another way they are simply dutiful, like the 9/11 firefighters, or the quartet as portrayed by Cameron in The Titanic. You deal with what is, and the near ritualistic execution of one’s vocation is the best way to meet crises.

Finally one can feel a touch of the rebellious teen in this community, the teen who enjoys the luxury of rebellion while enjoying the benefits of the father’s toil and sweat to pay the rent and feed the family.

It must be accredited to Rorty (and Vattimo) that they view these developments positively, and draw constructive conclusions. Rorty wisely abandoned the self-ascription “atheist,” and changed it to softer, more palatable ascriptions like “anti-clerical,” and “religiously un-musical.”

Ultimately Rorty extends Dewey’s pragmatism toward the philosophical ground of a utopian democracy, citing “what contemporary American philosopher Robert Brandom calls “the game of giving and asking for reasons.” [Rorty: 37]. Rorty plays fair in that he is not unwilling to confess his faith (while “sav(ing) religion from Onto-theology”).

My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendents will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal and the free agreement of a literate and well educated electorate. [Rorty: 40]

Vattimo’s Hope

Gianni Vattimo stands on the same ground, or perhaps sinks in the same quicksand as Richard Rorty. There is no difference between the two men insofar as their respective assessment of the possibility of metaphysics. Lest anyone accidently suggest something might actually be the case, early on in his essay Vattimo wants us to be sure that we know that when “Nietzche writes, “there are no facts, there are only interpretations” [that he is not making] an objective, metaphysical proposition.” [Vattimo: 44]. Okay, relative enough? We need not reiterate the anti-metaphysical efforts of postmodernists to provide tight enough security to protect us from the horror that something might inadvertently be recommend as true.

The difference between Rorty and Vattimo does not lie in how they read our condition, it lies rather in two things peculiar to their personal histories: 1. Rorty thinks of himself as “religiously unmusical,” and Vattimo considers himself a devout Catholic. 2. Rorty advances his philophical horizons more in the tradition of American philosophers, and Vattimo more in that of the “continental” philosophers. They pass through very different doors, but arrive at remarkable similar locations. This is the great beauty of this book.

Vattimo credits Christianity with the incipient impulses of Nietzche’s nihilism, and Heidegger’s end of metaphysics. For Vattimo (as we saw with Rorty) this is a positive direction. Vattimo explains, “Christianity introduces into the world the principle of interiority, on the basis of which “objective” reality gradually loses its preponderant weight.” [Vattimo: 46-7] … hermeneutics as a radically “nihilist” ontology … I believe we must” insists Vattimo, “[argue] that postmodern nihilism constitutes the actual truth of Christianity.” [Vattimo: 47] These examples abound, “Christianity as a message of salvation consists above all in dissolving the peremptory claims of ‘reality,’ Paul’s sentence, ‘Oh death where is thy victory?’ can rightfully be read as an extreme denial of the ‘reality principle.’ [Vatimmo: 49 – 50], … [and] Wittgenstein’s phrase that philosophy (for us, this would be the postmetaphysical philosophy made possible by Christ) can only free us from idols.” [Vattimo:50]

The anti-authoritarianism of this impulse that we saw in Rorty’s explanations obtain with Vattimo as well, “All claims by historical authorities to command in the name of truth have been revealed as deceptions that absolutely cannot be tolerated in a democracy.” [Vattimo:54]

So where does Vattimo’s “Christianity,” and roots in continental philosophy take one to find solace from the queasy feeling of ever shifting sands? Interestingly Vattimo also arrives at “democracy.” Not the social democracy of a “domination free” society in which “love is the only law,” taken by extension from Dewey and the traditions of American philosophy, but rather as it expresses itself in “the philosophy of communicative action of Habermas… No experience of truth can exist without some kind of participation in community… [with] Gadamer hermeneutics, truth comes about as the ongoing construction of communities that coincide in a fusion of horizons… Truth consists above all in their being shared by a community.” [Vattimo: 51]

It is easy to see that the “redemption of nihilism” (my phrase) lies in fraternite. Whether it be the “pragmatic” unfolding of a democracy through shared practice (charity), or the unfolding of “what is true for all of us” (my phrase) through participating in the interpretation of our historicized moment in a “fusion of horizons.”

Rescuing the Orphans

There are a number of significant flaws in postmodernist philosophies, the most noteworthy being that unless one thinks really carefully, and really hard, and really faithfully it is simply not how we think. It is not how we feel. I think it requires that one be able to make a living out of thinking this way, before it starts to feel natural.

It is this innate or “gut” sense that postmodernist views are only really practical for the pampered elite that engenders some of the visceral reactions to postmodern philosophical propositions. The “I don’t know what they’re sayin’ but I know I don’t like it,” feeling, or “There are no facts? How about you’re on fire? Is that factual enough for ya, mister?”

This incongruence with lived experience, I believe, accounts for some of the strong, even emotional opposition toward anti-foundationalists, and hermeneutic nihilists. Since social and legal conventions require that we try to express ourselves philosophically without setting our dialogue partners on fire, let us see if we can identify elements in the human experience which challenge the analyses and conclusions of even the most superior postmodernists such as Rorty and Vattimo.

I Owe this All to …

The first thing to note in postmodernism is its extreme anti-authoritarian geneses. Hierarchy, power, authority, and any related elements in the human experience are presumed laden with oppression, exploitation, and other inevitable effects, all ultimately harming the welfare and impeding the eventual liberation and emergence of innate human goodness.

The problem with this view, its sybaritic appeal notwithstanding, is that it simply is not our experience with authority a vast percentage of the time. The negatives presumed by postmodernists describe only occasional experiences, and only with some authority. What is presumed to be “true” about hierarchy and authority in fact only describes the misuse, abuse, and exploitation of authority. But what of the 1,000’s of occasions in which authority is benign, if not downright pleasant? My children’s primary school crossing guard. An absolute authority. From the littlest one in Buster Brown’s to the bone-crushing driver of the 16-wheeler, obeyed this small lady absolutely! Always fun, often with a lollipop on hand, or scolding Junior for his ever-untucked shirt. My 18-year-old kids still visit her, still standing in the same intersection, and still getting a lollipop whenever they can.

I have never seen Blues performed when the artist did not pay homage to a teacher or an old great. It is an honor they LOVE to confer, humility, surrender, and glorification of an authority they gratefully embrace.

Examples abound. The point is that in this world, and in being human it is just a “fact” that there are those who “know” more. They are older and we not only permit, but keep doors wide open and in fact cherish any time these benevolent “higher ups” tell us what to do. What I describe here might be called the “vertical” dimension of the human macrocosm (if we consider the utopian fraternite of the postmodernists, the “horizontal” dimension). Both are sweet. They round out life. The flat utopias of Rorty and Vattimo are too flat. They do not match reality, and they omit a sweet and known part of human existence. Give me B.B. King, give me Yogi Berra, give me my 7th grade Latin teacher. And above all, if you are lucky (and many of us are) give me my mom and dad. Herein lies an axis of meaning and even “truth,” missing in the horizontal, two-dimensional utopias of Rorty and Vattimo.

Lord of the Flies

The second thing we “know” (somehow) that rejects even the most elegant siren-call of such enchanting postmodernists as Rorty and Vattimo, is that we do not order ourselves better when simply left alone. History and subjective experience of self speaks unequivocally of the existence of profound evil in human affairs. Again, even without the philosophical sophistication to challenge these brilliant thinkers, people of average intelligence know that communitarian constructs sprouting in the Petri dish of radical nihilism disremember the “truth” of evil in our experience, in our immediate and subjective “knowing.” We “know” that when things get really evil, you just cannot just talk them away. There are some “horizons” with which we know in our gut we are not meant to “fuse.” History and our present world are rife with evidence that part of the human condition and the resulting horrors of dehumanization are “true,” and they not reformed simply by talking long enough. Thus the second missing or errant element in the postmodern project is the naiveté that inadvertently inheres ironically within its sophistication. Even those without philosophical training “know” fraternite neglects to integrate this particular universal in the human experience.

The final critique of anti-essentialism, nihilism, and hermeneuticism I offer here takes up the epistemological shortfall in these postmodern systems. What Rorty, Vattimo and their contemporaries fail to incorporate in their analyses is the role of “doing” in “knowing.”

Until now, epistemology has concerned itself with the apprehension and affirmation of propositions.

The breakdown in that relationship, and the insistence that we have lost our ability to claim that one can “know” something as “true” plays a strong and major part in the legitimate challenges forged by postmodernists. Rorty was perfectly right as a celebrity pioneer to rent himself from the warp and woof of positivism, and the analytic tradition, that last gasp in which truth was sought by reducing language to mathematics. This could not fend off the horror as the referent similarly tore itself free from language.

It is accurate then that “truth seeking” in the realm of language-sodden propositions is a lost cause. The postmodern project, in my opinion is most intuitive in its rigorous refusal to permit reckless and sloppy truth claims singing blindly in the chasm between le mot and l’objet. In this I have no problem.

I have a problem with the solutions they propose, that they remain in the cave and offer irrational solutions that stay in the shadows.

Just as the forfeit of the “vertical” and of “authority” lacked sufficient imagination to take up life’s reality honestly, similarly the surrender to the end of metaphysics fails to find an imaginative solution to the legitimate epistemological challenge rightly put forth in postmodern observations.

It is in moving beyond the disembodied intellect and its relationship to proposition that the postmodern challenge can be met with solutions that match human experience and the fact that we all know it is possible to “know” something. The postmodern, epistemological challenge should not be met playfully, it should be met in a way that conforms to a full and honest gaze at life in the world.

The better solution is achieved by approaching “knowing” in a more wholesome, more well rounded, and more integrated way, one that considers the human being with greater nuance and through more aspects than merely its intellectual relationship to metaphysical proposition.

The development of an integrated epistemology is far-reaching and complex ultimately requiring the full involvement of mind-brain theory. It is impossible to fully develop this solution in this short space, but the necessary elements can be introduced.

The key to re-opening the possibility of knowing after postmodernism lies in affirming and recognizing the relationship between two key elements. These are: 1. Human beings are a microcosm of the universe in which we act. (i.e., we – including our brains – are made out of the same stuff we apprehend and manipulate), and 2. (The integrally related reality) action affects cognition.

Once philosophy approaches the reality of human knowing in this more full and integrated embrace, recognizing that proposition is transformed into knowledge through experience and action, (i.e. how we in fact live in the world), we can become free to benefit from the valuable observations of the postmodernists. Courageous and aesthetically pleasing thinkers like Rorty and Vattimo deserve their rightful place as contributors in the pull toward the peaceful world they envision.

For the old order of things has passed away

Rorty, Vattimo and the postmodern philosophical movement needs to restore and integrate “the vertical,” the sweet matrix of “authority” into a richer and fuller account of human life. Secondly they need a more intuitive and sophisticated grasp of the reality of evil. And finally they need to recognize and develop an epistemology that understands the relationship between action and cognition.

If these are taken up in earnest, they can develop radically new foundations (even as watchdogs to keep the old foundations away) for the next era of human spirituality, new and effective agents to pursue an ideal world. We could not have fresh ground awaiting new foundations were it not for great thinkers like Rorty and Vattimo who are willing to think so hard, facing the icy winds at the edges.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Thank Allah for Tony Blair

If Mr. Blair can stay the course he set in response to the deplorable London bombings, and if the people whom he calls as partners can rise to meet the challenge, what is called Muslim terrorism will end.

Mr. Blair offers the first intelligent response from a major Western leader to what is called Muslim terrorism. Mr. Blair’s clear and balanced 4 point plan introduced in Parliament promises to reverse our plummet into the blind and primitive militarism that nourishes escalating guerilla attacks on innocents.

Mr. Blair’s 4 point plan boasts simplicity rather than simple-mindedness. He calls for:

o New laws as planned against incitement and instigation of terrorism
o New measures to keep people inciting hatred out of the UK, or making it more easily to deport them
o Help for the Muslim community to counter the "evil" interpretation of their faith
o International effort to mobilize the "moderate and true voice of Islam"

He shifts focus from acts of terrorism to incitement and instigation of terrorism. “The laws,” reports BBC, “would focus on measures the police and security services believed necessary to combat the incitement and the instigation of terrorism as well as the acts of terrorism themselves." Additionally he includes a pledge “help for the Muslim community to counter the "evil" interpretation of their faith”, and to launch “an international effort to mobilize the "moderate and true voice of Islam"

The analysis and the plan are finely integrated. The deportation aspect flirts with the unimaginative, wholly ineffective impulse to “get rid of people.” But it is nevertheless reasonable and proper as it deals with the laws of his own sovereign state, and his responsibility to protect its citizens.

Otherwise here’s how “getting rid of people” works:

In July 2004, US Vice President Cheney stated "many of al Qaeda's known leaders have been captured or killed. Those still at large are on the run, and we are going to hunt them down--one by one." In September, US President GW Bush stated “More than three quarters of Al Qaeda’s key members and associates have been detained or killed.” In the mean time the US government reports of 2004 stated, “The number of "significant" [terrorist] attacks grew to about 655, up from the record of around 175 in 2003.” “Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year's total.”

Mr. Blair instead correctly identifies the source of the problem as an ideology. He offers a clear and effective program in response by identifying the right allies, and promising resources to that community.

We do not find in Mr. Blair’s rhetoric references to a disembodied, non-defined bogey-man (terrorism) on which we “wage war.” He points out instead, “we are dealing with “an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam.”

With Blair, the perpetrators of inhuman horror among us are no longer a science-fiction like, mercurial web of high-tech, inhuman demons lurking among us (maybe that 87 year old lady from Iowa getting her shoes scanned at JFK airport is one of them.) They are teachers, ideologues. They teach, they incite, they instigate, and they effectively recruit and promote “an evil interpretation of the Muslim faith.” They are not best identified by having a pair of finger nail clippers in their carry-on luggage.

Who do they teach? Muslims. What do they teach? “A misinterpretation of Islam.” Who best might be able to identify these evil-doers? Blair immediately met with Muslim members of parliament, and will host a summit of UK Muslim leaders. This is the correct read. In the same speech he warned that Britain's Muslim community should be protected from reprisals or suspicion following the bombings -- insisting that any attempts by the far right to use the attacks to stir up racism would be "particularly revolting".

Perhaps Mr. Blair is lucky he doesn’t have his country’s leading Christian shouting across the dinner table, “Islam is “wicked, violent and not of the same god.” (Asked by NBC News to clarify his statement, Franklin Graham stood his ground.)

Mr Blair while meeting with Muslim MPs on Wednesday said "this evil [is] within the Muslim community… In the end, this can be taken on and defeated only by the community itself."

Now that Mr. Blair has identified and pledged to support the international “moderate and true voice of Islam,” to combat perpetrators of “a poisonous and perverted misinterpretation of the religion of Islam,” maybe we can relieve corn-fed, Christian boys and girls from Arkansas of that duty.

In August of 2000, immediately prior to the bi-centennial General Assembly, (and well before 9/11) Dr. Sun Myung Moon delivered in the United Nations the speech, Renewing the United Nations and Building A Culture of Peace. After admonishing religious leaders, “Religious people have not been good examples in the practice of love and living for the sake of others … religious leaders [should] stand against the injustices and evils of the world... we [must] go beyond interests of particular religions, and put our love and ideals into practice for the sake of the world,” he then made the radical proposal, “World peace can be fully accomplished only when the world's religious leaders work cooperatively and respectfully with national leaders who have much practical wisdom and worldly experience about the external reality… Serious consideration should be given to forming a religious assembly, or council of religious representatives within the structure of the United Nations.”

This clarion call was all but ignored, horror replaced hope, and the “new millennium” became a time of war.

Since the UN is a membership organization, the establishment of the council called for by Dr. Moon should have been pursued member nation by member nation. That model could then have been mirrored in corresponding new structures for the world body itself.

In the throes of sadness, Mr. Blair rose to perfectly fulfill that vision in his 4 point response to 7/7. Now it is up to the ones he calls as partners, the ones whom Mr. Blair optimistically calls the "moderate and true voice of Islam, the ones to whom he has promised support at home and abroad.

In this he has done more than the politician’s job, and he has done so with a religion not his own! This is path breaking statesmanship in the face of a devastating crisis.

It is now up to Muslim leaders, not only in Britain, but world-wide to meet the this trust and optimism offered at the “West’s” highest levels. Muslim leaders must put aside all petty conflict and division, and rise to this call. Leaders of the “moderate and true voice of Islam,” have been offered respectful support from a mighty Western power, to effectively counter the “evil interpretation of their faith,” and remove the poison from their midst. This is a great challenge, but a precious opportunity for “Islam” to bring genuine benefit to all people of all faiths and all cultures.

Frank Kaufmann
July 17, 2005

Frank Kaufmann is the Director of the Office of International Relations of the IIFWP

This writing represents the personal opinion of the writer, not the position of the IIFWP

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Democrat crusade for irrelevance

Gas hit sixty dollars a barrel today. Iraq fatalities and casualties drip daily into the sandstone of citizen confidence. Rogue states own and build nuclear weapons with impunity, and the Democrats nobly and fiercely joust at the windmill named John Bolton.

The United Nations lies crippled under a pathetic scandal of simple greed and graft, which spread like cancer to every crevice of the long-ineffective world organization.

In the post-Soviet-era, the United States and the United Nations vie to posture as the defining world organization. The United States abandoned any pretense of collaboration with the United Nations on March 19, 2003 by inventing its own international organization (which it called “the coalition of the willing”) to support its decision to attack Sadam’s Iraq with the full force of its military.

The food for oil scandal, reaching as it does into the very family of the US sanctioned UN Secretary General Anan, leaves the international organization crippled and decimated. The US – UN competition to “rule the world” is like one of those high school softball games when the score reaches 23 – 0 in the 3rd inning. As the US continues its Bush-signature, foreign policy, with Secretary of State Rice thumping out a “no-tolerance” doctrine around the world, what difference could it possibly make who the US ambassador to the UN is? What average citizen cares even remotely who the US ambassador to the UN is?

The Democrats picked their Snidely Whiplash, big-mustachioed bad guy in John Bolton as the vehicle through which to nip Chihuahua-like at the heels of the all Republican, all the time majority in all branches of government.

Republicans can only hope that Mr. Bolton holds up and is willing to remain the poster-boy for Republican meanness. The Democrats for their part, in the place of genuine, creative ideas and constructive alternatives can enjoy a few more rushes at the red cape of the mean Mr. Bolton, while Republican matadors can enjoy the opportunity to inch the United States saber by saber toward becoming a one party state.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Only radical change can save the European Union

Europe is a land of conflict grounded in religious difference.

August Prize winner, Sweden’s Per Olov Enquist notes that “half of Europe’s wars, from the Monophystic struggles in the Roman Empire… to the German Empires’ cultural battles in the 19th Century, had arisen from some sort of theological strife, and since the church was a state institution, it led to war.”

The so-called “cultural differences” influencing anti-Constitution referenda have their roots in long histories of religious wars. Not only have they never been solved, they’ve never been addressed. In 1648 they began to be ignored.

This effort to ignore religion results in dominant European powers stumbling in the darkness, and tripping flat-footed over matters of religion. France, a massive player in EU politics was deemed in violation of International Law in its discriminatory headscarf ban, and likewise Germany has had the dubious distinction of being declared a human rights violator by numerous human rights watchdogs and organizations — most notably including the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Rutherford Institute, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In Catholic Europe's largest dioceses in Germany, France, Italy, and Ireland, the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass regularly has slipped to as low as 20 percent, and in a few cities, like Paris, has reached as low as the single digits, according to figures compiled by the church. Yet pope John Paul II and the Vatican pressed for an explicit recognition of Christianity in the European constitution. Although that effort ultimately failed, the Pope stayed resolute on the importance of the continent's Christian patrimony. "Whether or not it is recognized in the official documents," he said, "it is an undeniable fact, which no historian can overlook." Yet 15 million Muslims live in Europe, up to 3 times the number of Muslims living in America. 10 million Muslims live in France and Germany alone, and Muslim Turkey remains in its 4th decade of seeking European status.

An EU is a wonderful idea. It should happen. Success in that effort would help the whole world. Unfortunately this cannot happen so long as it is pursued on the patently unworkable notion that a union of any sort can be built on purely economic and political designs.

One downside of trying to cobble political and economic unions together while remaining blind to the spiritual and religious aspects of “cultural” rootedness is that you end up with 60,000 word, 265 page constitutions. The United States constitution based as it is on a declaration of self-evident truths, that all men are created equal, … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights is one 12th the size.

In the United States the ideal of human equality is based on the assertion that we are created this way. Our rights are endowed by our creator. “Europe” on the other hand extracts rights and equality by drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe. Of the 25 “plenipotentiaries” affirming that human equality arises from Europe’s inheritance, almost a third sign as his or her majesty or royal highness.

As Enquist notes, Europe has hosted and exported religious conflict from its earliest days, but worse for its well-being is its recent 400 year experiment of hoping that religion if ignored will go away.

Religious fighting decimated and exhausted Europe in the 17th Century. It tired people of religion, but left state churches in place. Religious tiredness and state churches continue in Europe today, but the ascendant reign of the contra-religious intelligentsia never served to heal the ancient strife. Why? It is because healing division is itself a spiritual and religious act. That is the job of God and religion, to make things “one.”

The United States has yet to realize perfectly its ideals of universal rights and human equality, but it remains a union of the most far ranging diversity in history. It is a union that begins with the plain and unabashed acknowledgment that equality and rights are endowed by a creator, not inspired by fractious threads of philosophical and ideological inheritance.

All progressive and clear-thinking people should long to see a European Union. But, so long as the spiritual mission of “making things one,” is misconceived as purely political and economic, and so long as religious hostilities and prejudices remain enshrined in the hearts of people, prospects remain near hopeless.

Enlightened religious leaders are needed to light the way out of this history. But how dark is their path in modern-day Europe?

Dr. Frank Kaufmann
Offcie of Interreligious Relations

These are the opinions of the author, not the positions of the IIFWP

Saturday, May 21, 2005

War, Journalists, and Cultural Blunders

By Frank Kaufmann

Special to World Peace Herald

Published May 21, 2005

NEW YORK -- The near thorough removal of all communications boundaries in our contemporary world is literally unprecedented. Incendiary Arabic language sermons quickly circulate among American conservatives, and insults to Islam are heard instantly in remote cities and villages from Peshawar to Kuala Lumpur. We do not yet have habits of mind that match this new reality. Debate, reactions, and analyses struggle to transcend traditional categories. As such they do not shed light. Wholesome responses and solutions elude us.

Last week two privately owned corporations, namely Newsweek Inc. (a Washington Post company), and the Washington Times sparked high intensity, international incidents. In one there was even loss of life. Newsweek ran a half a sentence on desecrating the Qu'ran causing a worldwide firestorm including riots and death, and the Washington Times ran an objectionable and embarrassing cartoon. The half sentence and the cartoon caused problems of towering gravity and consequence. Very little is similar between the two cases other than that they both had to do with the incredibly fragile relations between "the West" and "Islam."
The Times peccadillo came and went somehow waning despite the paper's odd non-apology about "man's best friend." Perhaps the more horrifying series of events surrounding the Newsweek half sentence knocked the legs out from under the Times' troubles.

Analysis of these phenomena should concentrate on two most important aspects:

1. The immediate politicization of the problem and virtually all commentary that followed.
2. The clear evidence that cultural ignorance a. abounds, and b. has dire consequences in this age of instant communication.

David Brooks described the politicization well in his May 19, 2005 New York Times editorial. The Newsweek problem called for quick, genuine, and creative solutions. Instead we were buried under the hype and barrage of finger pointing and blame from all sides. Then, instead of searching for creative, urgently needed solutions, we are made cross-eyed by yet another round of media narcissism obsessing on itself in the tiring minutiae of journalism standards, use of sources and other shop talk. These are all red herrings even though the real problem is plain. What the Newsweek blunder showed, more than confusion over the use of sources, was the simple fact that almost no non-Muslim Americans naturally know how the Qu'ran truly functions in Muslim life and piety. Why wasn't our ignorance of the one of the most basic facts of Muslim piety the immediate focus of our national conversation? (Same with the offensive "dog" cartoon. How many non-Muslim Americans know how dogs are viewed in Muslim culture?)

Yes, the question of single source and anonymous source reporting is interesting. Yes, the question of media responsibility in a "time of war" is interesting. Surely the question of prisoner rights is interesting, and all are extremely important. The most frightful revelation however shown by the "Newsweek horrors" is that the cost of cultural and religious ignorance in a world of instant communication is at an all time high, and can no longer be ignored or left unattended. The solution to this problem does not lie in blaming newspapers, interrogators, or militants. It is a complex problem that should be approached by all communities and leaders unencumbered by the poison of blame and politicization.

The second major problem revealed in these events has to do with a near impossible effort to divide a "foreign" cultural sphere into an enemy half and an allied half. To presume that one can simply divide into "good guys and bad guys," a one billion person, international community grounded in 1,400 years of complex and opaque processes and evolution is silly on the face of it. Islamic history, theology, jurisprudence, political philosophy, and the profound and subtle evolution of its schools of interpretations, its political and theological development, its own debated issues of expansion, modernization, race and gender issues and more takes patience and understanding to intuit. To think that one can do this on the cheap, and further to think this is possible under the defining context of military alliances and national self-interest is in a word, impossible, and should be unthinkable.

Until the alliance between the United States and forward looking Muslim thinkers, countries, and leaders is one that transcends military purposes, and grows to become one of mutual embrace, and until the centuries long slide of modernity into the secularization that misses religion as a vital to the human experience is reversed, we are bound to continue suffering from the results of self-imposed ignorance.

We may not always have Mr. Isikoff to blame for our own sins. The next half sentence might be my own.

Only a starting point of true inter-cultural and interreligious respect and collaboration can start to dampen the flames of violence couching ever ready at the doors of instant global communication.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kill People, Break Things, Hug Children

There are seven areas of great political interest at this time, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Lebanon, Palestine, Taiwan, and Korea.

The similar cases have strong differences and unique aspects. Still three basic groupings are evident: 1. Afghanistan and Iraq, 2. Ukraine, Lebanon, and Palestine, and 3. Korea and Taiwan.

Afghanistan and Iraq are countries recently invaded by the United States, and presently sustain strong, U.S., military presence.

Ukraine, Lebanon, and Palestine are countries shedding or seeking to shed historical “oppressors” and “occupying” forces through internal political evolution, and internationally monitored dialogue with an historical “oppressor” (Russia for the Ukraine, Syria for Lebanon, and Israel for Palestine).

Taiwan and Korea, though different, make a group because the U.S. is associated militarily with one partner in both cases (South Korea in the fragile, nuclear tinderbox on the Korean Peninsula, and Taiwan in the complex and deeply ideological standoff involving the claims of the People’s Republic of China.)

In sum, two cases with the U.S. military already embroiled, 3 cases without explicit U.S. military presence, and two cases with the U.S. military teetering precariously on the periphery of nightmare scenarios.

Of the 3 groupings, only in Iraq and Afghanistan do death and war-related injury increase daily, the Iraq death toll is now over 3,000 US and coalition deaths, and over 11,000 US and coalition casualties. Iraqi civilian casualties exceed 17,000. In Afghanistan they exceed 4,000. The new category of soaring deaths and injury is among Iraqi police and security personnel, intensifying since the formation of Iraq’s interim government. Of all U.S. killed and wounded, 92% have been since the declared end of combat operations on May 1, 2003! 18,000 U.S. Military remain in Afghanistan, 120,000 in Iraq. Current war costs for Iraq stand at 168 Billion dollars.

In virtually all places in the world notorious for militancy and conflict, positive signs of progress abound. Sharon and Abbas display mastery and courage despite extremes hovering to the left and the right like vultures waiting for a misstep. India and Pakistan positively glisten as examples of positive, political vision and courage. Even Taiwan and Beijing inch timidly toward the dance floor.

Only where the US has injected itself militarily is death and war-relted injury a daily phenomenon.

The US military arguably is the best in history; not only for its power, but more gloriously for the humane ethic and ideal it pursues (Even the horrific exceptions meet swift, self imposed justice). Nevertheless US military presence has proven perfectly ill-conceived as concept for bringing peace and stability. The tragic attempt at diplomacy-by-army is surely discredited if even so “good” and so powerful a group of young people prove powerless to suppress ideological commitment to resistance.

The experiment is a failure not in its result, but in its premise. The world no longer admits of mixing war and good. It is a crime to ask America’s noble young soldiers to serve as the agents of “good-will,” and the bearers of the “democratic ideal.” The contradiction of purpose endangers the lives of our sons and daughters. 1. They are members of an organization designed for destruction and violence. 2. They began their stay in Afghanistan and Iraq violently. 3. They are not trained as Ambassadors, despite their frequently loving and compassionate acts in the countries where they are stationed, 4. They represent an enemy to entrenched resistance. These young people are saddled with improper and self-contradictory expectations, an impossible mission for which they are losing their lives.

America’s rise to the position of “world’s sole super-power,” blinded us to the roots of our greatness. In both Afghanistan and Iraq where violence abounds, we claim our massive military presence remains to train and support the nascent, indigenous, security forces to protect and rebuild the infrastructure deemed necessary to allow the maturation of “democracy” and social stability.

The problem here is that the roots of American freedom and stability are not security based. We do not have military and paramilitary forces keeping majorities and minorities apart in our country. American Democracy, freedom, and social stability are the result of theological and social concepts that convince us of human equality. From this we recognize, support, and defend the rights of our compatriots, even those whom we do not like. On this foundation we live together, at first reluctantly and over time in harmony.

Our democracy, freedoms, and social stability were not imposed upon us by force by foreign powers. They are imposed on us by conscience and an enlightened ideal. If these are our roots, where did we get the idea that security and military force are the roots of democracy? Our greatness lies in a compelling theological and social case for human equality. It seems 168 billion dollars should be enough to help spread this notion.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Time for Vigilance Not Amnesia

Sharm el Sheik 

Frank Kaufmann
Director, Office of Interreligious Relations, IIFWP
Director, Middle East Peace Initiative, IIFWP

February 9, 2005

Political processes, truces, ceasefires, roadmaps, and other symbols and contracts for peace are fragile and have a habit of breaking down. Witness the aftermath of the “roadmap,” and the birth of the second intifada, which yielded a massive spike in violent deaths to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

How many Mont Blanc pens used for signing peace treaties enjoy the serene security of climate controlled museum cases, while mothers and wives scrub the splattered blood of their loves ones off the walls of their homes, coffee shops, and supermarkets?

We are fully encouraged by the near spontaneous eruption of a commitment to “calm” shared by Sharon and Abbas in Sharm El Sheik, made all the more enchanting absent the shadow of the omnipresent US bribe (the international version of the parental surrender “I’ll give you an I Pod if you stop fighting with your sister – a victory for blackmail depriving everyone involved of discovering the genuine joy of having one’s own sister as a true friend). The perennial oil spill of US dollars will slick over the blue green human desire for peace soon enough, but last week’s Sharon-Abbas handshake sparkled in an untainted beauty. Egypt and Jordan surely deserve their day in the sun for having faithfully trod a treacherous line dreaming of peace in a troubled time and a troubled place.

The heady and intoxicating dreams sparked in us by such Spring-like moments in Egypt, should be accompanied by a stern and focused glare reminding us that now is the time, more than ever, to recall that conflict in the region is not merely political, and cannot be solved by politicians alone.

The horrors and calumny shattering the dreams and lives of undeserving innocents in the region do not stem merely from political differences and issues. This is why the likes of Sharon and Abbas should not be abandoned or isolated in this moment during their efforts to realize the peace they nobly symbolized in their dramatic act of hope and courage. As politicians they can NOT solve the problems which cause violence and bloodshed in the Middle East. They can only solve the POLITICAL aspects of the problem, and history shows beyond a shadow of doubt that political efforts to provide solutions in isolation will forever be woefully inadequate to address the complex and deep-rooted causes of conflict in the region.

Violence and conflict in the region are spiritual in nature above all. Additionally they are religious, historical, and cultural. For this reason it is the unmitigated responsibility of all peace seekers in every field to come to the support of Sharon, Abbas, Rice, Bush, Murbarak, and Abdullah II of Jordan in their time of courage, of risk, and of need. Furthermore, from among all leaders responsible to support the public face of pursuing peace, NO ONE bears greater responsibility than religious leaders, not only in the region, but also in the world.

All religions represented in the region have important centers of influence in many other parts of the world. Each and every world religious body must hasten to organize their respective faith communities, as well as their official, public utterances from central leadership to undergird the courageous, dream-filled, and hopeful moments radiating from Sharm El Sheik this week.

We urge President Bush and his cabinet, which publicly acknowledge the role of the divine in human affairs not to grow dull in mistakenly thinking that the God of all is confined to private Sundays.

The political process is the starlet on center stage evoking our dreams and hopes, but it is the spiritual and religious leaders who must light the path for Sharon and Abbas as each of them now faces enormously difficult negotiations with hard-liners to their left and to their right.

Believers and religions cannot sit idly by in this moment of serendipity. If anything, religions and believers should achieve greater sacrifice, risk, humility, trust, and reaching out across boundaries and barriers than secular leaders. Religions have the urgent responsibility to reach those yet to intuit that the path of true faith forgives, believes in change, and pursues a peace that surpasseth all understanding.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Worldwide Call to Prayer
The Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, Office of Interreligious Relations

Affected Area Posted by Hello

Our family has suffered a terrible blow, this time in Southeast Asia and stretching right the way across to Somalia on Africa’s eastern coast. Confirmed deaths exceed 124,000 with 1,000s still unaccounted for, and millions remain homeless.

Reports are of a frantic race to save millions of survivors from dehydration and disease and stop the terrifying death count from climbing further.

On the humanitarian side we have responded well. Aid for Tsunami relief has already topped 2 billion dollars making this the biggest relief effort in history. Japan so far is the biggest donor having pledged 500 million dollars; the United States has offered 350 million dollars so far. Even so circumstances and disorganization are creating obstacles for the safe delivery of relief.

Governments, the United Nations, and relief agencies from civil society have exhibited remarkable rapidity of response, sadly however, the religious world has not manifest a similar degree of coordination to provide our human family with guidelines for the religious and spiritual response to so great a change in the human landscape.

Massive numbers are transitioning from temporal life to eternal life in the spiritual world. Furthermore the passing of so huge a number occurred all at once. This is a shock. It has significant impact on the human family. Religions together should guide us through times of such intense impact on our consciousness as Gods human family.

Already millions are becoming experts on sub-oceanic geology, but how many have learned more clearly about life and death?

Two communities are affected most by the passing and transition from temporal life to eternal life; those who find themselves forced to deal with eternal life suddenly and without time to prepare, and those who lost loved ones; parents, children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. We of the global family have as much responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in spiritual need as we do to care for them physically.

Surely in a disaster of this magnitude brothers and sisters from every faith have been lost to us. Is there guidance which speaks universally, across all traditions? How are we as a family to care for our brothers and sisters who are starting their new life in the spiritual world? How are we to care for those who similarly must make a radically new start in life, rebuilding life suddenly without precious, loved ones?

There is guidance from the world’s religions for times such as these. At this moment we call for a world-wide time of prayer, repentance, and reflection. Every person should look to the wisdom of their respective traditions, but as we pray, as we beseech the loving God to help us all in the face of this shocking event, let us pray as one. The Muslim upon hearing that anyone has lost his or her life is required to recite the short statement, “from Almighty God we come and to Him is our return.” The Holy Quran 41.30-31 reminds us that “Those who have said, "Our Lord is God," then have gone straight, upon them the angels descend, saying, "Fear not, neither sorrow; rejoice in Paradise that you were promised. We are your friends in the present life and in the world to come; therein you shall have all that your souls desire..." and with perfect clarity insists “Do not say, "They are dead!" about anyone who is killed for God's sake. Rather they are living, even though you do not notice it.” (Qur'an 2.154)

Catholic Christians are guided to pray, “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” Jews and Christians know from Ecclesiastes 12.7 “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”. In the New Testament, Christians are reminded to be, “always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4.16-5.10)

Father Moon of the Unification community speaks for volumes on the relationship between the spiritual and physical realm. In fact, every morning of their lives, Unificationists from the youngest to the oldest make a solemn promise in front of God, “Our family, centered on true love, pledges to strive daily for greater unity between the spiritual world and the physical world.”

The I Ching, in the Great Commentary 1.4.2 reminds us “Birth and death form one recurring cycle, like the alternation of the seasons. Spirit comes from the invisible realms to the visible, then returns to the invisible realms again. “ Hinduism says, “As a man passes from dream to wakefulness, so does he pass at death from this life to the next.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.11-14, 35). Buddhists have peace in the knowledge that “Man's real nature is primarily spiritual life, which weaves its threads of mind to build a cocoon of flesh, encloses its own soul in the cocoon, And, for the first time, the spirit becomes flesh. Understand this clearly: The cocoon is not the silkworm; In the same way, the physical body is not man but merely man's cocoon. Just as the silkworm will break out of its cocoon and fly free, So, too, will man break out of his body-cocoon and ascend to the spiritual world when his time is come. Never think that the death of the physical body is the death of man. Since man is life, he will never know death. (Seicho-no-ie. Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines.)

The list, and the teaching of the living God is abundantly to be found in every tradition. Please let us as one family pray for the living, and for those who have moved on to the spiritual world. We must be serious, faithful, and caring at times like this.