Liberal Grace

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Next time, listen to the Jews

Probably you've heard of Mel Gibson's alleged drunken anti-Semitic outburst.

Gibson's comments 'despicable,' he says

In a statement issued Saturday through his publicist, Gibson said: "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."

The report of Gibson's outburst struck some who were already wary of what they saw as anti-Semitic overtones in his 2004 blockbuster The Passion of the Christ and who think he has failed to disassociate himself clearly enough from remarks by his father denying the Holocaust ever occurred.

"If it's true what's reported, frequently hatred, bigotry and prejudice ... explodes at moments of stress and crisis," said Rabbi Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

(I won't pass judgment on Gibson since, very often, these types of news reports are highly inaccurate.)

But, assuming the reports are true, it raises a point:

The Jews were probably right and we Christians were probably wrong.

If anti-Semitic sentiments came out of Gibson in a drunken binge, isn't it very likely that some also came out in his movie? I think yes. Almost for sure.

Most non-Jews didn't detect any anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ. Many Jews did. (I didn't see it.)

If you are in the majority then you are probably blind to prejudice against minorities.

So, the next time some minority group speak up about racism YOU SHOULD LISTEN.

Most likely, the minority-person perceives what you are blinded to and they are not just making it up.

Isn't it obvious that both Israel and Hezbollah are guilty in this conflict?

These two statements by Jan Egeland only seem like a contradiction if you insist there can be only one guilty side.

Who are the real cowards? By Duraid Al Baik, Foreign Editor

For a while, it appeared that Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, was moved by the scenes he saw during the course of his inspection visit to Beirut. He blamed Israel for the carnage then but reversed his statement in less than 24 hours, blaming Hezbollah for the destruction.

Accompanied by cameramen and reporters of international news agencies, Egeland was shown jumping on debris of what used to be the residential district of the southern suburbs of Beirut. Full of sympathy, he told reporters that the Israeli military response had been disproportionate. "When ? one third of the wounded and killed are women and children, then it is clearly goes far beyond responding to armed groups," Egeland told reporters on June 23, which was the 12th day of the war.

Twenty-four hours later, Egeland surprised the world with a completely different statement. On his arrival at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus, he blamed Hezbollah for the destruction and deaths he saw in Lebanon. He claimed that the militia has built bunkers and tunnels near the Israeli border to hide weapons and fighters, and its members easily blend in with civilians.

He told a different group of reporters that his message was that the group must stop this "cowardly" act of hiding amidst women and children. Egeland, and/or those who suggested to him to revert his statement in Beirut, knew that this is a big lie and cannot stand the realities on the ground.

What Duraid Al Baik calls a contradiction seems to be totally obvious:

1) Israel is guilty of recklessly escalating this war, needlessly killing civilians.
2) Hezbollah is guilty of shamelessly hiding among civilians, guaranteeing civilian deaths.

One can dispute these statements but they aren't contradictory.

This is just common sense. In any war there is rarely only one guilty party. Typically, both sides have legitimate grievances and both sides have blood on their hands.

"Am I asking too much of journalists
when I expect them to be objective?"

Second-tier Guilt:

In any war, there are "second level" guilty parties who enable and encourage the conflict. The war between Israel and Hezbollah is no different. Compare:

A. Many writers here in the Arab world put much blame on America and the UN for not stopping Israel. (It seems unlikely that either party could stop Israel in the short-term but I firmly believe they should try.)

B.Very few writers here in the Arab world put similar (or any!) blame on Iran or Syria for not stopping Hezbollah. (Even though this seems more likely.)

A. Many writers over here blame America for sending arms to Israel. I agree with this. The person who arms a killer, shares in his guilt.

B. No writers over here (that I've seen) similarly blame Iran for arming Hezbollah. But, surely, if America shares the guilt of Israel then Iran shares the guilt of Hezbollah.

Am I asking too much of journalists when I call them to objective reporting and non-partisan editorializing? Should I accept that newspaper people will take up sides just like everybody else?

Am I a one-in-a-million anomaly because I can look at the Israel-Hezbollah conflict and identify the obvious truth that there is guilt on both sides?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Getting it wrong, again and again.

Philip Tetlock’s book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know? argues that experts are no better than the rest of us in making predictions.

I won't try to summarize his conclusions but will tell you mine, which I think are fairly consistent with Tetlock's:

While political experts know a lot more than the rest of us, this is canceled-out by their strong presuppositions.

These strong presuppositions come from a their set of organizing principles and "big ideas" they used to gain their expert status.

"Arab propagandists have done a great
disservice steering the Arab world
into some very wrong political decisions."

But for issues as organic and messy as politics or religion it is generally better to consider everything, case-by-case.

Living in the Arab/Muslim world, it seems to me that practically everybody has a very short-list of organizing principles about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Here they are, simply put:
1) Israel/Jews are evil war mongers with territorial ambitions
2) Israel is the puppet of America (and/or visa versa)
3) Israel's enemies have no alternative to violence

For example, it is bewildering to many Americans when Arabs blame America for this war. But if one believes in #2, this makes sense.

Since I don't believe #2, I seriously doubt Israel would heed America's call for a cease fire.

I think the legion of Arab propagandists have done a great disservice to their world by propagating the above principles. These "organizing principles" have helped steer the Arab world into some very wrong political decisions.

Don't think I'm letting Israel off the hook. While I don't know them as well as the Muslims, I can identify at least one "organizing principle" that steers the Israelis wrong, every time,

"Those people only understand power."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

An expert confirms my common sense about Hezbollah

Linda Heard responded to my post Linda S. Heard -- a case study on why there is no progress in Palestine with a thoughtful and lengthy reply. Of course, she disagreed on my theory about the motivation of Hezbollah:

It doesn't take an expert in Middle Eastern affairs to make a good guess at what Hezbollah wants.

Of course Hezbollah knew Israel would over-react. Why? Because Israel always overreacts!

So why would Hezbollah want to break the uneasy peace between Israel and Lebanon?

Because peace between Lebanon and Israel makes Hezbollah irrelevant. This current fighting is hell for the Lebanese but it's good for Hezbollah.

I'll say it again... I am not an expert on Hezbollah and Israel bit what I say is just plain obvious. Still, it makes me insecure to disagree with a person like Heard since she knows a whole lot more about the Arab world than I do. But in this case, I think inexpert commons sense trumps and expert with heavy bias.

So it is nice to be confirmed by someone who presumably knows what he is talking about. He says it more eloquently than I but says essentially the same thing:

If there is one constant in this unstable region, it is that Israel can usually be trusted to respond to threats to its sovereignty with exaggerated force.

The sustained bombing of Lebanon has wiped away the collective memory of the Lebanese people about who started this mess in the first place and once again focused the rage of the region on an aggressive Israel.

Nasrallah could not have scripted events any better.

All politics even Islamist politics is local; one need look no further than the internal dynamics of Lebanon to understand why Hezbollah would so recklessly cross the border and attack Israeli troops. Lebanon's liberation from both Israeli occupation and Syrian meddling has made obsolete Hezbollah's raison d'etre as an armed militia responsible for protecting the country's borders.

I recommend reading the whole article:
Hezbollah is not a puppet by Reza Aslan

I'm not familiar with Mr. Aslan but a quick look at his web site bio makes me think he's worth following. He is author of No god but God that definitely seems worth a look.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rice has a point but she's ultimately wrong.

Consider these three scenarios:

1) Police arrive at a domestic dispute where a husband and wife are fighting. The husband it beating the crap our of his wife. He says she started it. In the melee, the children are getting injured, too. The officers stand by and watch, explains, "If we stop this now. They'll just be fighting again in a few months."

2) Rival gangs are shooting it out in downtown L.A. Lots of innocent people are getting shot, too. They police stand by and watch. The police chief explains, "If we stop them, now, they'll just be shooting each other in a few months."

3) Hezbollah and Israel are in a bloody fight. Israel is killing more but Hezbollah is fighting hard. Israelis says Hezbollah started it. Lot's of innocents, especially children, are getting injured and killed. The world's cop stands by and watches. Rice explains, "If we stop this now. They'll just be fighting again in a few months."

Secretary of State Rice has a point, a cease-fire alone won't solve the long term issues.

But continued fighting is even worse since it will surely exacerbate the long-term problems. And then there are the suffering and dying innocents.

When violence breaks out -- whether it is in our schools, our homes, our neighborhoods or internationally -- the first urgent task is to stop the violence. With things that broken down, little else matters.

After the violence stops, THEN it might be possible to address the long-term issues.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm proud of the Lebanese Christians

It isn't easy finding something encouraging out of the multi-lateral failure that is the Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

But I found one! It was in the print edition of our local paper, Gulf News, but not in the on-line version:

Muslims find sanctuary in Christian areas.
'It is a pity that only misfortune unites us'

Beruit (AFP) "We came here because it is a Christian area that the Israelis will not bomb," said Faten Freish, one of thousands of Shiites who sought refuge from Israel's military offensive on Lebanon at refugee centers in Christian neighborhoods.
"It is the first time we dare to come to this Christian neighborhood," said another veiled woman, Labibeh Khorshid... At first, we felt very unwelcome. People frowned at us or made comments on our veils. But now, we feel overwhelmed. They are giving us clothes, food, medicine and all," she said.

There is much more to the article and it isn't all perfectly rosy. The writer insinuates that the Christians are doing this partly out of their shared dislike for the Jews and not purely from Christian compassion. Even so, as a liberal Christian I can help but be proud of my Christian brothers and sisters in Lebanon who are rising to this challenge.

I scanned the complete text and you can download it here. Muslims find sanctuary in Christian areas (Acrobat 93K)

A differently edited version of the article can be found here:
War Unites Lebanon's Muslims, Christians

Monday, July 24, 2006

Jesus: "Love your Enemies" Religious Right: "Lock and Load"

At first I assumed this was a prank but apparently it's serious! (The graphic is a spoof, I should add.)

In "Left Behind: Eternal Forces," a violent video game marketed by one of the executives at Pastor Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life business empire, Christian children are taught that violence against non-believers is not only acceptable, it’s fun
Move over, Osama: Violent ‘Left Behind’ Video Game Preaches Terrorism Against Jews, Catholics and Gays

A top aide to mega-church pastor Rick Warren is advising the makers of a children's video game in which characters kill New Yorkers while shouting "Praise the Lord." When children tire of converting or killing New Yorkers, they can switch sides and command the demonic armies of the AntiChrist, and kill the conservative Christians.

The real-time strategy game, slated for release in October 2006, is based on the best selling series of Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Violent Video Game Marketed Through Mega-Churches

Isn't this evidence enough to declare the Religious Right heretical and apostate?

Matthew 5:43-48 (New International Version)

Love for Enemies

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Friedman addresses what Heard won't touch.

I still haven't fully forgiven Thomas Friedman for his cheerleading of the Iraq war followed by a "don't blame me" retraction when he was proven so glaringly wrong. I will forgive him someday, because it is my Christian duty, but Friedman doesn't make it easy!

Anyway, if his column is run in your local newspaper, I recommend reading "Not so Smart," his most recent. (If you are a subscriber to the NY Times, you can read it at, NYT Friedman page)

He fills in some of the gaps that Linda Heard refuses to address. His basic premise is that Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah and their backers are acting in their narrow self interest but, ultimately, are setting back the Arab world... even the Islamists who are likely to win if democracy is allowed to spread.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Linda S. Heard -- a case study on why there is no progress in Palestine

Linda S. Heard is a case-study in why there is so little progress in Israeli-Palestine issue.

In case you haven't heard of Heard, she's a Egypt-based columnist who gets regularly printed in places like Gulf News and al-Jazeera but also in alternative western media.

"Both sides endlessly talk past
each other while innocents suffer."

She's rarely wrong in what she says but she's consistently only half-right -- the half that her readers want to hear.

She carefully leaves out all issues and facts which are uncomfortable to Arab readers.

Before going on, please read her article on the current crisis in Lebanon.

Lebanon is thrown to the wolves By Linda S. Heard

What's missing in that article?

An honest look at Hezbollah.

I generally agree with what she says in that article. Heard does a good job at skewering Israel, the United States and the U.N. the G8-- all who deserve it. She even dares take a poke at the Arab League.

That is only one side of the issue... which is typical Linda Heard and typical of the debate in general.

It doesn't take an expert in Middle Eastern affairs to make a good guess at what Hezbollah wants.

Of course Hezbollah knew Israel would over-react. Why? Because Israel always overreacts!

So why would Hezbollah want to break the uneasy peace between Israel and Lebanon?

Because peace between Lebanon and Israel makes Hezbollah irrelevant. This current fighting is hell for the Lebanese but it's good for Hezbollah.

I can't say exactly why Linda Heard would leave out the central issue of Hezbollah from her article. Heard has exact counterparts in Israel and the west (like Ann Coulter) who also only tell one side of the story.

That's why she is a good case-study in why dialogue never seems to progress in this conflict.

Both sides talk past each other decade-after-decade while innocent Lebanese, Israelis and Palestinians suffer.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The mobs make my point.

Pakistani leaders can't resist making cheap and easy points by blaming the Jews and the Americans but, often, innocent Pakistanis pay the price... sometimes with their lives.

A Pakistani soldier gestures to people trapped inside the burning Pizza Hut restaurant after an angry mob set it alight in Karachi. Fresh violence has flared in this southern Pakistani city as angry mobs went on the rampage during the funeral of a senior Shiite leader killed in a suicide blast a day earlier.(AFP/Asif Hassan)

Have you noticed how often a McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut gets burned in Pakistani riots? It seems irrational, right?

As I pointed out in my previous post, western reporting of this event omitted the claims that this murder of a Shiite cleric was an international conspiracy, probably by the Americans and the Jews.

(The prime suspect is the indigenous Sunni Lashkar-i-Jhangvi
Zee News who may have killed Daniel Pearl for being a jew. )

These rioters probably heard that claim about Americans and the Jews... and thus Pizza Hut was a target of their anger, being the most convenient "western" target.

And who is most hurt by this? Certainly the poor innocent Pakistanis trapped inside the building. (In a recent past incident, the angry mobs assured there would be fatalities by blocking aid workers at the scene.) Other Pakistani victims are the local owner of the francise and the Pakistani shope owners in the building. Americans and Jews are only remotely hurt by this.

I make an appeal, in the strongest terms, for Pakistani religious and political leaders to stop these kind of cruel mob appeals.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blame Americans and the Jews - a sure way to score points in Pakistan

I am quick to criticize my own country, the Americans. But this kind of thing drives me crazy:

Shiite leader dies in suicide attack

By Mujahid Ali, Correspondent

Karachi: A prominent Shiite leader and two others were killed in a suicide bombing attack in Karachi yesterday, triggering violent protest in several neighbourhoods, police and witnesses said.

Allama Hassan Turabi, the chief of the main Shiite political party, Islami Tehrik, was returning home after attending an anti-Israel rally when the suicide bombing occurred in Abbas Town just out side his house, they said.

Those of us who know Pakistan know that the sectarian violence there is a domestic and religious problem. Many Pakistanis are loath to admit it, but this is rooted in their own culture and faith. The solution can only come from them.

Yet, look at this quote which was omitted from most western reporting on this suicide/murder:

Several hundred angry Shiites thronged the hospital where Turabi's body was kept. "It is an international conspiracy against us because we are opposing the imperialism of United States and condemning Israeli brutalities," said Hasan Zafar Naqvi, a leader of Turabi's party. "Our sacrifices will not go to waste."

Within minutes of the news of Turabi's death, small bands of Shiite youngsters started pelting stones on traffic and forcing shopkeepers to shut their businesses in Abbas Town, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Ancholi and the adjoining areas.

An "international conspiracy"? That's absurd.

This is a Pakistani, sectarian problem that has been going on for decades and will continue until Pakistan's religious and political leaders take ownership of the problem and put a stop to it.

GOP's lack of concern over poll numbers is spooky

The poll numbers before both the 2000 and 2004 elections seemed like an easy win for the Dems but the GOP were inexplicably confident and snatched away our victory in Florida and Ohio. No wonder they were confident: they knew something we didn't know.

Republicans predict victory despite polls

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican lawmaker brushed off bad poll numbers on Wednesday and said his party would surprise analysts and Democrats by strengthening its grip on the U.S. House of Representatives in November elections.

Does Hastert's lack of concern, strike anyone else as creepy? Does Hastert know something about Illinois that we don't know?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Let Dubai Run Homeland Security -- we'd be safer

My opinion during the Dubai ports "scandal" was so out-of-the-mainstream that it didn't even register.

I believe that Dubai might actually do a better job in counter-terrorism than the Bush Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

The story this week about the Department of Homeland Security identifying a kangaroo farm and some place called "Nix's Check Cashing" as prime terrorist targets proves my point.
Kangaroos pop up on list as terrorism target

Most of us living in this region know a thing-or-two about terrorists and terrorism. I am sure Dubai-based security experts know a whole lot about it.

To effectively do counter-terrorism, you have to first know who you're fighting against. The Bush Administration doesn't seem to know very much.

Let me tell you what I know about terrorism.

1) Anything is a potential terrorist target... even a kangaroo farm in Georgia. So is every Walmart, every bus, every movie theater, your favorite coffee shop... literally every place with people.

You can't harden everything, so compiling a list of 77,000 "prime" targets makes our government seem hapless and ineffective.

This seems to be what Homeland Security has done with this current list.

2) There is a shorter list of prime strategic targets
that both kill people and disrupt society. Public transportation in major cities is an example of this. So are power plants and airplanes... but not kangaroo farms.

Paying special attention to these prime targets is hugely expensive but still money-well-spent. So a list of these is good idea.

3) By far, active terrorists are the shortest list. They are a relatively small group... probably less than one-tenth of one-percent of even the most disgruntled population.

The smart-money is spent on identifying, infiltrating and stopping these guys.

This is where I think Dubai security experts could probably do a better job at keeping us safe than the Bush Administration.

Over here in Dubai, we know that the vast majority of guys names Mohammed are just plain folk and it would be a huge distraction to screen them all.

Compare this to the Bush administration who thinks that Quaker pacifists are worth spending precious money and valuable personnel to watch!

[Quakers] Say Surveillance of Peace Groups is "Outrageous"

PS: I should add, I believe the way to stop terrorism is to fix the social conditions that breed extremism. This also seems to be so out-of-the-mainstream that it doesn't register.

The King of Pakistan

I had one of those encouraging cross-religious experiences in Pakistan last week.

I needed it!

I enjoy the free-for-all of Internet chat rooms because of the honestly that comes from pseudo-anonymity. People say what they really think and I prefer that although it can be disgusting and frightening. It is not uncommon to encounter professing Christians who advocate for the murder of one-billion Muslims because Islam is a violent religion.

I like that they are honestly speaking from their minds and hearts even though it often reveals deep hatred. Such encounters make it easy to get cynical about Christianity or religion in general. A counter-doses of good religion are needed as antidote this evil, sinister wing of my own religion.

On my trip to Pakistan and had meaningful discussions about religion with a couple of Muslim guys. The first made a fairly articulate denunciation of sectarian violence between the Sunni and Shia.

The other guy, a driver of a 25-year-old barely intact taxi, was extremely inarticulate. In broken English laced with Urdu (I think!) he made a moving appeal for inter-religious understanding.

More remarkable is that this came from a person who is probably illiterate and may never hear sermons about interfaith peace-making. His hopeful worldview is unrewarded, original thinking.

"Today, I am a taxi driver," he told me as he avoided near collisions at just about every intersection, "but, someday, I will be king of Pakistan. You are my mumber-one advisor. What advice you give me?"

I said end all corruption. This made him smile through his bushy gray beard. I asked him what he would do. Good education for all, he said, and shut-down the radical groups.

"What religion are you?" he asked.

"Christian." I answered.

"The Koran, your book... the... the bible and the Jew... the Jewman book, they have the same stories. Yes?"

Yes and no, I thought. We do share some of the same formative stories from our early days, even though we seem to take different lessons from them.

"Yes," I said.

"The Muslim, the Christian and the Jewman... if we have the same stories, we can call each other brother."

"Or at least, cousin," I agreed

When we arrived at the destination, he declared, "I not charge you for the ride. I no charge family."

I was deeply touched by the gesture but would not hear of it. (The fare was about four bucks in a country where a dollar is a common day's wage.)

Getting out of the taxi and shutting the clanky door, I said, "Goodbye, brother. Telephone me when you are king."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Could our president be that shockingly ignorant?

I heard it again, this time on the Al Franken show. Listen to the MP3 clip (3.5 min, 600K) from the July 10 show.

According to Peter W. Galbraith and others, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Bush still did not understand the differences between Sunnis and Shiites!

Even though I don't like Bush I just can't bring myself to believe our president could be so appallingly ignorant.

If this charge is true, the level of Bush's ignorance about the country he was going o occupy, control and rebuild almost defies analogy. But I'll try: It would be like:

* It would be like someone aspiring to seize the Pope's job but not understanding the difference between Catholics and Protestants.

* someone wanting to take over the Mayo Clinic but not understanding that there are men and women.

* someone wanting to take control of Chevron but not understanding the difference between oil and gas.

* someone trying to unseat Bill Gates at Microsoft without understanding the difference between software and hardware.

* someone running for US President without being aware that there are Democrats and Republicans

I realize how ridiculous and extreme these analogies are but one has to reach to a very high level of cluelessness to describes Bush's accused level of ignorance on this defining point of the country he wanted to invade and rebuild.

Peter , W. Galbraith has a book: The End of Iraq : How American Incompetence Created a War Without End

I haven't read it, so I can't personally recommend it. Considering Galbraith's strong credentials, I'm putting it on my own to-read list.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Walls and Gulags -- your vision of America?

The ugly rancor of the illegal immigration debate has helped America in one regard: it has clarified a competing vision for America.

"Where we spend our tax dollars
will reveal our vision for America. "

Is America a country typified by the Statue of Liberty,

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,"

Or is your vision for America a country with walls and gulags? Spending billions in a futile attempt to block and jail the "tempest-tost"?

I think Don Goldwater embodies this other vision of America.

WASHINGTON - A Republican gubernatorial candidate's call for creation of a forced labor camp for illegal immigrants drew rebukes Friday from two GOP lawmakers, who labeled it a low point in the immigration debate.

Don Goldwater, nephew of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, caused an international stir this week when EFE, a national news agency of Spain, quoted him as saying he wanted to hold undocumented immigrants in camps to use them "as labor in the construction of a wall and to clean the areas of the Arizona desert that they're polluting."

The article described Goldwater's plan as a "concentration camp" for migrants.
GOP candidate's call for labor camp rebuked

Where we spend our tax dollars will reveal our vision for America.

Are you enthusiastic about spending hundreds of billions of tax dollars on a massive effort to keep people out?

Or are you satisfied with reasonably-priced immigration efforts and spend those billions in creating a dynamic economy that can accommodate more new immigrants?