Liberal Grace

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sexual-cultural clash at the highest levels.

I had to smile when I read this article -- it's an encounter that happens again and again between western women and Pakistani men.

This is a bit of an insider's joke for westerners living in South Asia even though it is being taken very seriously here:
Senate moved for debate on Rice’s biography

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Tuesday submitted an adjournment motion seeking debate on the material published in the biography of Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, describing Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s attitude highly objectionable during her first meeting with him.

The biography titled “Twice as Good – Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power” by Newsweek chief correspondent and senior editor Marcys Mabry was launched in United States recently.

Referring to Rice’s first visit to Pakistan in March 2005, the author writes, “yet, when Rice sat down with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who fancies himself as ladies’ man, Aziz puffed himself up and held forth in what he obviously thought was his seductive baritone. (He bragged – to Western diplomats, no less – that he could conquer any woman in two minutes)”. An eyewitness and participant at the meeting recalled that “there was this test of wills where he was trying to use all his charms on her as a woman, and she just basically stared him down. By the end of the meeting, he was babbling”.

The movers of the motion said that the matter published was shameful for the entire nation and needed discussion on the floor of the house. They said if it was wrongly reported the prime minister should explain his position on the floor of the house.
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The funny part, for western expats in South Asia, is that this same scenario gets played-out all the time and yet nobody seems to learn from it.

Huntington's Clash of Civilizations is a minor misunderstanding compared to the cultural clash that happens when a South Asian man puts the move on a western woman.

This is especially true for Muslim men who live in a predominately male world (with women behind purdah) and who have been fed a steady lifelong portrayal of western women as sluts.

One can't blame them for believing it. They hear this slut charge preached by their local mullah and then they turn on their TV and see it confirmed on Baywatch or they surf for porn and gather that every western woman must have posed for a porn shot, at least once in her life.

The western woman comes at this from a very different direction. Take eye contact for example: if, in a grocery store, a Pakistani man and a western women find themselves in close proximity, the cultural norm is for the woman to make eye contact, give a polite smile and maybe a curt "hi". The man exchanges the same and then gives her plenty of personal space to show he's non-threatening. Most importantly, he lets her go away, un-bothered by him.

But this eye contact and smile send a very different message in this part of the world. For starters, I try to avoid, with much effort, any close proximity with women. Secondly, I never look at them directly nor do I smile at them. And certainly, I never ever initiate a conversation with them.

In my neighborhood -- quite literally -- the only (non western) women who have ever initiated contact with me were prostitutes.

The South Asian man, convinced that western women are a bunch of sluts, has one smile and say "hi" so he makes the move on her.

Ironically, the western woman and the Pakistani man get the same vibe from each other at this point of the cultural clash: sexual sleaze. The one is attracted to it and the other is repulsed by it.

That's the cultural background of this encounter between Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

I just can't help but be amused that an encounter that commonly happens in supermarkets or other public places, might also have happened in the highest levels of diplomatic circles.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Dems caved to Bush when the troops needed them to stand up.

America and the troops desperately need principled politicians to end Bush's failed policies in Iraq.

Like millions of Democrats, I'm discouraged and frustrated with my party. How could they have caved to Bush's failed leadership on the key issue of our time?

We all understand why the Dems caved -- Bush was going to demagogue the hell out of Memorial Day, claiming that the troops died in vain if we stop supporting his failed leadership.

Bush has been using the fallen veterans for his own cheap political gain for years now and it was rumored that this was going to kick into high gear if the Democrats didn't pass a borrowing bill to his pleasure.

But I'm still disappointed:

1) Is caving-in the only Democratic response to Bush's demagoguery?

In hard times, we need principled leaders who can take the heat... and give it back.

Why was there no effective Democratic response to Bush's shameless political manipulation of the troops and vets? It was totally predictable that George Bush was going to use 911, the troops and even the dead for his political gain -- he's made a habit of it.

Most liberals got wise to this tactic after that shameless cod-piece, flight deck speech. Most Americans have finally realized that Bush plays politics with troops ordered to applaud.

2) How come the Dems still let the President manipulate the news cycle?

Were the Dems going to let Bush beat them over the head with vets when, most American realize, that the Dems are the best friends of the veterans. (Many conservatives call it Marxism to have government programs the help the sick.)

Why didn't the Dems use this Memorial Day to highlight the needs of the vets and their families? The Walter Reed scandal comes to mind but that's just a small part.

The expenses of the Iraq war won't end when the war does -- America now has a live-long moral obligation to provide care for the vets with chronic injuries and there are a lot of them in this war -- especially brain damage.

3) Who will put their career on the line to protect the troops from Bush?

I know it's asking a lot -- that our Democrats will put their careers on the line to end Bush's failed Iraq policies. But that's what I'm asking because the stakes are so high.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

ListeningLounge: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case

Often inscrutable lyrics but with a siren voice

These days I've been listening rather obsessively to Neko Case's "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood."

I just can't get enough of her voice! I love her lyrics, too, although she really makes you work to understand her songs. This album is actually a little bit better than "Blacklisted" which I reviewed here before.

I'm not fond of most country music -- it's just too predictable and cloying. But I love what they call "Alt Country" which drops most of the (often fake) twang but keeps the story telling. As far as I'm concerned, Neco Case is the darling of Alt Country.

Or get it from e-Music for $.33 cents a song! (First 25 songs free!)


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Did gays or conservatives cause 911?

Gays and feminists will remember Falwell for blaming 911 on them. Let's look at the scripture.

No doubt, many people will remember Jerry Falwell for this statement:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
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It wasn't just what he said... it's when he said it.

Just two days after 911, when we were shocked and grieving as nation, Falwell was already using 911 to divide our nation.

As a biblicist, myself, I have to concede that Falwell's position has a basis in the bible. Consider this quote:
Leviticus 26

1 You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no carved images or pillars, and you shall not place figured stones in your land, to worship at them; for I am the LORD your God. 2 You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.

3 If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, 4 I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and the vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and live securely in your land.

6 And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid.
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Falwell and other conservatives think that homosexuality, liberated women and civil rights are the worst sins possible. So, naturally, they make the connection between verse 2 and verse 6.

Much sin = attack from enemies.

But we liberal Christians, may accept a moral principle from this passage but we think of different sins.

But, first, let's step back and look at the larger issue:

This is an Old Testament relationship with God.

Jesus and the New Testament radically transformed who and what the Kingdom of God is.
Luke 17:21

20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among* you.’

So, my first response to Jerry Falwell would be... "I'm a New Testament Christian."

That's enough.

You don't need to be a biblical scholar to believe that God deals differently with humanity in the age of grace.

Jerry Falwell believed in God's "veil of protection" which he removes when a nation breaches some threshold of sinfulness. As a New Testament Christian, I just don't believe that God deals with nations that way.

Such a theology leads to crazy moralizing: Bhutan, for example, has avoided wars since the 1800s. America has been in practically non-stop wars during that time. Does that mean God is more happy with Buddhist Bhutan than Christian America?

However, I belief the Old Testament can be morally enlightening even for us living under the New Covenant.

We are bound to the Old Testament, legally, (Ref Gal 2:16 external link) but we can learn from those laws and instructions.

In the case of Leviticus 26, the "New Covenant" principle I would take from this is: morality encourages peace; and immorality encourages conflict.

American idolatry and lack of peace:

My mind goes immediately to verse 1. What are the idols of modern America?

Wealth is probably #1. Militancy is probably #2.

Conservatives hate it when we liberals try to understand the motives of the terrorists but the 911 attackers did have a motivation and Americans obsession with wealth and militancy were central to it.

Specifically, America has used it's military to extract wealth (in the form of oil) from the Middle East and millions of Arabs and Muslims have suffered for it.

So, Falwell and I have some overlap in our theology... we both believe that Old Testament versus like Leviticus 26 and be relevant today. Falwell blames the gays and uppity women. I blame America's immoral foreign policy.

Which makes more sense to you? That America's militant-backed thirst for oil motivated the 911 attackers? Or that gays and women's libbers deprived us of God's protection?

PS: I also somewhat agree with Falwell on another point. In his apology, he said
"I would never blame any human being except the terrorists, and if I left that impression with gays or lesbians or anyone else, I apologize."external link
Like Falwell, I put full blame on bin Laden and the radicals -- America's misdeeds in the Middle East don't justify terrorism. But, unlike most conservatives, I understand that radicalism does not come out of nowhere.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jerry Falwell Turned Me Lib

He considered himself the great protector of American Christianity. I think he was a heretic.

Jerry Falwell made me a liberal.

OK, it wasn't exactly that simple.

I was raised in a fundamentalist church and graduated from one of the more famous fundamentalist bible schools. I took from this experience a deep appreciation for the fundamentals of our Christian faith.

I was taught again and again that it is heresy to either add or subtract from the central doctrines of the bible.

Then along came Jerry Falwell who added a politics to American fundamentalism.

Although, to this day, I strongly believe in the "fundamentals" of Christianity, I am viewed with suspicion or outright rejected if I reveal that I'm a registered Democrat.

This is clearly heresy, according to what I was taught in my fundamentalist church and bible school.

That became clear to me, way back in the early 80s and during the Reagan administration, I stopped calling myself a fundamentalist Christian since it no longer described my personal Christian fundamentalism (which I still adhere to.)

Probably, you could guess the arc of my Christian transformation from conservative to liberal. But Jerry Falwell stands as the single most significant person in my personal journey to liberalism.

Now I am convinced that the liberal vs conservative divide is the great heresy of the American church. It's fine that Christians identify as either but it's heresy to divide over it as Jerry Falwell worked so hard to do.

The Taliban... with nukes.

While Bush is distracted by his goose chase in Iraq, the Taliban are making a play for Pakistan.

I've asked my Pakistani friends over the years if they thought their country could fall to the Taliban or similar. They all said no.

I pushed them on their answer, mentioning that such a take-over has happened in two countries, right next door (Iran and Afghanistan). Even so, the idea was inconceivable to them.

Even when out-voted by people who know Pakistan better than I, I'm still concerned about Pakistan falling to the radicals.

While respecting my Pakistani friends, I consider that they are all Punjabi. The Punjabis have had a full grip on power in Pakistan for decades. I suspect that my Punjabi friends can't picture it any other way.

If radicalism takes control of Pakistan, it unlikely that it will be Punjabi. More likely, it will be a Pashtun-led coalition, organized around their religious conservatism and shared history of being oppressed by the Punjabis.

Until recently, I've never had an example to show my Punjabi friends how a take-over might happen. Radicalism is alive-and-well in Pakistan but it's been in the margins: up along the Afghan border; in Kashmir along the Indian border or preached, here and there, in makeshift mosques and madrassas.

But now it is open and aggressive in the heart of Islamabad... and seemingly untouchable.

Lal Masjid is a radical mosque/madrassa with it own taliban (literally! Taliban means students) "brigade" enforcing their own version of sharia law
Radical cleric sets up vigilante sharia law court in Pakistan's capital

A radical cleric set up a vigilante Islamic court in Pakistan's capital yesterday and threatened to unleash a wave of suicide bombs if the government tried to repress his Taliban-style movement.

The challenge to the authority of President Pervez Musharraf, by a firebrand cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, came amid growing fears of what the local media has dubbed a "creeping Talibanisation" across Pakistan.

"Our youths will shake their palaces with their suicide attacks," said Maulana (Father) Aziz in a sermon delivered to thousands of his followers at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in central Islamabad.

In recent months Pakistan has been rocked by a series of suicide attacks by militants opposed to Gen Musharraf's support of the US-led war on terror and clashes between militants and security forces along its border with Afghanistan.
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It would be easy-enough to send in the Pakistan army with a bunch of bull dozers to flatten the Lal Masjid.

But, it seems like the government understands that use of violence would likely boost extremism. (a lesson George Bush and American conservatives will surely never learn.)

The radicals in Pakistan, as typified by Lal Masjid, are in a very strong societal position since they appeal to the pessimism of the millions of Pakistanis who have suffered under decades of corruption, oppression and downright immorality of the ruling and business classes.

They believe (with good reason) that democracy has failed them, so many put their faith in a military dictator. While Musharraf has helped on some macro levels, the squalor of their daily lives has not improved. Maybe it's time to give theocracy a try.

Again, Lal Masjid is a good example of moral vulnerability of the Pakistani government. If they raze the Lal Masjid it will be done because it is illegally built. However, in that same neighborhood there are other illegally built schools for the Pakistani rich elite. Pakistanis are well-aware that schools for the rich kids will never be razed because the rich pay bribes for whatever they want.

So, if the Lal Masjid is bulldozed, it's clear and powerful statement about the moral bankruptcy of Pakistani government. It was this exact appeal that let to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

I suspect that for most Americans, Afghanistan and Pakistan kind of blur together. But, they should understand, it is a much bigger deal of Pakistan is taken over by radicals. For starters, Pakistan really does have WMD. It also has a large army and would be strategically much harder to invade.

These days, Bush is publicly contemplating his legacy. Will history criticize us for not recognizing the existential threat of Islamic radicalism? They might... especially if Pakistan falls to the Taliban while the Bush administration did nothing because they were distracted by their goose chase in Iraq.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Dick Cheney is Validating al Qaeda Strategy.

I want to send Dick Cheney a barf bag every time he declares that liberals are helping terrorists. Just the opposite is the truth.

After his bunker-to-bunker tour of the Gulf, Cheney declared on Fox ( where they let him say this nonsense, unchallenged.):

So if you're going to be a public official advocating withdrawal from Iraq, you, in fact, are also saying that what you're recommending is validating the al Qaeda strategy.external link
What is al Qaeda's strategy in Iraq?

To keep the US mired there until to kill a few hundred thousand Americans.

This strategy is no secret and was repeated just this month:

In one section of the video, an interviewer asks al-Zawahiri to comment on legislation that ties the funding of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

"This bill reflects American failure and frustration," says al-Zawahiri, second-in-command to Osama bin Laden. "However, this bill will deprive us of the opportunity to destroy the American forces which we have caught in a historic trap.

" We ask Allah that they only get out of it after losing 200 to 300 hundred thousand killed, in order that we give the spillers of blood in Washington and Europe an unforgettable lesson, which will motivate them to review their entire doctrinal and moral system which produced their historic criminal Crusader-Zionist entity," al-Zawahiri says.
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It should also be pointed out that the conservative war mongers and the al Qaeda warmongers are unified against us Democrats on this issue. They both want to stay and kill each other with no end in sight.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Who honestly thinks we're winning in Iraq?

Seriously. What expert will go on record and declare that America is winning in Iraq?

When Harry Reid use the world "lost" for the Iraq war, the right wing went crazy:

* Senator Harry Reid: Traitor-Bastard
* Harry Reid, Traitor and Girly Man
* Senator Harry Reid is a Traitor!
* That (expletive) Harry Reid
* Harry Reid (D - Nevada) traitor?
* Harry Reid should resign…but he won’t
* Harry Reid Should Resign
* Any good reason why Harry Reid shouldn't be arrested as a traitor?
* Harry Reid Should Be Arrested and Executed for Treason F’ing Traitor!

Never mind that Harry Reid only said what is obvious to most Americans.
Never mind that recognizing failure is not the same as being happy about it.
Never mind that it was BUSH who lost the war, not Reid.

Here's my question: What credible person is saying that America is winning the war in Iraq?

This is a serious question. I'd like to read a credible expert (not a blogger; not a Fox news talking head; not a GOP operative) explain how we're winning the war in Iraq.

Anyone know of such an expert? I tried to Google it with no luck.

Please post it in the comment section.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

How's the Surge Going? (May 07)

Bush says the surge is working. The numbers say otherwise.

Is Bush deluded or just a shameless spinner?
Bush: Sectarian Killings Drop in Baghdad

Bush said Friday that sectarian murders have dropped by half in Baghdad since the U.S.-Iraqi military buildup began in February, rejecting a Democratic leader's claim that the war is lost. The president said early signs show the operation to quell violence is meeting expectations.

"There are still horrific attacks in Iraq, such as the bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday, but the direction of the fight is beginning to shift," Bush said in his second speech on terrorism in two days.
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I have no idea if Bush is lying or not. If not, it mostly means that the militants have moved away from the "surge." Who didn't see that coming?