U.S.-Shi’ite Conspiracy Theory

The Saudi Paradox,” by Michael Scott Doran, published in the Jan/Feb Foreign Affairs is a good source of background information on the likely motivation for this week’s anti-Shi’ite terrorist attacks (though I don’t agree with all of his conclusions):

“To better understand how al Qaeda reads Saudi Arabia’s political map, one can turn to the work of Yusuf al-Ayyiri, a prolific al Qaeda propagandist who died last June in a skirmish with the Saudi security services. Just before his death he wrote a revealing book, The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Baghdad, which gives a good picture of how al Qaeda activists perceive the world around them. … In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). …

“Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda’s basic credo minces no words on the subject: ‘We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens.’ For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak’s answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all. …”

Doran also offers an explanation of why the Saudi state has funded jihadis critical of the monarchy:

“The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. … Ever since King Fahd’s stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne. …

“Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore. These problems have been exacerbated by an upsurge in radical Islamic activism. …

“The Saudi monarchy functions as the intermediary between two distinct political communities: a Westernized elite that looks to Europe and the United States as models of political development, and a Wahhabi religious establishment that holds up its interpretation of Islam’s golden age as a guide. The clerics consider any plan that gives a voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatrous. Saudi Arabia’s two most powerful princes have taken opposing sides in this debate: Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas Nayef sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda.

“The two camps divide over a single question: whether the state should reduce the power of the religious establishment. On the right side of the political spectrum, the clerics and Nayef take their stand on the principle of Tawhid, or ‘monotheism,’ as defined by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the eponymous founder of Wahhabism. …

“The doctrine of Tawhid ensures a unique political status for the clerics in Saudi Arabia. After all, they alone have the necessary training to detect and root out idolatry so as to safeguard the purity of the realm. Tawhid is thus not just an intolerant religious doctrine but also a political principle that legitimizes the repressiveness of the Saudi state. It is no wonder, therefore, that Nayef, head of the secret security apparatus, is a strong supporter of Tawhid. Not known personally as a pious man, Nayef zealously defends Wahhabi puritanism because he knows on which side his bread is buttered — as do others with a stake in the repressive status quo. … On the domestic front, Nayef indirectly controls the controversial Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), the religious police.”

Heresy at National Review

From the typewriter of–gasp!– Bill Buckley himself:

It is being claimed, ever more widely, that neocon policies are determined by the advantages they bring, manifest or putative, to the State of Israel. Patrick Buchanan, in the current American Conservative, believes this ardently, while the most quoted advocates of neocon militancy, Richard Perle and David Frum, go further than merely to deny that neoconservatism is an Israel First world view. They insist that criticism of neocon policies is, at heart, anti-Semitic.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that Buckley is just going to stick it to critics of Frum and Perle. In fact, he does spend most of the essay arguing, none too convincingly, that neocon policy only advances Likud’s interests insofar as those interests coincide with those of the U.S. But check out Buckley’s conclusion:

It’s an unreasonable polarization of opinion: 1) everything a neocon advocates is animated by a concern for Israel, and, 2) every criticism of neocon policy is animated by anti-Semitism. That is straitened thought, and should be resisted.

Sounds like Buckley took Buchanan’s words to heart and decided to send Frum and Perle a rebuke, albeit one softened by some criticism of their detractors.

The Passion: Redemption through Pain, Not Anti-Semitism

The Passion: Redemption through Pain, Not Anti-Semitism

Yes, The Passion is a jolting shocker of a movie. And my immediate reaction as a white, middle-class, non-religious American was pretty much that of Tikkun: If Jesus was about love, why focus on the violence and cruelty? But it is a stunning film, tells the Gospel story in a naturalistic, non-artificial way, completely unlike earlier “Bible” movies. Which include, to my mind, The Last Temptation of Christ, always a favorite book, that as a movie nevertheless remained an intellectual construct punctuated by telling details of brutal "realism." (In 1954, the Pope placed it on the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books.)

Kazantzakis yearned to go beyond Tolstoy, to leave off writing for religion — but in the end he was a political person too much involved in the tumultuous events of Europe in the 20th Century to remain aloof, who spent his entire adult life as a political activist (nationalist to communist to socialist) and passionate student of not just Christianity but the Buddha. Mel Gibson, too, is on a quest as a film-maker. We have seen his nationalistic concerns in Brave Heart and The Patriot, and now we see the expansion and explicit spiritualization of the quest to its most magnified form in The Passion. Gibson’s heroes seek freedom and redemption in a world where pain is the norm (also true of The Road Warrior and even Lethal Weapon). Given this predilection, what other kind of religious movie could we expect from him than the one we got, focusing on the last 12 excruciating hours of Christ’s life?

However discomfited my reaction The Passion may have been, most of the audience, which was Hispanic and therefore probably Catholic, was visibly moved by the experience, many in tears. While I was concerned that the Jewish temple priests were the political villains they probably actually were and that Pontius Pilate was portrayed as a thoughtful, sensitive kind of 2004 guy who really respected his wife’s opinion (unlikely given what we know about him), this is not the take-away of believers who see it as an uplifting reaffirmation of the willingness of God to manifest and share and redeem human evil. (Chatting with the Catholic family who own our favorite Mexican restaurant before the movie, this was also their opinion.)

So, I wondered about Gibson’s own views, and quickly discovered a large part of his inspiration came from a 19th Century book written by a Catholic nun entitled The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a retelling in first-person of more-or-less the same events as the movie. The Amazon reviewers, mostly Catholic, found the work inspiring and uplifting – not having read the book I can’t say what its attitude to the Jews or Romans was, but there was no mention whatsoever of either group in the comments. Rather these readers took it as an internal tale about a being who literally suffered in their stead.

My final thought about The Passion was that however imperfect the Christian church has been and is, it has helped shape the modern world in which we view with opprobrium what were in earlier time’s really quite ordinary forms of punishment and legal practices.

The Blessings of Destruction

One of the most famous thought-experiments in economics is Bastiat‘s story of the broken window, which the French economist used to argue against the common belief that destruction stimulates economic activity. In Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt uses the broken window to argue against the belief that war stimulates economic activity. What follows is Hazlitt on war. Those who want to read the background, Hazlitt on the broken window, should click MORE, below.

“…SO WE HAVE finished with the broken window. An elementary fallacy. Anybody, one would think, would be able to avoid it after a few moments’ thought. Yet the broken-window fallacy, under a hundred disguises, is the most persistent in the history of economics. It is more rampant now than at any time in the past. It is solemnly reaffirmed every day by great captains of industry, by chambers of commerce, by labor union leaders, by editorial writers and newspaper columnists and radio and television commentators, by learned statisticians using the most refined techniques, by professors of economics in our best universities. In their various ways they all dilate upon the advantages of destruction.

“Though some of them would disdain to say that there are net benefits in small acts of destruction, they see almost endless benefits in enormous acts of destruction. They all tell us how much better off economically we all are in war than in peace. They see ‘miracles of production’ which it requires a war to achieve. And they see a world made prosperous by an enormous ‘accumulated’ or ‘backed-up’ demand. In Europe, after World War II, they joyously counted the houses, the whole cities that had been leveled to the ground and that ‘had to be replaced.’ In America they counted the houses that could not be built during the war, the nylon stockings that could not be supplied, the worn-out automobiles and tires, the obsolescent radios and refrigerators. They brought together formidable totals.

“It was merely our old friend, the broken-window fallacy, in new clothing, and grown fat beyond recognition. This time it was supported by a whole bundle of related fallacies. It confused need with demand. The more war destroys, the more it impoverishes, the greater is the postwar need. Indubitably. But need is not demand. Effective economic demand requires not merely need but corresponding purchasing power. The needs of India today are incomparably greater than the needs of America. But its purchasing power, and therefore the ‘new business’ that it can stimulate, are incomparably smaller. …

“Many of the most frequent fallacies in economic reasoning come from the propensity, especially marked today, to think in terms of an abstraction – the collectivity, the ‘nation’ – and to forget or ignore the individuals who make it up and give it meaning. No one could think that the destruction of war was an economic advantage who began by thinking first of all of the people whose property was destroyed.

“Those who think that the destruction of war increases total ‘demand’ forget that demand and supply are merely two sides of the same coin. They are the same thing looked at from different directions. Supply creates demand because at bottom it is demand. The supply of the thing they make is all that people have, in fact to offer in exchange for the things they want. In this sense the farmers’ supply of wheat constitutes their demand for automobiles and other goods. All this is inherent in the modern division of labor and in an exchange economy. …

“In all this discussion, moreover, we have so far omitted a central consideration. Plants and equipment cannot be replaced by an individual (or a Socialist government) unless he or it has acquired or can acquire the savings, the capital accumulation, to make the replacement. But war destroys accumulated capital.”

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Manipulating the Dead

Abuse of death is nothing new in the Balkans or, indeed, the Empire. It was perhaps too much to expect that Boris Trajkovski’s tragic end in the Herzegovina mountains would be spared the same fate.
Antiwar.com’s resident Macedonia expert Chris Deliso has a great piece on his site Balkanalysis, examining the misleading and manipulative eulogizing of Trajkovski over the past 48 hours. I think much of what he says can be applied retroactively to several notable Balkans luminaries who passed away recently (e.g. Zoran Djindjic, Alija Izetbegovic). Definitely worth a read…

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