Thursday, December 18, 2014

Letters to the Editor

by Laina Farhat-Holzman

Shades of the Satanic Verses outrage! The Ayatollah Khomeini did not like this book and he put a price on the author Salman Rushdie and threatened translators (killing one in Japan) and bookstores. The world stood up to this bully and I remember going into a bookstore and whispering that I wanted 30 copies of the book for a class I was teaching. The clerk answered loudly “OK!” More people bought that book than were capable of understanding it (it really is a great work, but requires effort to get into it).  Rushdie is still alive and well, and the Ayatollah dead.

Now the North Korean dictatorship has become the next bully. Sony has produced a very silly movie that offends the North Koreans (no sense of humor) so they hacked Sony's internet, stealing private communications and records and publishing them. Our own press has done it again: publishing stolen materials, just as they did when Wikileaks and Edward Snowdon violated American government classified files and published them. Shameful and should be illegal.

When will we learn not to yield to bullies?  When will we learn not to oblige them by publishing stolen material? And when will we respond to the likes of North Korea by damaging their own internet or their electric grid? And when will Sony get some courage and release that silly movie on the internet?

Belief and Writing: It Must Be True If It Is Written Down

Laina Farhat-Holzman
Sentinel
December 20, 2014

Fanatics are not called “true believers” for nothing. Whether the belief is religious or political, somebody's writings are always the basis for “true belief.” Communism originally stemmed from the practices of early Christianity, but with the writings of Marx and Lenin, the basis shifted. Russian communists were fervent believers in the truth of the observations of Marx and Lenin.

The Nazis based their Aryan Superiority ideology on the 19th century anthropologist Arthur de Gobineau, who theorized that people of Aryan origins (speakers of the Indo-European language family) were a Master Race to which all others owed obedience. All sorts of pseudo sciences sprang up in defense of this dubious nonsense, including measuring skull dimensions and supposed brain power. Hitler based his entire Nazi ideology on these crackpot notions.

Christians, of course, believe in the testimony of the Gospels, the accounts of the earliest Church Fathers who told of the mission, death, and resurrection of the radical reformist rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. This testimony (New Testament) is at the heart of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. For the Protestant sects, the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures for Jews) is also a key document.

For Muslims, the documents are the Koran, believed to be the words of the prophet Mohammad as dictated by an angel of god; the Hadith, which contain the recollections of the wives and companions of the Prophet; and the Sharia, a compilation of Muslim law that froze in the 12th century when all discussion stopped.

It is one thing to have one's beliefs documented---providing a historic trail---but another to be incapable of exploring and criticizing the historicity of these documents. In Judaism and Christianity,
there has been an evolutionary trail of commentary and biblical analysis, a process that has changed and accumulated over the many centuries since they began. The way modern Christianity and Judaism are practiced is to accept the eternal verities of wisdom in their scriptures but not to take all the accounts as literal.

Since the birth of the scientific revolution in the 16th century and the  Enlightenment of the 18th century,  it has become difficult to interpret scripture as literal. Most Christians and Jews (with some exceptions) accept the theory of evolution as fact and the Biblical accounts of man's origins as metaphorical. This in no way denigrates their religious experiences. When modern Catholics take communion, they understand that the wafer and wine are symbolic of something else, blood and flesh. They are not compelled to believe that this is an actual transformation; yet its profundity is still there.

Islam has not had a process of scriptural criticism. There are many educated Muslims who accept modern science, but they have no way of marrying modern science to their 7th and 8th century scriptures. This lack of textual criticism has given rise to something nightmarish in our world: a literal interpretation of their religious duty to emulate the examples of their Prophet and his 7th century companions.

Most Muslims in the world today do not follow this literal path; it is estimated that only 5 percent do. But if the numbers are correct, this means that 65 million followers are fundamentalist believers. This is a stockpile of people who are willing to carry out the basic mission of Islam: to conquer the world until everyone is Muslim. This is nonsense, of course, and does more damage to the rest of the Muslim world than it does to the West, which it cannot hope to overcome.  Seventh century values cannot compete with a world in which there are increasing standards of modern rule of law.

People need to know that just because something is in print does not make it so. For the benefit of the world's Muslims, we must not tiptoe around scriptural criticism in the fear of offending. ISIS and its ilk must have their religious certainties criticized and condemned. Rational modern Muslims must take this on and transform their religion from a literal mandate to acceptance of Islam's wisdom, not its primitive history, for their practices.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Letter to the Editor

San Francisco Chronicle

Editor:
I had to laugh out loud after reading about all the countries criticizing the US for using torture! What hypocisy! Countries such as Iran and China and members of the UN General Assembly, criticizing us? At least Brazil is quiet, busy with their own torture revelations. Not  a single country in Latin America has a clean record on torture, and forget about the Muslim world,  Russia, or most of Asia.

Few other countries have ever made public an issue such as this, openly and with all sides debating it. I can think of only two, France after the disaster of their Algerian war, and South Africa in their Reconciliation Conference.  We are to be congratulated for revisiting this issue, practices used when we had just been attacked and more attacks expected. Out of this revisiting is a discussion of the utility of such practices. Torture is usually a bad idea, bad for the perpetrators and not effective in gathering intelligence. But in the context of 9/11, probably necessary.

I just hope that we do not overcorrect. Do not engage in a witch hunt to punish our security services. Also, it will be stupid to drop profiling. Terrorists are not little old ladies; they are a community of young men recognizable by their demeanor. The enemy is among us and dangerous.

Europe Rethinks Multiculturalism

Laina Farhat-Holzman
Pajaronian
December 13, 2014

Americans, unlike Europeans, have always made room for new citizens from other countries.  Since the end of World War II, however, western European countries have been trying to counter their old patterns of bigotry by welcoming all immigrants fleeing horrors in their old countries. The governments of the UK, France, Germany, and Scandinavia have offered social services, welfare, housing, and public schooling for the newcomers.

What they have not done is to make demands on immigrants that they accept the values and behaviors of their new countries. Such demands, it was thought, assumed that their own cultures were in some way superior to that of the newcomers, a view not popular with multiculturalists. This well-intentioned policy is now facing revision---and many people hope it is not too late.

The American model has been different from that of Europe. We received hordes of refugees from the mid-19th century until World War I, refugees who were needed in the work force. The Americans who were already here certainly did not welcome people with disparate and often unpalatable cultures; every immigrant wave faced bigotry at first. However, within one generation, most of the children of these immigrants thrived and were as American as their neighbors. Immigrants took citizenship classes and worked hard to become Americans. They all learned English and few of them had any desire to return to their parents' countries. They were American.

Although some immigrant groups brought with them criminal organizations: the Italian Mafia, the Chinese Tongs, German Bunds, and Irish criminal-political networks, these were designed to evade, not replace American law. Moreover, American standards of tolerance required that people eventually adopt the values of the host country, and our immigrant populations have been integrated.

Europe's problem was that they did not have a tradition of integrating large numbers of immigrants into their age-old national identities. Even dissident Christian groups such as the Albigensians and Cathars were exterminated when they refused to accept Catholicism. Christianity throughout two millennia never considered the one small group with another religion, the Jews, as acceptable citizens. This only changed during the Reformation, when finally, some Jews were able to distinguish themselves as true German, French, or English citizens.

With the Reformation, however, came a two-century war between Catholic and Protestant states, also waged on the citizens with the wrong religion within those states. The British barred English Catholics from the full rights of citizenship until the Pope stopped persecuting Protestants in Catholic countries. This should be the model of all tolerance: reciprocity.

European countries (and America) have welcomed Muslim immigrants, both the elites who were already educated in European schools (Persians and Afghans), and those perceived to be very downtrodden economic refugees: Turkish, Somali, Indonesian, Pakistani, Iraqi, Chechen, and Palestinian. In Europe, these migrants were admitted unconditionally, with consequences of violence and lawlessness, particularly against women and children. Such groups have representatives with enough political clout to make demands on the larger culture, such as special family law, intolerance of the majority culture's mores, and excuses for religious-based violence. Why else would the British press try to call Pakistani Muslim rapists “South Asian?” Fear of being branded bigots motivates this.

Now, at last, the worm is turning. British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed new laws that will permit seizing the passports of Britons who have traveled abroad to fight with terrorist Jihadis. They will not be readmitted and will lose their citizenship. Jihadis preaching violence in Britain will no longer be protected by British law. They will be deported.

The Dutch and Danes have finally scrapped their multicultural indulgence of Muslim migrants. They now demand that citizenship requires leaning the language, mores, and values of their hosts. France was the first European country to ban the Islamic headscarf in government institutions and the total burqa in public (insulting to women and used as disguises by criminals and terrorists).

The US and Canada have been slower to adopt such measures, which may be changing now. Calling Hassan Nidal's Islam-inspired Camp Hood massacre “workplace violence” instead of Muslim terror is outrageous political correctness.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is Iran's Islamic Revolution Melting?

Laina Farhat-Holzman
Sentinel
December 6, 2014

The Economist had a feature article (Nov. 1) that the steam has gone out of the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution of 1979. I knew this would happen, but I have been consistently wrong in my optimistic predictions that it would have happened years ago. These new predictions from sources far and wide are giving us all new hope.

It is not exactly easy to get real information out of a buttoned-up country like Iran, but some changes have become obvious. Mosque attendance has dropped to a trickle, even in rural villages. Mothers are enrolling their little ones in private schools rather than state schools because the state schools devote unseemly time to repressing and brainwashing children with sour Shiite doctrine. Parents instead want their children to learn English and be able to paint pictures, and dance and sing as children should.

Another bit of underground defiance: there has been a spate of conversions to Christianity by young people fed up with Islamism. It is happening in Iran (clandestinely) as well as among Syrian refugees.  It also happened in Algeria in the 1990s in response to Islamic terrorism. ISIS brings it all into focus. The more oppressive the radical jihad, the more people flee Islam altogether. [Mark Durie, Feb.  13, 2014.]

More serious problems beset the Islamic Republic of Iran as well. Drug addiction has become a real problem, so real that the Iranians themselves say that 93 percent of their criminal executions are for drug trafficking. When the European Union protested these draconian punishments, a senior official snapped that perhaps they would prefer that Iran send these druggies directly to Europe.

The UN report of October 23 noted that at least 852 people were reportedly executed between July 2013 and June 2014, evidently an increase over previous years.

One more surprise made it into the international press: Reuters has done a six-month investigation concluding that Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei controls a business empire worth $95 billion, an income larger than the value of Iran's annual petroleum exports.  Funds controlled by a shadowy organization called Setad holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry. This is a lot of money in a country strangled by western sanctions. How much of this news is getting into public rumor mills and how do Iranians feel about that?

CNN's rambling foodie Anthony Bourdain visited Iran a couple of months ago and was “blown away” by how friendly all the Iranians he met were ---even total strangers in the street who seemed to know that he was there to do a food program. It is a given in Iran that the enemy of their enemy must be their friend. The enemy is their own government and the friend is the US.

Bourdain discovered what I have understood for a long time: that Iran is much more emotionally connected to their Imperial past of great, civilized empires than to their Islamic identity, which has always been an uncomfortable fit. Their food is elegant, sophisticated, and has enormously influenced Ottoman Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish, and North Indian foods.

One constantly simmering issue in Iran today is that of women, who were well on the way toward joining modern European standards when the Revolution put everything into reverse. Being forced back into Muslim coverup has long been resented by women and has been defied, even at the cost of a jailhouse beating and fines. Head and body covers are growing smaller and less is covered. Pictures in the streets of Tehran and other big cities will testify to this.

Cosmetics, once banned, now bloom, as do nose bandages proudly worn by beauties (male and female) who want “nice” noses. Apparently this springtime of Persian vanity has its opponents, thugs who have emulated the Pakistanis by throwing acid in the faces of women who offend them. But in Iran, this has been met by public outrage and even the clerics are angry.

Iran's stranglehold by revolutionary Islam is in meltdown. The radicals won't go down without a fight, but they will lose.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.    

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
November 2014

Big Hero 6
I am a great fan of Japanese cartoons such as Swept Away, not only for their graphic beauty, detailed visions of the real Japan, but also because of the ultimate morality of the stories. They are often about children, children who must overcome difficulties and grow into something more admirable.

The great surprise for me was that Big Hero 6 looked and felt more like a Japanese cartoon than a work of the Disney studios. The story takes place some time in the future in a city called San Fransokyo, a wonderful combination of both. Two young men, one a 14 year old and his brother Tadashi in college (Nerd School) live with their aunt because they were orphaned when Hiro (the younger) was only three.

He is a far-too-bright youngster bored by school and is well into delinquency gambling in bot fights (microbots instead of cocks) with very rough company. His brother invites him to his university lab where he meets Tadashi's friends, a motley multi-race bunch of nerds. Tadashi shows his brother his latest invention: Baymax, a robot healthcare nurse. Baymax is an endearing creation, looking like a giant marshmallow. I recall how well robots like this have already been accepted by Japanese elderly in nursing homes. Baymax is absolutely endearing, bustling around taking temperatures, asking on a scale of one to ten how much it hurts, and providing remedies and, when needed, hugs.

The rest of the story takes a darker but fascinating turn with a confrontation with scientific evil in the hands of an unsavory scientist. Young Hiro and his companions become the Big Hero 6 superheros enlisting a transformed Baymax into a multi-purpose giant warrior (with armor to hold in his fluffy stomach).

This is a winner!  You will not waste your time seeing this---and if you are lucky, a bonus short cartoon about a puppy who eats everything---except green stuff (vegetables) until he learns that a sprig of parsley can bring two lovers back together and they can create a new source of doggy food: a baby who loves throwing meatballs on the floor.


Interstellar
This epic science fiction film has been eagerly seen by Trekies who are fascinated by the idea of worm holes in space (a theoretical notion that space and time can be bent so that time travelers are able to travel faster than light to regions in the cosmos otherwise unreachable in a human lifespan.

It is also part of the popular catastrophe movies in which the earth, for one reason or another, has become unlivable.  If humans are to survive, they must find another suitable planet.

My movie buddies and I were transfixed during this three hour film, not moving a muscle! That says something for its entertainment value. I did not worry about the flaws in the film until I returned home and had time to think about  them.

The movie, directed by Christopher Nolan, starred the always wonderful Mathiew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine, all of them engaged in a secret NASA program to find another home for their dying planet.

The earth, as shown in this film, no longer had rain (impossible) and year by year crops were dying, leaving the world in danger of starvation. NASA had long been defunded by the government because the taxpayers thought raising food was far more important than space travel. McConaughey, a former astronaut and now a farmer, widowed and father of a young daughter and son, has been summoned to a parent-teacher meeting where the teacher complains about his daughter's fixation on space travel, a silly notion, according to the teacher. She claims to know that the Apollo Program that took us to the moon was a propaganda stunt that was designed on a sound stage to fool the Russians during the cold war. This gave me a shudder as I recall all the idiots with conspiracy theories about 9/11.

He had also been summoned by the people in the secret NASA program, not defunded at all (phew!).

The rest of the film takes us on an incredible space journey and its consequences for humanity. Very exciting stuff. What makes this movie fascinating is how earthly religious symbolism is embraced by this space venture. The spacecraft is called Lazarus (the man brought back from death by Jesus); there are twelve astronauts, representing the 12 apostles who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the future. And there is timeless and trans-space love.

But now my complaints.  Just keep in mind that if the world were really to wind up without rainfall, and every day was punctuated by Dustbowl-size dust storms, the people would not have gas for their cars (oil does not descend from the heavens) and starvation would have caused all law and order to break down.

As for wormholes, I did hear an astrophysicist explain the theory but it is just a theory. We probably would not need a wormhole if we wanted to move to another planet.  We could probably do something with Mars.

Despite all these afterthoughts, the movie is fun, exciting, and is a moving elegy on human love. Do go see it.

Rosewater
Jon Stewart has endeared himself for me with the production of this marvelous, truthful movie. For a change, this left-leaning intellectual (and comedian) is not trying to tip-toe around calling militant and fanatical Islam a “religion of peace.” We see Iran in this film as a deeply divided country in which the pious Shiites with cynical authoritarian leadership are in control and a huge youth bulge is simmering in rebellion.

In 2009, the London-based Iranian-Canadian journalist, Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), happened to be in Iran to cover its presidential election. He had gone many times before, working for the BBC with no trouble. But this time, he jokingly filmed an interview intended for the satirical news show that Jon Stewart produces. Then, the election took place and it was obvious that it was completely bogus. Ayatollah Khamenei announced the outcome before the ballots had even been counted, which outraged the young voters.

They poured into the streets demanding that their votes be counted, and were met by real bullets and the next day mass arrests. Bahari, usually very careful about what he did in Iran, was so outraged himself that he filmed the carnage and sent the film to the BBC.

The next day he was arrested while staying at his mother's home and hauled off for 118 in the notorious Evin Prison where he was brutally interrogated and tortured. His interrogator was a type I once knew well in Iran: pious, stupid, and brutal---a type used around the world as foot soldiers in dictatorships.

I have met another innocent person jailed on a trip to Iran-Haleh Esfandiari, a woman scholar at a Washington think tank. Her account is much like his: interrogated by a stupid man intent on getting a confession of spying from the hapless prisoner in solitary confinement.  In both cases, international outrage ultimately got them released.

What was particularly noticed by the authorities about Bahari was his family: his communist father imprisoned by the Shah's government in 1952 (where he died) and then his sister, a popular singer, imprisoned under the Islamic Republic, who also died in prison. This undoubtedly made Bahari even more suspect by the Islamist government.

The interrogator, who covered up his own and his unfortunate prisoner's stink with rosewater perfume, was marvelously played by Kim Bodnia. He was both brutal, ignorant, and at the same time pathetic. Bahari never turned him into a monster but saw him as he was, a cog in the machinery.

Good for Jon Stewart!  What fun that the Iranian government has bitterly complained that this film is a propaganda piece funded by Zionists and the CIA. Yes indeed.  Once, not a sparrow could fall from a tree that was not a plot by the British. Now it is the Israelis and the CIA. Happily, time is not on the side of the very ageing Shiite government.  Two-thirds of the population is under 30.

The Theory of Everything
I went to see this film reluctantly, not enjoying being depressed. It is a British biographical romantic film based on the memoir of the ex-wife of Stephen Hawking, a remarkable man who not only survived an illness (ALS) that generally kills within two years of onset, but still lives well into his 70s, and continues as a much honored theoretical physicist.

His wife, Jane, married him even knowing that they might only have two years together. Little did she know that she would have three children with him, and bear full responsibility for caring for a totally immobile man for decades. Even when he nearly died from pneumonia and the doctor recommended letting him quietly die, she refused and and he survived, now with no ability to speak or swallow.

Because of his great fame as author of books that sold in the millions (books that most people, myself included, could not understand), Jane was able to afford help with his care and secure a state-of-the-art device that could speak for him.

Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen was astonishing, and must have been physically exhausting.  Felicity Jones played Jane, a woman with stubborn faith and amazing self-sacrifice.

Although this film is being sold to us as a romance, I found it painful. But that might not be the case for you.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Classical Geopolitics in Brazil

by Bertil Haggman

The German geographer Friedrich Ratzel in his book Politische Geographie (1897) developed a number of concepts of space, that interested both the founder of geopolitics, Swedish Professor Rudolf Kjellén, and Sir Halford Mackinder of Great Britain. The latter’s central term was heartland, more or less Russia (or later the Soviet Union), although the more exact area of the heartland was in Siberia. Russia (and later the Soviet Union) was a land power that threatened British sea power. Mackinder introduced factors such as communications, populations and industrialization.

The American Admiral Alfred T. Mahan was a geopolitician before the term was introduced in 1899 by Kjellén. Mahan’s thesis was broadly that the sea power could maintain control through a number of naval bases around the Eurasian heartland.

Mackinder’s geopolitical theories during the post-Second World War era had a decisive influence on world politics. The Soviet Union threatened the Western maritime alliance created by the United States, NATO being the military arm of that alliance. This alliance used containment to stop the land power Soviet Union from controlling the Eurasian rimland. Moscow had  after World War II replaced Nazi Berlin as the main threat to the sea alliance. The basic struggle in global politics is land power against sea power. This contradiction will continue to play a major role in world politics also in the 21st century.

Definitions of geopolitics abound. One that takes into account the political side of the term is Professor Phillip Kelly 1): geopolitics is the impact of geographic factors on a country’s foreign policy. Several South American geopolitical experts have presented their own definitions.

Geopolitica brasileira had two founders, Everardo Backheuser and Carlos Delgado de Carvalho. The former was greatly influenced by the Swedish father of geopolitics, Rudolf Kjellen. Backheuser focused on southern Brazil, border disputes with neighboring countries and the formation of Amazonia.

The large land mass of Brazil was secured already during the colonial period. Between 1854 and 1907 the territory was further enlarged in settlements of territorial disputes with Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and French Guiana.

After World War II geopolitical theorists of the Escola Superior de Guerra (ESG) came to play an important role in developing the theory of Brazilian geopolitics. Leading names were Carlos Delgado de Carvalho and General Golbery de Couto e Silva. With Carlos de Meira Mattos General Couto e Silva based their projections on the large size of the country. Important was also Brazil’s support for the Western alliance in the struggle against international communism. To strengthen Brazil quick integration of Amazonia had to be supported.

Building the infrastructure was crucial. This included roads in the interior and as well as airfields. Brazil’s strong position in South America today would not have been possible without the development during the 1960s and 1970s.

Couto e Silva in 1964 presented his views on how to best integrate and develop Amazonia:

- to articulate the ecumenical basis of the continent-wide projection of Brazil. The Northeast and the South would have to be connected to the center.
- it would be important to colonize the Northwest to integrate it with the rest of the country.
- the new frontier population would hold the frontier following the axis of the Amazon River.

Brazilian geopoliticians have also expressed an interest in Antarctica. During the government of Jose Sarney Brazil promoted the creation of a South Atlantic Zone of Peace and Co-operation (SAZOPC).