Friday, August 1, 2014

Can Wars Be Proportional?

Can Wars Be Proportional?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Santa Cruz Sentinel
August 2, 2014

If columnist Amy Goodman had covered the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War II, she would have indignantly defended the Nazis. Fortunately for the outcome of that war, the public did not get a play-by-play description from observers who want war to be “proportional.”

Throughout 10,000 years of human history, wars were never “proportional.” Winners won.  Chivalry plays no role in warfare.

In history, total conquest was used when repeated conflicts between warring parties couldn't end otherwise. Ancient Greece fought a ten-year war with the Trojans that cost both sides dearly. The war ended when the Greeks tricked the Trojans into accepting their departing “gift,” a gigantic wooden horse, concealing soldiers. Troy fell, with the usual results: total slaughter of all males and captivity for all females. The Greeks never had another war with Troy.

Rome had repeated wars with Carthage (Phoenicians) which came to an end with a final war of unconditional surrender, resulting in the slaughter of all males and captivity of females. Carthage never rose again.

In our own Civil War, the South wanted to negotiate an “honorable surrender,” but President Lincoln refused to consider it. He knew that unconditional surrender was the only way to permanently end any attempt to secede from a unified United States again. It was brutal, but was the right decision.

World War II ended in unconditional surrender. It was exceedingly disproportionate; far more Germans and Japanese died than Americans or British. Unconditional surrender is certainly far more deadly than negotiated truces, but it has the benefit of ending that conflict for all time. World War I ended in an armistice, and morphed into a far worse World War II. Bad choice.

The Dresden bombing raids of 1945 were horrific. So many incendiaries were used that the entire city, once the most beautiful city in Europe, had fire-storms that sucked up all the oxygen. Most of the population died by asphyxiation. No reporter observed this.

The British airmen, some reluctant to destroy beautiful Dresden, nonetheless remembered who started that war.  The Nazis began with the total destruction of Britain's Coventry, Rotterdam in the Netherlands; and Warsaw in Poland. The Germans were the first European power to take the war to civilian populations, a giant step beyond the trench warfare of World War I. The Japanese had already introduced this horror in China.

Both the carpet-bombing of Germany and the atomic bomb destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary because the Nazis and the Japanese were unwilling to surrender unconditionally. Had the war lasted another year or two, many millions more people would have died, many our own.

How many times have the Israelis put up with shelling from Hamas in Gaza? Truces have not stopped this campaign, merely permitting Hamas more time to re-arm. These two cultures are not equivalent. Hamas has spent its money on digging tunnels, buying and making missiles, and totally ignoring their responsibilities to govern a civilian population. Israel is a vibrant modern democracy.

Israel cannot do what Greece or Rome did, nor what the Allies did in World War II. The rules have changed. We have not fought a major war to win since World War II, with unfortunate consequences (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even the Cold War). However, the Israelis must break this cycle of belligerence once and for all if they can. They are dismantling the hundreds of tunnels used to hide missiles or to smuggle war materials or terrorists into Israel.

This conflict will not end in genocide or unconditional surrender. But the latest bout between the Israelis and Palestinians is so awful that there can only be one satisfactory outcome: the decision of the Palestinians to choose life, not death; to choose a modern culture over a death-cult. If they do this, Israel will not need disproportionate force to live with them as a neighbor.

Imagine how the US would respond to Mexico if they were shelling San Diego. Would our response be proportional? Would Amy Goodman defend Mexico? Her handwringing over bad underdogs is predictable.

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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 or    

Laina At the Movies

Laina At the Movies
By Laina Farhat-Holzman
July, 2014


Dresden is a two-part 2006 German TV film set during three days before and during the horrendous British bombing raid on Dresden (13-15 February 1945). This film is particularly significant now to reconsider how little we remember history in the face of current issues, such as the clamor about the “disproportionate” war being fought between Israel and Hamas. War is not cricket, and throughout 10,000 years of the history of civilization, wars were never “proportional.”

The Dresden bombing raids of 1945 were horrific. So much ordnance was used that the entire city, once the most beautiful city in Europe, had fire-storms that sucked up all the oxygen. Most of the population died by asphyxiation.

The German movie raises a number of issues about that decision. The British airmen, although reluctant to destroy such a city, remembered who started that war and how it was started with the total destruction of Coventry, a peaceful old British city, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Warsaw. The Germans were the first European power to take the war to civilian populations, a giant step beyond the trench warfare of World War I. The Japanese introduced this horror in China.

A common issue throughout the film was decision-making. A doctor who owned and ran a hospital in Dresden made a decision that his family's survival was more important than his duty as a doctor. The doctor's daughter made a decision putting her love for a downed British pilot ahead of her engagement to another man and her loyalty to her country. A Nazi official decided that his own survival was more important than his duty or honor and he acted accordingly. The British made a decision that they had to carry out this raid, despite their reluctance.

Both the destruction of Dresden and the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were carried out because the Nazis nor the Japanese were unwilling to surrender. Had the war lasted another year or two, many millions more people would have died, many our own.

A critical note about this film: the love story between an aristocratic young German and a British pilot shot down over a raid is not very convincing. However, the movie is certainly worth seeing because of the visuals of that infamous bombing raid and the discussions about what wars are about.

Man On A Ledge
This thriller was far better than any of the other dreary movies shown in July. It is a 2012 film about an ex-con (once a policeman) who is threatening to jump from the Roosevelt Hotel rooftop in New York. He had been jailed because he was convicted of participating in a big diamond heist, a crime he insisted he did not commit.  A police psychologist is called to talk down the man. Does she believe him?

An additional layer of interest in this film was the macho culture of the police who belittled the woman police psychologist and who may or may not be involved in framing the convicted cop.  Very exciting film.
This was the first major film in July worth seeing. Scarlett Johansson plays an ordinary young woman who unwittingly gets drawn into a criminal action in Taiwan. She and three young men are forced to be “mules” to transport bags of some unknown substance surgically implanted. They were all to be met at airports in Europe by members of the cartel who will then surgically remove the bags.

The bags contained a substance usually found in pregnant women, a hormone that promotes an explosion of brain cell growth in their fetuses. Lucy is beaten by the cartel and the bag inside of her bursts, flooding her with this brain cell hormone. She goes from being a normal woman, using (as humans do) only a small part of the brain cells we have. As she approaches 100 percent, her powers transform her into a phenomenon never seen before.

Scientists have long known that in our current stage of evolution, only a modest percent of our potential intellectual power is available to us. In evolution's slow process, human intelligence has grown from our origins back to the first Lucy (the first upright ancestor of us all) to today. What would happen if this evolutionary growth could be accelerated?

I would recommend renting the movie Algernon  or reading the splendid short story: “A Rose for Algernon,” for a more serious exploration of human intelligence. I had difficulty in imagining that enhanced intelligence could also have control over matter (levitating weapons or tossing bodies), as shown in the film.

Despite this nonsense, the movie is very fast moving and exciting.  A nice try.

A Most Wanted Man

This film is based on a John le Carré novel, which guarantees a jaundiced view of the spy business and whenever possible, a slap at Americans. Despite my distaste for Carré as a person, he certainly writes a good spy novel.

A Most Wanted Man also gives us a final look at the acting of Philip Seynmour Hoffman, who died shortly after this film was made.  But most important of all, it demonstrates that the intelligence business is more of an art than a science. Differences in approach still prevent the Western intelligence world from acting with any kind of trust or unity.

Hoffman (Gunther Bachmann) plays a German counterterrorist in Hamburg, and we learn that because of the German overcorrection of their Nazi past, counterterrorists must keep a very low profile. There is also a conflict in values between his approach, for example, and the American approach. Although both recognize that the Islamist enemy they are fighting is deadly, Hoffman's approach is subtle and nuanced whereas the Americans are heavy-handed and blunt. The British have long believed that about us.

A young Chechen Muslim (Issa Karpov) arrives in Hamburg seeking help from the Muslim community. He has been tortured by the Russians, and has the misfortune of being the son of a recently deceased, notorious criminal in Chechnya. The Americans and the official German Intelligence service are on the hunt, assuming that this young man is, like his father, a terrorist.

A naïve young German human rights attorney (played by Rachel McAdams) rushes in to protect the Chechen and she learns that he has indeed been tortured and that he detests his father, who raped Issa's mother when she was just 15, impregnating her; she died during childbirth. Issa is a religious Muslim, but in no way a terrorist. He doesn't know who he is, but he does know that he does not want to touch the inheritance of dirty money left by his father in a bank in Berlin.

Bachmann enlists the reluctant attorney to help him in an important caper, promising that her Chechen charge will receive a German passport in return for his help. The plan is for him to accept the money and turn it over to a respected Muslim doctor to disburse over a range of acceptable charities. If this plan works as designed, the Muslim doctor will try to substitute a terrorist recipient for one of the charities. Bachmann would then confront and “turn” the doctor in a plan to catch the next larger player in this terrorism. This is the sort of subtle gamesmanship and tradecraft used throughout the Cold War by both sides: entrapment and cooperation.

Things do not go as everyone hopes. The rest of the story unfolds with fascinating and regrettable consequences. Remember, Intelligence is not a science. Nothing that pertains to human behavior is. But this is very good cinema indeed, and well worth your time.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Prejudice: Is it Culture or Race?

Prejudice: Is it Culture or Race?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
July 26, 2014

I have been watching the splendid Cosmos, the successor to the original television series by astronomer Carl Sagan in 1980. That visionary astronomer introduced us to the magical world of space, spurring many young people to consider astronomy as a career.  Neil DeGrasse Dyson was one of those youngsters, a Black teen from the Bronx, who was invited to spend a day with Sagan.  Now Dyson is returning the favor by producing the new Cosmos, embracing a half-century of incredible progress in our knowledge of our galaxy and beyond.

Thirty-five years ago, who would have imagined that America's most famous spokesman for the magic of science, an astrophysicist to boot, would be a Black man? This would have been as unthinkable then as imaging a two-term Black president. What has changed in the realm of prejudice?

Almost all human beings around the world still react to subliminal signals when something alien appears in their midst. The alien is perceived as a threat, a threat that can disappear only when something in the culture provides an avenue of acceptance that defuses the fear.

The ancient Greeks recognized fear of the alien and gave it a name:  Xenophobia (fear of the stranger). But in Greek mythology, there is an important story of an elderly couple, the sole survivors of the great global flood, who welcome several strangers who came to their door asking for food and shelter. The strangers are gods, of course, who give them the gift to re-people the world.

Many of the fairy tales that I read as a child featured young people encountering a frightening old hag (or in some, a bear) in some difficulty. The bad children threw stones at them. The good ones offered them water and freed them from traps. The frightening hags (or bears) were enchanted beings who rewarded kindness with important gifts. In the real Medieval world, however, old hags were targeted for burning as witches and bears were tormented in street theater; yet the myths were there to make the thoughtful consider the benefits of kindness.

A Jewish myth at Passover is that the much-welcomed prophet Elijah sometimes hides as a homeless man. The moral is to be charitable even to the most hapless.

The Western World increasingly accepts women as human partners rather than property. We now have successful and educated Blacks as astrophysicists, judges, and even a president. It is easier to do this when these former “others” talk, act, and look much like ourselves.  Early in the women's movement, women burned their bras and denigrated men. This brought them backlash. But when they began “dressing for success” and demonstrating competence, the backlash diminished.

In the lesser-developed world, every effort is made to kill the “other,” as we can see in Iraq, Sudan, Thailand, Pakistan, Syria, and the Congo. In our world, however, one has to be a dedicated bigot to hate our president or dismiss an astrophysicist who happens to be Black just because of their color. These men speak, think, and dress like their peers, which makes it difficult to see them as “other” any more.

The Gay community is increasingly mainstreaming because so many look, dress, and speak like the rest of us. Had it just been up to the counter-culture in the Castro district of San Francisco, the acceptance would not have come as soon.

The intractable misery of inner-city Black neighborhoods may be more due to culture than color. As successful Blacks leave the inner-cities to meld with the rest of our middle class culture, those left behind have no models to emulate. Unfortunately, our popular culture of trash talk, thug dress, and violence has made it difficult for a community in which talent or genius cannot thrive. It isn't color, it's culture that creates the “otherness.”

As much as some visionaries love “multiculturalism,” the fact is that every community, country, or civilization has its own common core. Sharing in it is what makes us a community. And our common culture recognizes responsible behavior and decent manners as essential values.

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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 or    

Are ISIS and ISIL Based on Religion or Ideology?

Are ISIS and ISIL Based on Religion or Ideology?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
July 19, 2014

When we hear the word ISIS, we usually think of the great Egyptian goddess of antiquity. Today's ISIS is not a goddess, but is a resentful Islamic military cult that has no clue of what it wants, only what it doesn't want. It does not want western civilization, except for its weapons and medicines for their warriors and elderly leaders. Its only policies involve slaughter, amputating the limbs of thieves, and total enslavement of women. They love public whipping and executions, which their PR people consider promotions.

ISIS stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Islamic it is, despite all the protestations of the politically correct who do not want to tar Islam with such an offspring. But it is indeed Islam's baby. ISIL is a cousin cult, one with a more grandiose ideology: that they can become an Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, their colorful way of saying that they have designs on the entire Levant, which would include Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and (most imaginatively) Israel.

Both are the violent spawn of the already violent, but much reduced, Al Qaeda, the Islamist cult that carried out the attacks on the US, UK, and Spain. There are alarming reports that these poisonous cults are spreading like cancers in Africa, with comparable growth in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Indonesia. These are all part of the Al Qaeda franchise, with wanabes even in the United States and Canada. Do they have a future?

There is an old Greek saying that Those Whom the Gods Would Destroy, They First Make Mad. Clearly, these franchises are like a fever that is on the threshold of crisis and self-destruction. These groups look more dangerous than they are because they lack the most important elements of ideological cults, reality. Like most cults, they have a very illusory vision of the brave new world that they think they will create.

It is much easier for cults to destroy than to create, which ultimately destroys them. Anarchists, the oldest of political cults, have always dimly imagined a brave new world, but considered their most important work the destruction of the existing order first. Their visions of the future are extremely thin.

The Nazis, for example, imagined a world run by themselves, enslaving the “inferior races” to serve them, and slaughtering various groups whose talents either challenged them (Jews) or people who did not conform to Nazi notions of superiority (defective, old, and feeble). They imagined a thousand-year reign, and were short only by 988 years.

The Soviets, who also began as destroyers of the old order, had a vague vision of a perfect world in which government would melt away and people would wisely rule themselves. However, they found it necessary to step in with their superior wisdom and wisely rule "the people” with no end in sight. Their great vision of a Soviet world also fell apart, lasting only about 60 years.

Pol Pot's Cambodian fantasy was that his brave new world could only begin if he slaughtered the one-third of the population that was middle class. Peasants were his imagined good citizens. That cult collapsed after less than a decade.

What is the ideology of Western civilization, our own global culture? It appears to be one of certain guaranteed rights: participatory government, free press, private property, religious freedom (within the scope of mutual tolerance), and acceptance of gender equality under the law. Of course none of these values is being practiced perfectly, but they have had an enormous influence on a world in which life is better today than it would have been otherwise.

More people have been lifted from poverty thanks to this civilization and more people have autonomy to pursue happiness than any of these above cults have ever managed to provide.

Islam once created a respectable civilization before it closed its doors a millennium ago on thought, self-correction, and a reformation in which religion loses its upper hand in dictating culture. Islam will either reform or burn out, just as Islam's ugly spawn, ISIS and ISIL will.

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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 or

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alliances Have No Longevity in the Middle East

Alliances Have No Longevity in the Middle East.Laina Farhat-Holzman
July 12, 2014

Not only are borders shifting wildly in today's Middle East reshuffle, but alliances are too. One needs a scorecard to determine who are friends today and enemies tomorrow. This is not a new problem in the Middle East; it is a historic fact of life.

The greatest accomplishment of the Prophet Mohammad was to unify what had been anarchic tribes in the Arab Peninsula. The process of unification was brutal, but there was no other way to do it. Truces were only temporary and surrender had to be total. However, immediately after the death of Mohammad, the great gulf opened again. The Prophet left no will, so it was up to his close followers to determine succession.

The majority of these men, one generation removed from nomadism, followed their usual custom: arrive at consensus and pick the leader they thought most capable. But among these leaders, most related one way or another to the Prophet, was Mohammad's favorite, his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. Ali's faction (Shiite) thought that succession should be through the closest bloodline of Mohammad. They lost in the first round, and it took several more consensus elections until Ali was chosen.

Two years into his reign as Caliph, he was assassinated. (Few Caliphs died as old men in their beds.) His sons contested the next majority choice and they challenged the next Caliph in a battle on the planes of Mesopotamia (today's Iraq) and were almost entirely wiped out. Those followers who did survive never got over losing this battle and they have not gotten over it yet.

The winning (and largest) group in Islam is Sunni and the minority (today 15 percent) is Shiite (party of Ali). The Shiites have fragmented further, including the Sufis (mystics), the majority of whom live in Bangladesh with some in Pakistan and Turkey.

Today, Sunnis and Shiites who live together peaceably only under a dictator, are at each other's throats again. To complicate matters further, Iranians are the largest Shiite majority country, but Iraq, which was once a majority Sunni country, has over time had a population explosion of Shiites. Although it looks as if Iran can totally control Iraq's new Shiite identity, don't count on it. Iraqi Shiites are Arabs and Iranian Shiites are Persians; no love lost.

The Sunni world is also fragmenting once more, not only into tribal affiliations, but also into differing versions of Islam. The crazy Islamist cult, ISIS (or ISIL, which has delusions of creating a new Caliphate) is nominally Sunni. In Iraq, it is to the temporary advantage of Sunnis to join with ISIS, but that will not last for long. The secular and mainstream Sunnis do not want to be under the rule of Muslim fanatics such as ISIS or ISIL.

The Saudis are in a particularly awkward position. Their version of Islam is as severe as that of the Islamists, but the Islamists are not interested in Saudi theology as much as they detest Saudi practices (puritanical Islam corrupted by unlimited money). The Islamists (Al Qaida, et al) and the Saudis detest each other.

Yemen is faced by Islamist attacks, tribal militancy, and a water emergency so severe that the capital might have to move. Their biggest problem is population explosion, a problem that will be taken care of by the ensuing anarchy, lack of water, and starvation.

Iran and the Saudis detest each other and are in sharp competition for regional influence. Both countries are tottering: the Saudis politically and Iran demographically (low birthrate and dwindling water). But they both hate Al Qaeda. The Saudis will even privately cooperate with Israel in fear of Iran and terror cults.

Meanwhile, Israel watches all the chaos around them and finds that their best option is to be vigilant but hope that these factions all wipe each other out.

Christians in the region need to get out before they are completely exterminated. Sorry, you Presbyterians wanting to boycott Israel. You suffer from warped values. Visit the Middle East and see what happens when you say you are Christian, except in Israel.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An Iranian in Exile Takes On a British MP

An Iranian in Exile Takes On a British MP.
Laina Farhat-Holzman
June 14, 2014

Ever since the Iranian monarchy fell to a radical Islamic revolution, I have chafed over the nonsense that has passed for history. It has become accepted that Shah Mohammad Pahlavi was evil and that the west had sustained him for too long. I also flinch when Iranians insist that their travails were caused by either the British, the Americans, or the Israelis. This is a failure to take responsibility for the nation's own folly in allowing Islamists to take control.

One such exile living in the UK, Reza Pardisan, has sent an open letter to Jack Straw, a British member of parliament, who recently returned from a visit to Iran where he compared Tehran to Athens or Madrid. He was promoting the notion that Iran is just like Greece or Spain, a view that is not only a fantasy, but dangerously wrong-headed.

Pardisan challenges this comparison, asking about the following facts on the ground:

o     Tehran's deadly air pollution, which has killed at least 80,000 people so far, a number provided by the Tehran government itself.  Even Athens does not have such a deadly situation; they have passed laws to ameliorate it.

o     Suicide rates, in Iran averaging 25 per week among 18-28 years old.  Are the Greek or Spanish young killing themselves in such numbers?  Does Jack Straw ask why?

o     Exile.  Since the Ayatollah Khomeini took over (1979), more than 7 million fled. The exiled include the best and brightest, a real loss to a third-world country.

o     Drug addiction is burgeoning in Iran.  Is it in Athens or Madrid? Opium and opiates are back with a vengeance. Under the Pahlavis, this was not so.

o     Mass hangings from building cranes, 2,000 in 1988 alone, and a constant stream since then.

o     How about comparing the lack of political and basic freedoms in Iran with Spain and Greece?   How about rates of inflation, poverty, and homelessness among children living in the streets?

o     Human rights comparisons: do the Greeks or Spanish imprison or execute rape victims or homosexuals?  Iran does. They also murder journalists who offend the government.

Like many in the West, England and the United States have bought into the nonsense that they were solely responsible for the fall of the Mossadegh government in 1953, ignoring the fact that Mossadegh was incompetent and was dangerously flirting with a Soviet takeover. Iranians themselves took down Mossadegh and the returning shah did not execute him, but remanded him to his vast estates to live out his final years. What Islamist leader would have done the same? Iranian clerics are nothing if not vindictive.

Like most educated Iranians, Pardisan has a very long memory. He urges Jack Straw to apologize for England's real offenses when Iran was weak, from 1700-1926. There were many interventions in Iran's affairs during that time because the modern Europeans had the power to do so and empire was the mode of the  times. Both the British and the Russians played at this. Russia has resurrected this practice now, as we can see in the Ukraine and coming soon, Central Asia.

It is futile to apologize for issues that took place at another time and during another sort of world. However, we could begin to correct errors with unforeseen consequences by revisiting historic policies.

Our main mistake is to believe that “democracy” is what every country craves and should have. Authoritarian governments, including the late Shah's, did more to further national development and thriving middle classes than any democracy at the time could have done. The late Shah, like the military dictatorships in Taiwan and South Korea, believed that he must fix the economy first----and then have democracy. Those who opted for “freedom first” got only anarchy---or, like the unfortunate Iran, a very nasty religious dictatorship.

In the Middle East, freedom means freedom for men to do what they please. It never includes women or children. Responsibility and duty have nothing to do with it. It is the fault of their cultures and they need to quit blaming us for their own follies.

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or    

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Does Iraq Have a Future?

Does Iraq Have a Future?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
6-28, 2014

The blame game is going on about Iraq's descent into regional warfare. This is a futile exercise unless changes of policy and real geopolitical insight go along with the blame.

The Bush administration is rightly blamed for involving the US in an invasion of the wrong country, using specious excuses. However, that invasion could have done the region good by just removing Saddam Hussein, a very dangerous opportunist who threatened the region. But real blame should fall on the idiotic occupation, which dismantled the Iraqi army and goaded the various ethnicities into civil war. We should have just removed Saddam and replaced him with an Iraqi general, preferably one with US training. A well-run Iraq could have, over time, morphed into representative government (as did South Korea and Taiwan).

President Obama can be blamed for over-correcting the foolish Bush policy. He, like most Americans, just wanted our forces out. Bad policy. By retaining US  forces in South Korea and Germany and Japan since the end of both the Korean War and World War II has stabilized those areas so that they could evolve into respectable democracies.

So what will become of Iraq now? First of all, we must see that the whole Middle East is going through a shakedown of the lines drawn on the map in 1918 by England and France. Disparate tribal areas, religiously reactionary rural areas and cosmopolitan cities were all pushed into nations that could never survive without strong dictatorships holding them together. Today, the dictatorships are falling one by one (Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and maybe Syria). When dictators fall, democracy does not follow; people revert to clan or religious sect. We witnessed that process years ago in Lebanon, which fell from democracy to a shooting gallery of sectarian hatreds.

Now we are watching a crazy Islamist military cult take over town after town in the Sunni parts of Iraq and in Syria. Why aren't the Sunnis (many of them secular and middle class) defending their countries? In Iraq, the Sunnis, now a minority, have been persecuted by their Shiite undemocratic president and in Syria, the Sunni majority has been persecuted by their Shiite dictatorial government. But before we assume that the crazies will win ultimately and establish an Islamic Caliphate, we must remember that not all Sunnis are crazies. If the Islamists were to win, they would very shortly fragment into warring factions. It is already happening.

The Middle East is a mess, but there are steps that we can take that will benefit our overall, long-term goals for the area. If Iraq falls into the three parts from which it was first carved in 1918 (Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite), we can work to keep them in a relatively functioning federation. We helped to do this for the Kurds after the first Gulf War just by providing air security (no fly zones) so that Saddam Hussein could not harm them. This security helped the Kurds create a very good functioning democracy, just one step removed from new nationhood.

We, our allies (Saudis, Jordanians, Lebanese) and adversaries (Iran) in the Middle East do share some goals: the Sunnis want decent representation in any government in which they are either the majority or the large minority. The Shiites (including Iran) want to make sure that Shiite minorities (or majorities) are not persecuted.  All of these groups (including Israel) do not want Islamists winning anything!  They are bad news wherever they go, and wear out their welcome wherever they prevail, as in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Chad.

In Syria, it appears the Assad government is stronger than we thought. In Iraq, even the revered Shiite grand Ayatollah Sistani is urging that the thuggish President Maliki government be replaced. Iran could be helpful (privately) on both fronts. They could withdraw their revolutionary guards and quit arming Hezbollah if a peace treaty could be made that keeps Assad temporarily in place. In Iraq, they too are not pleased with Maliki and in exchange for protecting Shiite shrines, could help remove him.

Not easy, but worth trying.

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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 or