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  

The Borders in the Middle East are Changing

The Borders in the Middle East are Changing.
Laina Farhat-Holzman
July 5, 2014

A century ago, the First World War broke out and at its conclusion, the political geography of the world changed. The Ottoman Empire fought on the wrong side of that war and it dissolved tumultuously, with all its colonies “liberated” and the Turks reduced to a new and exclusively Turkish country. At that empire's height (15th  - 20th centuries), it ruled over Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Levant (Syria), Egypt, and across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic. Its European holdings included Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and part of what was to become Yugoslavia.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire also fought on the losing side of the war and its cosmopolitan control over Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and at one time Spain, dissolved, giving birth to a slew of new states.

The Russian Empire, although on the winning side of the war, fell to an internal Communist Revolution that also changed borders, temporarily giving freedom to former colonies (Central Asia, Poland, the Baltic States), but they forced them back into the new USSR empire.

These border changes gave rise to new nation-states, with hopes of democracy: hopes that soon failed. Most of the European new nations fell eventually to the rising Nazi empire and, after the Nazi defeat, to the USSR. They all had to be freed again after the fall of the Soviets.

The Turks did best, establishing an impressive Republic and modernization, becoming a secular state and dethroning Islam. But the former colonies of the Ottomans failed both modernization and democracy because both Islam and their cultures played a smothering cultural role. All of these former colonies became dictatorships or, like Lebanon, was constantly divided in sectarian strife. And all of these new states were the result of the British and French mandates drawing borderlines with little regard for ethnic or tribal identities, a blueprint for later troubles.

However, artificial as those new borders were, these new nations did enjoy a century of national identity, an improvement over identity based on tribe or clan. Multiple ethnicities lived within national borders and, for the most part, dictatorships kept the lid on. They all did better than they will do now.

The borders are changing again, and where that will stop, nobody knows.  The border between Syria and Iraq has melted. On both sides of that former border, the Sunnis are unhappy. In Syria, they are an oppressed majority, ruled by a Shiite dictatorship; and in Iraq, an oppressed minority ruled by a Shiite thug, Maliki, the winner of a “democratic” election.

If Maliki is not removed and replaced by another leader who is willing to share power with the Sunnis and Kurds, the country will fall into the three pieces that they once were under Ottoman rule: Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis. This will have dire consequences.

If the Kurds become a sovereign state, there will be a movement for Kurds living in Turkey and Iran to join them, something that Turkey and Iran will fight to prevent.

If a Sunni state emerges in Iraq, it might join with the Sunnis of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan----possibly resulting in a brand new country containing all three.

The fallout from all this will affect the tottering Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Shiite Persia will try to absorb all the Shiite areas, from western Saudi Arabia to the new Shiite state in the former Iraq, and even possibly try to absorb the Shiite region of Turkey.

US policy will try to support stability wherever it can. Our major issue is to see that the entire region does not fall to crazy Islamist thugs, not as difficult a task as it might seem. The Islamists alienate civilians wherever they go; not much longevity there.

We must keep cool and use our considerable armory of sharp sticks, clandestine mischief, and persuasion. And we need to be unified politically on this!  Foreign policy arguments should be behind closed doors and stop at our waters. As horrible as the world's villains are, they all want to send their children to the US for school. We are still the world's hope.