Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Will Islam Address Its Internal Crisis?

Laina Farhat-Holzman
September 27, 2014

Muslims have lived so long with governments they cannot trust that the rumor mill serves as their source of information. Conspiracy theories are the favorite explanations for all the horrors in the world. If you cannot blame Allah, you must find someone you can blame.

The latest conspiracy theory comes out of the Netherlands, where a Muslim woman, Yasmina Haifi, who works in the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, has given us the following: “The Islamic State isn't Islamic at all. Actually, it's a Jewish plot.” [http://www.investigativeproject.org/4535/isis-a-jewish-plot-propaganda-and-islamic-jihad]. She tweets that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an agent of Mossad and that the conspiracy was created to make Islam look bad. If I were Dutch, I would ask: Who hired this dim bulb?

Mossad does not have to make Islam look bad. The religion is in crisis, and the reasons for looking bad include decapitating captives and enslaving captive women and children. The “Islamic State (IS)” is just one more faction attracting bored and unemployable young men looking for adventure and being reassured that the violence they are expected to carry out is sanctified by the very origins of their religion.

The other two Westerm world religions have changed over time, evolving from primitive tribalism to religions that promote ethical behavior and rule of civil law (Judaism and Christianity). These religions have experienced reformations and transformations from their darker periods. Islam has not so benefited. It began the process of evolving during the first centuries of its existence with the emergence of many “schools” representing different interpretations of the religion. It started acquiring a legal structure and a way of incorporating methods and ideas from non-Muslims: Jews, Nestorian Christians, Persian Zoroastrians, and even Central Asian Buddhists. These contributors produced the brief “golden age” so boasted about by Muslims today.

Islam's linear evolution was shut down in the 13th century by Mongol invasions from the East and from savage Muslim invasions of Spain by Africa fanatics. Baghdad was burnt down and Spain's Islalmic golden age went dark. These events sent Islam into a five-century sleep in which their once dominant civilization became backwaters ripe for European colonization.

An unacknowleged benefit of European colonization of Muslim lands was an awakening. Some wanted to join the process of modernization that would once more free Muslim talent. Unfortunately, they chose instead the fascist model and now the tribal model. Resentment, revenge, savage violence, and that most hot-button issue of all, the emancipation of women, have created an Islamic monster that cannot ultimately survive.

The Dutch Muslim woman quoted above cannot bear to think her religion can be as terrible as ISIS practices it, yet ISIS is accurately reproducing the deeds of the Prophet Mohammad and his followers, santified, they say, by Allah. The Koran tells us that the Prophet urged followers to “smite the necks of unbelievers” and “cut off their fingertips” (supposedly to prevent their enemies from holding weapons, but unneccessary if they have already had their necks smitten).

The Prophet demonstrated and sanctified the methods of warfare that we are seeing today: deception (guerilla war) and giving the defeated the options of converting, paying a tax, or death. For those refusing his options, he sanctified killing all males and seizing all women and children as booty, using them as “the captors liked.” He also expelled all non-Muslim tribes from Arabia, exactly what ISIS is doing now.

Boka Haram and ISIS are not only following those methods, but are demanding that all Muslims follow or face the consequences. Their momentary successes are giving not only the world, but the Muslim world, a chance to see what 7th century Islam looked like. Without a renaissance, this is all they will have.

The rest of the world will not wait. This is the start of a global war against what Islam has become. Good Muslims everywhere had better fight ISIS, Boka Haram, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. If they want their religion to survive, they will have to create a modern Islam that can do more than just destroy. It is crisis time.

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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.    

Monday, September 29, 2014

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
September 2014


My movie-going buddy and I were the only Anglo faces in the theater showing this Mexican-American bio-pic about Cantiflas, the delightful Mexican cinema comic who played Passepartout (pass-key), the valet in the great old classic, Around the World in Eighty Days.

Cantiflas (meaning Bar Fly) was the stage name of Mario Moreno (1911-1993), a street clown who through luck and talent became the Latino version of Charlie Chaplain. His particular comedy included sight gags, physicality, and nonstop cheeky improvisation, much like the later Groucho Marx. He punned and delighted audiences in Mexico by boldly sassing the strong and powerful.

With subtitles alternately in Spanish and English, I found myself reading each while listening to the other. It took a few minutes to catch up to the obvious roaring delight of the Watsonville Hispanic audience, but it did happen.

Cantiflas was played by Oscar Jaenada, an actor I have never seen before, but will again. He was delightful, and watching him rise from lowly clown to great film star was great fun. It was illuminating to realize how much interaction there was between the rising Mexican film industry at the same time that American movies were at their best, from the time that sound was introduced. In the movie, we saw a roster of famous Mexican stars who also crossed over into American film, such as Delores del Rio, Pedro Amandariz, Arturo de Cordova, Katy Jurado, and Ricardo Montalban, among many.

The famous Mike Todd (played by Michael Imperioli) had the vision of producing Around the World in Eighty Days with very little money, famous actors doing cameo roles, trying to conn the moneymen in Hollywood into backing him. Nothing much was coming together until he met Charlie Chaplain at lunch who encouraged the venture. He also met Elizabeth Taylor, after offering her a cameo role, who married him. He approached Cantiflas with a cameo role, was rejected, but after Cantiflas read the script, he offered to play Passepartout, which he played with great genius.

Listening to the laughter of the Mexican-Spanish speakers in the audience, it was apparent that even subtitles did not catch what made Cantiflas so funny: the salty character of Mexican Spanish.

Considering all the other silly extravaganzas in the cinemas this summer, this was a charming, quality little film and I hope it does well.


An Irish priest sits listening to a confession: a man who confesses that he was abused during his entire childhood by priests from the age of seven. He tells the priest that he is going to murder him in one week, and that because he knows that this particular priest is a good man, the murder will have even more significance.

The priest does not know whom among his congregation the prospective murder will be, so he spends the next week visiting the usual places: the pub, where he gets very drunk and gets into a fight with the bartender and another client. The two men reveal their enormous distaste for the church and tell the priest horrible stories that would make him question his faith.

He tries leaving town before the deadline, but thinks better of it and returns to meet his killer on Sunday on the beach.

The film is indeed like Calvary, the period during which the devil tempted Jesus to abandon his faith to God and go with him instead.

This is a great little movie with wonderful acting and much to think about afterwards. Brendan Gleeson, who plays the Priest, is a wonder to behold.

Magic in the Moonlight

After seeing the painful Calvary, Woody Allen's latest, Magic in the Moonlight, proved to be a silly creampuff of a movie.  I was mildly amused and equally annoyed, as I always am, at Allen's dialogues.  Somehow, he always writes dialogue typical of how he speaks (a tiresome shtick), even when it seems stilted when his actors speak those lines.

However, for reasons mysterious to me, actors of great stature are eager to work in his movies. This one was no exception. The wonderful Colin Firth played a world famous magician (the setting was Germany and the Provence in the late 1920s) who is also noted as a debunker of mediums and other fraudulent psychics. A colleague asks him to visit a family in the south of France in which a young American medium has enchanted them all: a gullible widow who thinks she is taking to her dead husband and a banjo-playing lovesick heir to the family's wealth.

Of course, this is the usual conflict of reason and feeling. Allen shamefully provides a take on the famous scene in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which Mr. Darcey (also played by Colin Firth in the latest film version) makes an obnoxious marriage proposal to the young medium (played by Emma Stone) in which he tells her that despite all reason and despite her lowly origins and mediocre intellect he is madly in love with her and wants to marry her. She responds as did Austen's heroine in her novel.

If you have a few idle hours and if you like the music of the 1920s (as I do) and the scenery of the south of France (as I do), go for it. I wouldn't look for any profundity from the always-nihilistic Woody Allen.

A Walk Among the Tombstones

I remember seeing B-movies in my childhood when an afternoon at the local cinema included the feature, a secondary (B) movie, a newsreel, cartoon, and serial. Whew!  That is movie stamina that only a 10-year-old can have.

A Walk Among the Tombstones reminded me of the old B movies, often called Film Noir (dark movie), except that it was far more explicit and bloody than Hollywood used to permit. For the faint of heart, I cannot recommend this, but  for the toughies among us, it was terrific.

Who wouldn't enjoy watching Liam Neeson, a man who can play President Lincoln and a burnt-out former detective equally well.  The movie is based on a popular detective novel by Lawrence Block, about a former NYPD detective, Matthew Scudder, a recovering alcoholic, haunted by a righteous shooting of bad guys that went astray and killed a child. He became a drunk, left the police force, and then went sober and solitary, taking occasional cases from people who preferred having an un-licensed private eye.

His client is a very prosperous drug dealer whose wife has been kidnapped. Although he paid the ransom, they killed his wife anyway and sent her body back in pieces.  Scudder does a little research and finds that other drug dealers have had the same experience. The serial sadism of the killers prompts him to take the cases.

Kidnapping for ransom is bad enough, but these two monsters are psychopaths whose delight in inflicting pain can only be matched by today's ISIS, who justify their actions through religious sanction. The two psychopaths have no such justification. They just love mayhem.

Having a man like Scudder on your side is certainly a good thing. He administers appropriate justice in this very good thriller.

Tunnelling Techniques of Totalitarian and Authoritarian States

By Bertil Haggman

The discovery recently of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza for the purpose of smuggling weapons is reveals the modern use of tunnelling in the Middle East. One must keep in mind the Oriental technique of “tunnelling” the enemy’s both spatial, political and psychological terrain. This art originated with the Mongols, and was copied and perfected by the Ottomans. There is, however, also a physical  aspect to tunnelling. Here will be treated three cases of this use of psychologically oriented warfare of Oriental origin.
North Korean Tunnelling

There is a long history of North Korea attempting to undermine Seoul and take over South Korea this way. There is an extensive literature both in the United States and South Korea on the attempts by the regime to tunnel under the border between South Korea and North Korea. Several Palestinian terrorist organizations in the 1960s established close ties with North Korea. Another example of North Korean contacts in the Middle East area in general was the Turkish People’s Liberation Army (TPLA). A historical link perhaps to the Ottoman past.

Ottoman Tunnelling

The Ottomans in the 1450s used undermining technique during the last phase of the siege of Constantinople. This was described by the Venetian ambassador Nicolo Barbaro in his diary  (W. Carew Hazlitt, The Venetian Republic, 2 volumes, London 1915). Neither bombardments nor scaling the walls, nor pitched battles at sea was so disheartening as the daily discovery of new tunnels being dug under Constantinople. Indirectly it was an attack on the willpower and identity of the Byzantine empire.

The Ottomans learned the tactics of tunnelling from the Mongols. Psychological warfare was common not only in the pre-Islamic and Islamic times in Persia, the Ottoman empire and among the Arabs.
Viet Cong Tunnelling

The infamous Viet Cong (VC) tunnel system was located 15 miles north of Saigon in the Iron Triangle. It comprised around 125 square miles of jungle and rice paddies. The United States forces in January 1967 in Operation Cedar Falls attempted to destroy the tunnel system. Residents were evacuated from the area and the system of tunnels was destroyed. The communists did return, however.

The United States had special soldiers who fought the VC and the North Vietnamese in the tunnels and the bunkers. Only the 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions had formal units of the Tunnel Rats, but the units were small. The 1st  Division had only two squads.

The basic equipment was a .38 caliber revolver, a flashlight, and a knife. Standard procedure required three men in the tunnels at a time. The biggest success was in 1968 when 3 VC soldiers were killed and 153 forced backward out of a tunnel into captivity.

Outside these formal units mostly volunteers were employed. One important complex of tunnels was some 25 miles north of Saigon. It was probably the prime VC lifeline to Cambodian supply areas. There was a headquarters complex at Cu Chi. This vast complex was discovered by United States forces already in 1966. The 25th Infantry Division later established its base camp in Cu Chi and assumed the task of clearing the system. Different approaches used were tear gas, acetylene gas, and explosives. The American “tunnel rats” were almost always small in stature and had minimum equipment.

Tunnel networks were later discovered in other parts of Vietnam. In 1967 the Cu Chi tunnels hade been cleared, an example of tactical ingenuity and tenacity facing the United States Army in Vietnam (Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, St. Barbara 1998, 3 volumes).

As seen from the three examples above it is not hard to detect the background of Palestinian tunneling to smuggle arms to Gaza. How large these systems are and where is not in the public domain. American experience has shown that tunnel complexes can be dealt with.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Below is an article by Swedish geopolitician Bertil Haggman on the growing importance of the geopolitical thinking of Sir Halford Mackinder.

The London Times in 2009 claimed, rightly so, that the Edwardian Scottish geographer Sir Halford Mackinder, (1861 – 1947) Oxford professor and Member of Parliament, is ruling the world of ideas. He was the intellectual architect of modern geopolitics founded by Swedish Uppsala professor and conservative member of the Swedish Riksdag Rudolf Kjellén. Mackinder also put the idea of “the Heartland” at the centre of global diplomacy,“

In the twentyfirst century he is more relevant than ever. Mackinder’s realpolitik is back. Few may recall his name but the world’s foreign policy is played out today according to his geopolitical rules, together with a few other geopoliticians.

Mackinder’s fame came from a  lecture delivered in London in 1904, entitled The Geographical Pivot of History. His proposition number one: the globalised world — crisscrossed by steam, telegram and train — was a closed system. The world was now a unitary space with every strategic advance by one nation necessitating a rival power to retreat. Diplomacy was a zero-sum game and geopolitics meant successfully squaring political power with geographical setting.

Also the key to world power lay in “the Heartland of the Old World”, the Eurasian land mass. This vast land mass included the Iranian upland in the southwest and part of the Mongolian upland in the southeast. The core constituted, however, the Russian Empire. In centuries past this terrain had been the pivot of world history as the Huns, the Mongols and the Magyars swept into Europe. Ranged against this “Heartland” were the sea powers — Great Britain, the United States and Japan. And what geopolitics came down to was an ongoing struggle between the Heartland and the sea powers. Mackinder was worried that an expansionist Russia would act to the detriment of British imperial interests.

Mackinder’s geopolitics was further explored during the 1919 Versailles peace conference in his most significant work, Democratic Ideals and Reality (republished in 2009 under the Faber Find imprint of Lost Classics). Mackinder argued that the First World War victors should base the new world order not on lofty ideals but the hard geopolitical realities underlying history. The most pressing of those realities was the threat posed by a united Russia and Germany. Mackinder’s thesis was simple: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; who rules the World Island commands the world.”

To prevent the land powers to take over he advocated a cordon sanitaire of independent states in Eastern Europe — Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary — to act as a bulwark between Germany and Russia.

Sir Halford warned that a protective measure was needed in Eastern Europe from the Adriatic and Black Sea to the Baltic Sea: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and the other states of the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. Mackinder after World War I met with a number of leading politicians (especially Anton Denikin) whom he tried to persuade to recognize the newly created states in Eastern Europe. An anti-Bolshevik coalition was needed. Mackinder’s plan was turned down by the British government. It was also rejected by the War Secretary Winston Churchill.

Mackinder now came out of retirement and warned that “the territory of the USSR is equivalent to the Heartland” and that “if the Soviet Union emerges from this war as conqueror of Germany, she must rank as the greatest land power on the globe”. To secure the maritime democracies from Eurasian aggression, Mackinder proposed a North Atlantic alliance to provide a “bridgehead in France, a moated aerodrome in Britain, and a reserve of trained manpower, agriculture and industries in the eastern United States and Canada”.

Mackinder’s vision of geopolitics contributed greatly to American postwar defense strategy.

At the time the Yale international relations expert Nicholas Spykman wrote that Mackinder’s influence was palpable in US plans to counter Soviet expansion — from the establishment of Nato to the Marshall Plan to intervention in Turkey, Malaya, even Korea :

The policy of containment or encirclement of the USSR was evolved as a direct response to the threat seen to arise from Soviet domination of the Heartland”.

Mackinder later, however, fell out of fashion. During the era of the Vietnam War geopolitics was regarded as a bloody and arguably amoral approach. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan suddenly geopolitics and geography was back. President Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski — raised on the northern edges of the Heartland in Poland — had studied Mackinder. Brzezinski had a reputation for controversial methods.

 In the 1980s Mackinder’s belief in reality over idealism continued to hold sway in Washington and London as both administrations dropped détente to confront head-on the “Evil Empire”. President Reagan’s nuclear proliferation adviser, Colin Gray, was himself a leading scholar of Mackinder.

Many of those who worked in the Nixon and Reagan White Houses — Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney among them — brought their geopolitics back to bear as part of the Bush Administration in 2000. With hundreds of US military bases stretching from Iraq to Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan, a bid for the Heartland underpinning much 21stcentury Pentagon thinking can be seen.

After 1991 geopolitics is now discussed in the Heartland itself. Russian securocrats have been working to block NATO and US expansion into the former Soviet republics. Putin has long been reaching for his Mackinder. In 2014 he wages war in Europe over Ukraine.

In 2000 Geopolitics: A Textbook was published in Moscow with much of Mackinder’s work translated into Russian for the first time. In Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, think-tanks and diplomats are now surprisingly studying Sir Halford’s geopolitical philosophy.

In Georgia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and even Iran, an overt and covert battle for the Heartland is again being fought.  As in the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s decision makers are once more in the twenty first century reading Mackinder.

Halford J. Mackinder’s Democratic Ideals and Reality has been published by Faber and Faber. For an introduction in Swedish to geopolitics see Bertil Haggman’s book Geopolitik – en introduktion (2009;in Swedish).

Conflicting Views of the President's Foreign Policy

Conflicting Views of the President's Foreign Policy
Laina Farhat-Holzman
September 13, 2014

Journalists often gang up on our presidents. Dwight Eisenhower was dismissed as an inarticulate golf-playing do-nothing by the political elites of his time. In reality, he adeptly handled the earlier years of the Cold War and set forth policies that saw us through a half century. Lyndon Johnson saddled himself with the Vietnam War and was reviled by journalists, academics, and the young, leaving office as a failure. Today, we realize what an astonishing president he was: an unlikely southerner who pushed through the first laws benefitting Black citizens since Lincoln.

Foreign policy has always been tricky for a nation protected by two oceans and unthreatening neighbors. Our earliest presidents warned us to not get entangled in Europe's wars. Then, until the issue of slavery was resolved by the Civil war, we remained isolationist. How could we represent democracy abroad when we had slaves at home? But once that war ended, we entered the international arena, flexing our muscles as an emerging great state. President Teddy Roosevelt received a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of a brief (and humiliating) war between the Russian and Japanese Empires.

We reluctantly entered World Wars I and II, neither of which could have ended satisfactorily without us. The Cold War was our longest conflict, an ideological conflict between the modern Western world and USSR's communist dictatorship. We won that one.

One thread characterizes American foreign policy: not permitting any one hegemon (power) to rule over the European and Asian continents. Germany, Japan, and Russia had the potential to become this kind of power. We fought them, leading alliances that were sharp and effective.

A second thread is protecting the global economy, freedom of the seas, and free flow of oil. This has involved us, whether we like it or not, in the Middle East, a region that, without our stabilizing influence, is nasty, contentious, and not a candidate for democratic rule of law. Rule of law, even under a dictator, is better than anarchy and religious factions.

This president sees that our involvement in the Middle East is less strategic now with our own flourishing energy independence. He annoys the chest-thumpers who always prefer a robust military response; instead, he carefully selects which bad actors to hit. His instinct is like Teddy Roosevelt's advice: walk softly but carry a big stick.

Unfortunately, the big stick is tired, thanks to overuse by his predecessor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is using it as smartly as he can, despite a temporary absence of bipartisanism in our foreign policy and European allies who are (as always) timid in taking on bullies.

In Syria, which he correctly viewed as a tar pit, he refused to use air power to help remove dictator Assad. We now know there are worse things than dictators, such as anarchist Islamists and tribalism. Our intervention in Libya (goaded by France and Senator McCain) removed Gaddafi, but look what followed!

In Iraq and Afghanistan, he has withdrawn our troops when their so-called democratically-elected presidents refused to protect our forces from being subject to their law. Instead, he is using our power in a drone and shadow war against the Islamists rushing into the void. He nailed Osama bin Laden and is organizing international forces against the Islamist monster, ISIS. We have begun an air war there, giving heart to such opposition as the Kurds.

The US has been struggling with finding the right overall policy for the post-Cold War world. This requires thinking, not shooting from the hip. It also requires the support of Congress and war-weary citizens. The President will do this by producing a doctrine that is both thought out and deadly to our enemies.

It takes Machiavellian thinking to deal with Russia and the Ukraine without firing a shot, as it does in dealing with Iran, a master chess player, over their nuclear development. Chess is war by other means.

No president before him saw Pakistan as more enemy than ally. Obama shrewdly refused to notify Pakistan when he sent the SEALS to kill Osama Bin Laden. Many historians think better of him than do the chattering classes.

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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.

This Is No Longer Your Grandfathers' Army

This Is No Longer Your Grandfathers' Army
Laina Farhat-Holzman
September 20, 2014

If we are talking softly but carrying a big stick, as President Teddy Roosevelt advised, we need a big stick. Americans divide themselves into hawks who believe freedom requires defense and doves who believe that if we are nice, others will be too.

The hawks are certainly right that a nation without a good military is vulnerable to the world's bullies. The majority of Western European countries are doves, a position they are permitted because since the end of World War II, the United States has been their protector. But the doves need to learn that niceness does not work with violence-prone immigrants, many of whom are not only not nice to their women or each other, but also bite the hand of their benefactors. Internal terror attacks have made that clear. This is no time to cut our military budgets either.

The American armed forces are, without question, the best that the world has ever seen. They are as competent as the ancient Roman armies, but far less violent. The American forces that defeated the Nazis and Japanese empires and occupied both were undoubtedly more decent than other occupying armies have been. Compare them to the Nazis, Japanese, Soviets, or the horrible ISIS in Iraq, for example.

Warfare among pre-Columbus Native American tribes reaped a death toll of 25 percent. Today, even in the Iraq and Afghan wars it is miniscule when compared with the global population. Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker notes that today the world is relatively more peaceful than at any time in history, largely because of Western science, technology, and a standard of global order provided and protected by American power. This includes the role of our military.

Armies are not only about violence.  Armies play a major role in creating nations. During World Wars I and II, the American armed forces brought together young men (and women) from all parts of what was a very regionally distinctive country. Texans and New Yorkers bunked, trained, and fought together, an experience that forged a nation with a common culture when the wars were over. We sometimes forget how mobile our society now is; we can live comfortably anywhere in this country. The Army deserves credit for this.

Israel created a unified country out of immigrants as diverse as professional European Jews and holocaust survivors, Jews from the Muslim world, and villagers from Yemen and Ethiopia. The army, essential for defense in a hostile neighborhood, was also the teacher of a common culture in a generation young enough to learn new things. That both young men and women must serve in the army for a period after high school has helped create a modern, vibrant country.

American foreign policy has long included military training in countries that never had really professional armies. This training includes discipline and self-discipline, identity with the nation rather than the tribe or religious sect, and officer training that teaches critical thinking and modern human rights law. When we have enough time to do this, we create armies as good as those of Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and much of Latin America.

Places where this training has not worked include Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have far too many recruits who are illiterate and far too many officers who are there by virtue of tribe, ethnicity, or family connections. Our military trainers tried, but really needed several more generations of modernization. But ISIS has no chance of creating a modern army either. They don't even have a common language.

Civil law and order does not take place in a vacuum. Even a less-than-stellar military force is better than anarchy. Imagine trying to create a country with the likes of Boka Haram or ISIL! The combination of force and ignorance is no formula for a stable, modern state.

Today's voluntary military forces are much smaller than our conscript armies of the past, yet they keep us safe and are one of the best hopes for the rest of the world. This is certainly not your grandfather's army, but it is our big stick.

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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.    

Monday, September 1, 2014

Laina At the Movies

Laina At the Movies
By Laina Farhat-Holzman
August 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Another foodie movie has cheered us all, in sheer contrast with the catastrophe films that mark every summer. Perhaps life is not coming to an end after all.

Oprah Winfrey and Steven Speilberg cooked this one up for us, and it was delicious. The story takes place in a French town near the Swiss border, breathtakingly beautiful. A restaurant rated with one star by the bible of French cuisine, the Michelin Guide, run by a classically trained owner, Madame Malory (played by Helen Mirren), is challenged by a new restaurant across the road from hers, run by immigrants from India. She initially assumes that, distasteful as it is, the restaurant will only be a fast food joint and will not compete for her clientele.

What she does not know is that the newcomers are also classical chefs: restaurant owners for generations in India. The two restaurants engage in a huffy war, each doing what they can to annoy the other, such as going early to the farmers' market and buying up all the good produce, or complaining to the town's mayor about violations of stuffy French food laws.

One serious strain in this otherwise lighthearted film is about why the Indian  family, the Kadams,  emigrated from India. Their restaurant had been torched during a Hindu pogrom against them (they were Muslim, although secular Indians). They had run for their lives, taking only with them their life's savings, chef knives and special chest of Indian spices.

Madame Malory's war against the newcomers gets the unwanted support when the usual French bigots who inhabit the lower levels of French life torch the Indian restaurant. The war ends with Madame Malory's shame and her attempt to make amends.

The foodie delight of this movie centers on the Kadam family's young chef, a youth who from childhood exhibited the talent of the world's best chefs, perfect sense of taste (like perfect pitch for musicians). Hassan Kadam (played by the charming Manish Dayal), apprentices at Madame Malory's restaurant and his extraordinary gifts win the restaurant another Michelin star and launches him into a big-time career.

One can almost taste the refined French sauces modernized by Indian spices! The budding relationship between the starchy Madame Malory and the prickly Kadam papa (played by Om Puri) is almost as delicious.  Bon Appetit!

The Giver

The theme of how utopias morph into dystopias is popular, particularly with summer-released movies. It appears that vacation entertainment must include close calls (or warnings) with social engineering. The Giver is one of the better versions of this genre.

Many of these films open with survivors of some sort of global catastrophe, in which mankind's nastier characteristics have brought apocalyptic ruin. In this film the survivors create what they think will be a perfect, safe, and sane community built on an absolutely flat plateau, high enough to look down on a cloud-shrouded world. Modeled on Plato's Republic and Thomas More's Utopia, wise elders establish the rules for the community's survival. The same problems are identified and eliminated: inequality of wealth, which they see as giving rise to envy and ultimately crime and warfare.

This society, like that of Brave New World, has also eliminated biological family. Young women give birth, but the babies are allotted to foster families to rear. This utopia, like Plato's, humanely destroy babies born with handicaps or mental deficiencies. They also help the elderly to to to the “elsewhere,” which is achieved by an injection that “puts them to sleep.”

The community recognizes some diversity of human capabilities, for which it provides a range of jobs which are assigned to graduates of high school by these wise elders who have watched these children since birth.

Human ceremonial desires are addressed by special services when children turn nine (they are given bicycles), 18 (graduation and career assignments), and memorials for those elders who have gone to the “elsewhere.”

Everyone lives in identical housing (sterile but efficient); everyone wears the same sort of clothing; all have access to the same foods; there is no opportunity for envy. And to eliminate the slightest possibility of aggression, each person self-injects at the start of each day with something that keeps their emotions stable. This results in a culture which is cheerful, amiable, law-abiding, respectful of their governance by the wise elders, and has only the side effect that they see no color. Everything is in shades of black and white.

One elder is assigned to be the caretaker of human history: a library. One youngster from each generation is selected to apprentice to the Giver (history custodian) as a Receiver who will one day be the next Giver.  In this film, we follow the career of one young receiver, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), and one Giver (Jeff Bridges), both of whom go beyond what the elders want. The chief elder is played by Meryl Streep with complete reasonableness, a true believer that human beings must be kept from their worst instincts.

Think about Clockwork Orange, a movie that posited the notion that when you get rid of criminality you may also be getting rid of genius. A society that is only in black and white has not only cut off human horrors, but also human glories.

As utopias go, this film is not as well designed as Plato's or More's, but it shares a lot with Huxley's Brave New World. It is worth seeing and thinking about. (I  wonder if they will show it in Singapore.)

When The Game Stands Tall

I have confessed before that in all my years of schooling, I have never seen a sports event, not even football. In spite of this, my once Stanford baseball coach husband married me. Happily, we have other things in common.

However, despite my dislike for professional or even college sports, I do like many sports movies. When the Game Stands Tall is one that I liked very much!
Inspired by a true story, this film follows the football team of De La Salle High School in Concord, California, which had a winning streak of 151 straight victories over the course of 12 years---until they lost.

Their extraordinary coach, Bob Ladouceur, did what so many coaches do not: he remembered that the purpose of high school sports are to help boys grow into responsible men “who can be counted on.” School sports were begun in Victorian England with the same aim: training young men for leadership and responsibility in their communities and country.

Although I do not understand the rules and plays in football, I do understand war, and it is obvious that the elements required of warriors from the beginning of human society are the same for that substitute for the battlefield, sports. The key to both as effective forces is a keen sense of brotherhood rather than individual glory-seeking.

This is a wonderful, engrossing movie, and worth seeing and thinking about.

The November Man

When the San Francisco Chronicle hates a movie and the Santa Cruz Sentinel loves it, I go see it for myself. It is not difficult to watch Pierce Brosnan, a one-time James Bond, play a retired CIA assassin called back into action to help rescue an endangered mole planted in the Russian government.

It is also wonderful to see the good old Russians returning as excellent villains, a mirror of Putin's current brave new world of dirty tricks. Russian villains are far more satisfying than the flat-earth ignoramuses of the Middle East (ISIS and other monsters).

Since spy thrillers are also travelogues of a sort, we are treated to Serbia's Belgrade, former home of one of the worst villains around, Slobodan Milosevic, who considered rape camps and genocide a terrific way to wage war.

This is a thriller, and a very bloody one at that.  Don't expect much more than entertainment, but do consider an amazing proposal made by one of the villains. His suggestion for the world has some merit.