Friday, December 18, 2015

A New eBook from Ashok!

I have just published an EBook on Yoga: Health Healing and the Star Wars Connection. Please check it out for yourself and make members of the ISCSC as well as your students and friends aware of the influence of Yoga and Indian Philosophy on George Lucas.

Below is the link.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The United States of Europe Is Obviously Premature

September 5, 2015

Europe is a geographic designation: the westernmost peninsula of the Eurasian continental landmass. For the past 7000 years, it has also been the home of a restless mass of human beings, always on the move, settling and moving on, replacing former residents and coming up with one invention after another, the most important of which, from today's discussion, came from ancient Greece: participatory government (Athens); Rome: written and progressively enlarging law; and England: that kings are not all-powerful (Magna Carta); and all of them: the religious, scientific, industrial, and political revolutions.

Restless, creative Europe (and its child, America) have given the world modern civilization: the good things being nation-states governed by their own people under rule of law; majority populations (middle class) wealthy and healthy beyond imagining; cities clean and vibrant with culture and convenience; and citizens living in safety and civility as in no cities before now. Europe's Scientific Revolution did much of this.

Now for the bad things. Europe's restlessness has also given the world endless warfare since the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, culminating in two of the most frightening wars, the second of which, World War II, drew in the entire world and a third (the Cold War) almost destroyed the planet. The bad things frightened Europe's elites so much that they determined to do something radical: follow the example of the United States of America and create a United States of Europe, one in which war would be impossible.

The American example is not easy to replicate, however. Even with extraordinary founders, we had a common language and dominant religion, the good luck of geography, endless natural resources, non-threatening neighbors, and time to grow, we still had a horrific civil war over the divisive issue of slavery and still have some political alienation dogging our unity. We are only fully united when at war or during crisis. We still have to remind ourselves that we are one nation.

But Europe was very delusional to imagine that it could be a United States of Europe! There is no common language and nationalism is not dead. Watch World Cup games to see how fast national identity resurges!

Talk to the ordinary Europeans to learn how they detest rules issues from Brussels. Talk to Northern Europeans to learn how they hate the leisure life style in Southern Europe they are taxed for.  These are taxes without representation. Europe really is not one entity---until it is under attack.

And we forget that there are four Europes: Western, Southern, Northern, and Eastern.

But there is nothing like real threats to unite people who are quarreling or have been asleep. The US umbrella let them live the good life for 70 years, but now comes the storm. The Russian wolf is not dead! The New Russia is eating at Eastern Europe and extorting the rest of Europe with threats of cutting off their gas in winter. Russia is prowling the once pacified Scandinavia and even the Swedes are alarmed. They had better be united and revive their defense budgets and industries. NATO is needed and the US will help those who help themselves.

The flood of Muslim refugees, once regarded as cheap labor or welfare fodder are now seen as security threats, militant fifth columns in their midst, creating adolescent jihadis. They are no longer seen as easily assimilated. They are a huge and growing problem. Europe depends more and more on INTERPOL for protection.

The United States of Europe, the EU, was premature in concept. Their really is no single governing body in Brussels is acceptable to all Europeans. However, there is no reason why there should not be many agencies throughout the sovereign European states that can work together. NATO is one of them. The banking organizations established by the Dumbarton Oaks conference at the end of World War II (World Bank, IMF, etc) still work well. The point is that there is a modern Europe and it is is under attack. Their enemies are identifiable and they are our enemies too.

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, September 1, 2015

Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, by George Friedman, Doubleday, 2015.

Book Review by:
Laina Farhat-Holzman

I read George Friedman's intelligence reports almost every day, and reviewed one of his books: The Next Hundred Years, several years ago. Friedman is chairman and founder of Stratfor (Strategic Forecasts), a leading private intelligence company. I think he, and several of his collages (including Robert D. Kaplan) are the best analysts of international geopolitics. Few other analysts regard geography as a major player in world affairs, an oversight that makes so many get it wrong.

For the past few years, his reports have focused on the world's borderlands, those faultlines where countries or ethnicities meet with latent hostility. His latest book, Flashpoints, explores Europe's past and present (and potential future) with an eye to the borderlands which can become flashpoints for conflict.

The only other scholar mentioning this issue was Samuel P. Huntington, with his much discussed Clash of Civilizations. Huntington noted that ever border shared with Muslim countries is, and has always been bloody. This observation has proven itself many times over in the past decades.

Europe has given much to the world in the past 500 years: the scientific revolution, religious reformations, political liberalism with participatory governance, and nationalism: the creation of nation states ideally governed by their own people in democracy. The modern world with its peaceful civil life, rule of law, and amenities available for all that were once the exclusive luxury of the ruling elites. We are only talking about Western Europe here, along with its British offspring, the United States.

But there is another side to Europe: a region of catastrophic conflicts along its many geographic and political flashpoints. The  “Enlightenment” on the 18th century has been much admired by the educated among us because it largely discarded religion as a governing institution, replacing it with “reason.” Friedman explores the underbelly of the Enlightenment, in which some of its prized institutions gave rise to unanticipated and ugly consequences.

Nationalism can be a benign institution when it only means that a country's people love their country and its culture. However, when love of country morphs into hatred of other countries, nationalism becomes an excuse for violence. Europe's two world wars exemplify this.

Reason, replacing religion, can morph into ideologies that demand as much fanaticism as that of the true believers of religion. Furthermore, the decline of religion in Europe has left the young with a nihilism that discards both national identity and cultural identity; it becomes an “anything goes” culture that is ill equipped to defend itself against such fanatical ideologies as neo-Nazism and Militant Islam.

With this book, Friedman provides us with the definitive analysis of today's Europe, exploring Europe's geography, political life, and history. The geography alone dictates regional and country borders. His important contribution is the interaction of geography, history, and politics.

In his preface, he reminds us that
     “Between 1914 and 1945 roughly 100 million Europeans died from political causes: war, genocide, purges, planned starvation, and all the rest. It was particularly striking in Europe, which had, over the course of the previous four hundred years, collectively conquered most of the world   and reshaped the way humanity thought of itself.”

How could this happen in a place that in 1913 represented the highest level of civilization, rich in culture, with a population similarly educated, with rulers related by blood (offspring of Queen Victoria) and institutions such as the military trained with the same standards and values?

Friedman shows that Europe's descent into hell in the 31 years between 1914 and 1945 was not a fluke. It was the natural outcome of the emergence of the negative sides of all the institutions it most valued---and the fact that geography matters.

Europe's unification is based on ideology and optimism, neither of these enough to overcome the geographic, cultural, and behavioral patterns of European history. Friedman explores the issues, and this book makes for fascinating reading.

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
August 2015

Mission Impossible

It is impossible to believe that Tom Cruise is as old as he is yet looks as young  as he does! My goodness, in this action film, he goes through so many narrow scrapes with death, gets beatings from goons who loom over him by at least a foot, barely gets his body turned into road kill in motorcycle chases, and survives a car chase in Morocco (of all places), careening in a car down Kasbah stairs mysteriously empty of goats, chickens, and people (must be siesta time) and even with his car flipping over many times, emerges with hair and teeth intact. Wow.

This has to be the best of the Mission Impossible series, a two-hour-plus romp through Washington, London, Paris, and somewhere in Morocco. His special agency has been dumped by the CIA and is now an outlaw, pursued by both the Cartel (bad guys), the CIA itself, and an ambiguous and beautiful British agent who helps Cruise---and yet appears to be working for the Cartel. What is she up to?

Like all such spy capers, this is a vicarious travel movie filled with dangers and fantasies for audiences that I would hope would not do such things! But what fun.

Man From U.N.C.L.E

How many of you remember the old 1960s  Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV program with Robert Vaughn playing Napoleon Solo and David McCallum (who today plays “Ducky” on NCIS) playing Illya Kuryakin? The two men were secret agents who, even though from opposite sides of the then Cold War, were working together to fight enemies of both under an ambiguous agency called United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (UNCLE). Nice idea, but quite impossible for such paranoid times. But it struck a chord with many who wished there could be such cooperation.

The current movie gives us two new actors playing Solo and Kuryakin: Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin. Both are splendid specimens of male muscle and Cavill is as much of an Esquire man as James Bond. Hugh Grant plays a British senior agent who compels the two to work together. One other agent comes their way: Alicia Vikander (she of Ex Machina), Gaby. Is she an enemy or an agent of one other country? She is an Austrian, daughter of a missing (defected) nuclear physicist who may have gone rogue.

The three are pitted against a neo-Nazi group developing Nukes for sale to rogues (the film is set in the 1960s). Those Nazis never give up.

What is interesting about these three agents is that not a single one of them is devoted to his or her own country. Napoleon Solo was a jewel thief so adept in breaking in to any place that the CIA recruited him from prison. It was a deal he was not free to refuse.

Illya Kuryakin, the Russian, was not a happy agent either. His father had been executed for treason and his Soviet bosses held it over him. (I think he ran away with this film! Hunky!)

And Gaby, the Austrian beauty, was as competent as either of the men---sometimes even besting them---but it was difficult to determine whose side she was on. Her loyalties were ambiguous. And, of course, it is always difficult to determine whose side the British were on! Hugh Grant's Waverly is charmingly coldhearted.

This is a bit different from the usual spy thrillers in which at least our side has agents of unquestioned loyalty. But then again, this is a summer spy movie: lots of action, a bit of potential romance (Kuryakin is protective of Gaby), and enough chases and excitement through overseas locales to keep a summer audience happy.

I cannot imagine why the critics carped so much.  I thought the film was fun.

Jimmy's Hall

This Anglo-Irish gem of a movie presents the two side of the Irish soul: the joyful, joking nature of Irish good humor and the terribly destructive side that has plagued Ireland since the 16th century. These otherwise joyous people live in a dark place---a self-destructive culture of civil discord.

Jimmy Gralton (played by Barry Ward), returns to Ireland in 1933, after 10 years of enforced exile. Ireland had just come out of their deadly Civil War, a war of liberation from British control. A new government is in power, and people hope for a return to a peaceful life.

The antagonists in this movie (and in Ireland) were the Catholic Church, one of the more conservative branches of that religion in the Europe of the day, the land owners with their historic power, and the Revolutionary Workers' Group, with which Jimmy had been connected before his exile.

In 1933, any sort of progressive or liberal movement was tainted by the fear of Communism, which was unfortunate but not without cause. Stalin's Soviet Union was actively sowing seeds of revolution and infiltrating movements that might otherwise be relatively benign.

Jimmy's return to his village to help his aging mother farm their land is greeted with a deluge of young people, eager to have him reopen the community center that he ran 10 years before. It was a hall that would house young people dancing, classes during the daytime (literature and handicrafts) and a place for people to just meet and have discussions.

To the local priest and the landowners, this reopening smacked of everything that they feared: discussion groups that could hamper their control (such as the practice of evicting poor tenant farmers). The priest feared the corruption of Irish culture (traditional) with the introduction of the dancing and new music, jazz recordings from New York, representing to the priest the passions of “darkest Africa.”

The movie juxtaposes the joyousness of the center with the anger and fear of the powers that be. Unfortunately, the Communist threat hung over more than just Ireland in that day. This sort of reaction from the establishment was not exclusive to Ireland. We had our own Red Scare during the 1920s.

The dancing in the film is marvelous. All the Irish actors look like real people, real Irish people, not actors. The community center is presented as a breath of fresh air, an innocent place, not the den of iniquity as seen by the landowners and Church.  But once more, Jimmy (a real person, by the way), will face exile. It is very difficult for an American audience to see what sin he committed to become so demonized by the powers that be. But it did happen.

Lovely film! Worth your time to see it.

No Escape

This was, unfortunately, just another Summer movie, although it could have been better. The story follows an American family, husband (Owen Wilson), wife, and two young daughters, arriving in an (unnamed) South Asian country that we learn later borders on Vietnam.  The husband has a new job with a large water treatment company. On the plane, they meet a British man (played by Pierce Brosnan, who seems to know his way around. As they are staying in the same hotel, Brosnan offers them a ride.

On the first night they are there, Wilson goes out to buy a newspaper and finds himself in the midst of what looks like a coup d'etat. The rebel mob is looking for Americans to kill.

A scenario like this is not that far fetched! We are indeed living in dangerous times and running into crazed mobs (or killers with agendas) is not that rare any more. One need only recall Mumbai a couple of years ago and the Arab Spring countries which turned ugly quickly.

So---the rest of the film is about the family trying to escape the slaughter----and the country, and the Brosnan character turning up every so often to lend aid.

Two things in this film particularly annoyed me. The first was trying to make Owen Wilson seem like a competent action figure (he looked rightly frightened through much of the film) and a bit of left-wing nonsense spouted by Brosnan that the writers seemed to think necessary.

In the face of rabble killers slaughtering people, raping, and even resorting to torture (trying to force a little girl to shoot her own father), Brosnan offers an explanation.  These are people who have been exploited by your government and mine, he says, indicating that projects such as the water purification company are just trying to get the host country in debt so that western colonizers can take over.

Talk about ingratitude!  We travel the world with projects to help Third World countries have better lives----and someone thinks this is exploitation? Rotten movie, rotten ideas! Save your money.

After seeing the wretched No Escape, I had hopes of seeing a good art movie: Phoenix, a German film with a promising premise. This film follows a German Jewish woman in 1946, Nellie Lenz, a survivor from a concentration camp. She is recovering from extensive plastic surgery to repair her disfigured face after having survived being shot. Her caregiver is another survivor, Lene, who is intent on convincing Nellie to leave Germany and start a new life in Israel.

Nellie, a former cabaret singer, is focused on finding her German husband, the love of her life, and resuming their life together. Her husband, “Johnny,” was her pianist partner in the cabaret. As she recovers (still with black eyes from the surgery), she haunts Berlin looking for her husband, whom she finds working in a sleazy cabaret in the American sector of the city.

The story is supposed to be about “identity.” Nellie has a new face. Will anybody recognize her? Will her husband know her?

She tracks him down and he does not know her, despite all sorts of clues. He realizes that this woman sort of resembles his dead wife and he knows that she would be entitled to an inheritance and (we guess) recompense from the German government. He proposes that she stay with him and he will train her to impersonate Nellie; they will then collect the money and split it.

My trouble with this movie was disbelief.  I could not believe that Nellie could be so stupid that despite evidence provided by Lene that Johnny betrayed her to the Gestapo to save his own hide, she could make excuses for this and still love him.

I also could not believe that Johnny could be so obtuse that he did not see that this was his wife! As the movie unfolds, the holes in the story get more difficult to ignore.

What should have been a gratifying revenge story was instead a half-baked exploration of “identity.” I didn't buy any of it.

Are Arabs Losing Interest in the Palestinians?

August 29, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist whom I once knew as editor of the English language Tehran Journal in 1978 (while the Shah was still there) has lived in exile since the Islamic Revolution and is a hot potato. He often plays loose with facts, writing things that conservatives love to hear, sometimes without substantiation.

His latest column, however, however, makes a certain amount of sense. The Arab world is in such disarray that the Palestinian issue pales in comparison.

It is a fact that most of the foreign press in Israel has moved to Beirut and Istanbul to cover the sectarian wars in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. That's where the action is today.

One Arab columnist, Walid Abimerchid, notes that there is a growing fatigue with the whole Palestinian issue. He says the so-called peace process has run into sand. Even international peace-broker Tony Blair has resigned amid general indifference and French President Francois Hollande has reconsidered restarting an initiative in which no one has interest.

Hamas has split into three factions, and ISIS killers loom over the Sinai Peninsula in neighboring Egypt. Arabs feel safe nowhere today, certainly not in their own countries. But, ironically, Palestinians in the West Bank can feel safe because they know the Israelis will protect them!

Even in Gaza, says Taheri, most people secretly believe that Israel is their ultimate protection against ISIS fighters trying to strike roots in the Sinai.  He certainly has a point.

Think about it:  Look at what happened to Palestinian refugees living in the Yarmouk refuge camp in Syria: they were massacred by both Bashar Assad's troops and ISIS. Note how Christians, Yazidis, and Druze minorities are treated by Islamists in Syria and Iraq and how they are treated in Israel.

Jordan is bracing for an attack by ISIS in Zarqa, a Palestinian-majority city near Syria. This would bring ISIS close to the West Bank and Israel proper, in which case, some Jordanians believe that the Jewish state would stop its spread. They would probably have to do so.

One Lebanese commentator and TV personality, Eyad Abuchaqra, calls dwindling interest in the Palestinians “Palestinitis.” Arabs have much larger problems. Arabs are much more worried about Iran than they are about Israel, and the Palestinian problem that has served as a unifying issue for so long no longer cuts it.

Only the Iranian government is trying desperately to keep it alive. They keep flogging the Israeli and Palestinian issue in an attempt, unconvincingly, to persuade Arabs that they (Iran) are on the side of the Arab world.

The recent Iranian “Jerusalem Day” celebration, a big TV extravaganza in which once more they promised to “liberate Palestine” and wipe Israel off the map, created little interest and a big yawn in the Arab world. It even creates a big yawn in Iran among the majority of people as well, as do many of the state propaganda pieces. All one has to do is see how many American flags appeared on cell phones when the announcement was made that the nuclear deal was reached.

Iranians are so eager to join the world community that it is palpable! They are tired of their revolution; tired of being a pariah state; and certainly have a big case of Palestinitis too. Why should they not?

Iran has very little reason to hate Israel. This is an artificial hatred. They share no borders, had a long history of amity and cooperation, and Jews themselves lived for 2500 years in three Persian Empires. The Islamic Republic of Iran is indeed an enemy of Israel, but it is also not much of a friend of the Iranian people over whom it rules with an unpleasantly iron hand.

One rather shocking bit of news is that there has been an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Iraq, carried out by Shiite militias since 2003. The number of  Palestinians there has dropped from 25,000 to 6,000 according to researcher Khaled Abu Toameh (August 10, 2015). Not a word from the UN or the Palestinian Authority, both more interested in Israeli “crimes.”

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


August 22, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

Tevye, the father living in revolutionary times of rapid change, struggled with what to do about traditions in the much loved musical, Fiddler on the Roof. This Russian-Jewish story, later a Broadway play and then a movie, played to audiences of many other cultures around the world who understood the issues very well. The 20th century was beset with traditions biting the dust. Children were in rebellion everywhere and parents did not know what to do about it.

My own view of “tradition” is sourly expressed in my web site: “Tradition? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive.” Indeed, history will bear me out. Most traditions around the world have to do with what woman may not do---or what must be done to them to keep them “under control.”

In an attempt to be unbiased, 20th century anthropologists have reversed what seemed to be cultural jingoism of their predecessors in criticizing the practices of the world's non-western societies. Western explorers and colonial conquerors were horrified by some of the practices they found: bound feet in China, the harems in the Muslim world, widows compelled to sacrifice themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres in India, forced child marriages everywhere, and widespread child slavery.

Fashions in scholarship change. By mid-20th century, Anthropology had swung the other way and tried to find reasons for native practices rather than judging them through our own biases. Political fashions entered too, and the new fog of political correctness blew in with Edward Said, who managed to bully a generation of Islamic scholars into fear of saying anything negative about Muslim culture.

The world has recently had an opportunity to see what kind of “traditions” the culture of Islam has resurrected from the past. Even Edward Said, were he still alive, could not paint them in rosy colors. Islamists resolutely target women, who, to avoid beating or worse, must be invisible, covered from head to toe in black, and hidden from the public arena. When monsters such as ISIS take territory, they resurrect such “traditions” as female slave markets, religiously-sanctified rape of girls as young as nine (citing the “tradition” of the Hadith), and decapitation by the sword and amputation of limbs for theft. Tradition!

And then there is African tradition. One infamous Africa scholar claimed that democracy should not be their model. The “great chief” model was a fine “tradition” that had always worked in Africa. How well it worked has been seen in a parade of villainous, thieving, dictatorships-for-life. Another scholar I heard at a conference lamented the demise of traditional village languages and scorned the popularity of English and French as languages of the colonialists. I asked him how tradition languages would allow people to talk to each other?  He had no answer.

President Obama took on the “tradition” issue in his July visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, which set everybody back on their heels! He bluntly told his hosts (I am paraphrasing) that just because certain practices have been done for centuries does not make them right! It is not right, he said, to abuse half your population just because they are female. It is not right to marry off underage girls, to deprive them of education and afflict them with genital mutilation.  This does nothing but keep your country from its full potential. It is not right to persecute people because of whom they love. (This is a very hot-button issue in Africa. Homosexuality can bring death sentences in many places, and at a minimum, is illegal everywhere. It was very bold of President Obama to even mention it in public.)

He went on to discuss another most pervasive issue. “Corruption is an old tradition, but it does not have to be permanent. I come from Chicago, which also had a tradition of corruption. It can be challenged and changed. You can change it too.” He also discussed democratic elections, and the reluctance of some leaders to step down from power. Presidents for life, he noted, are not compatible with democracy.”

Bravo, Mr. President!

Tradition?  Bah, humbug!

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

Let's Take a Long View of the Iran Deal.

July 25, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

The exhausted negotiators had been at it for 20 months, the last many hours of which were nearly non-stop, with the possibility that this important deal might collapse. The United States, Iran, five members of the UN Security Council, and the EU had labored over this negotiation to convince Iran that it was in its best interest to reduce its nuclear program's potential of developing nuclear weapons. Iran had long (and unconvincingly) claimed its nuclear interests were peaceful only, but the world knew otherwise.

What made this deal ultimately possible was a confluence of factors:

     o     Extraordinary diplomatic skills of US Ambassador John Kerry and Iran's tightrope-walking Mohammad Zarif, both under great pressure from their respective homelands.

     o     The carrot and stick of smothering sanctions in Iran that, despite their denials, compelled them to the negotiating table. They were hurting badly.

     o     The usual spoilers on the negotiating team, Russia and China, really did not want a nuclear Iran on their borders either, and China wants good relations with the US.

     o     China and the Europeans would all like Iran to stop being a pariah state and reenter the world business community where they belong. This deal would begin this process.

     o     President Obama's longstanding political philosophy stated when he took office is that you talk to your enemies! Negotiating can open doors inconceivable when you were shunning them. His policies have since opened Burma (Myanmar) with growing improvement, Cuba (about time!), and Iran---which, I believe, will have the same results that opening China had. The Revolutionary Guard in Iran are already afraid of that.

Now, let us look at negotiation-making. It is like sausage making. It must be done behind closed doors until it is done. It was disgusting to see, on the day that the negotiation signing was announced, that all sorts of political figures who had not seen the document at all were asked by the press to weigh in with their uninformed opinions! Their opinions are political, not technical, nor informed. This is bad journalism and totally ignores the historic long view. What are their various objections and their alternatives?

     o     Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu considers the deal a disaster. He also considered the interim deal a disaster, yet it was not. His preferred deal would be no nuclear program in Iran at all, which the Iranians would never accept. The alternative would be open warfare with Iran, which the world will not accept.

     o     The Republican candidates for President (and leading Republicans) all condemned the deal before reading it. Reading it might be nice. The issue appears to be that President Obama would get credit for a peace initiative they did not want him to have. Their alternative would be to make war on Iran, something the American public most certainly does not want. A unilateral sanctions system would be terrible.

     o     The Iranian public is jubilant about this agreement. They are heartbreakingly eager to rejoin the world community. The Islamic hardliners are gnashing their teeth, fearing this very thing. There will be trouble over this.

     o     President Obama has made the point that by taking the nuclear issue off the table, we can really focus on Iran's current bad behavior in a range of other areas: the Americans they are holding in their prisons, their support for terrorists, their support for Assad in Syria, and more. But there are also areas in which we can have common interests: ISIS is one of them, as Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan.

     The agreement stretches over a decade and longer. As a historian, I find it very difficult to imagine Iran still being an Islamic Republic then. This is 2500-year-old Persia we are talking about! Islam is an unnatural fit for them, and the aging Ayatollahs and the Iraian youth loathe the Republican Guard.

When we look at the Middle East in a decade or more in the future, it is going to be a very different place than it is today. In my next column, I want to look at Turkey, the Arab world, and the re-emergence of modern Persian Iran.

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a writer, Historian, and Lecturer. She is author of
God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or

Civilization As Seen By Dr. Perumpanani

Civilization As Seen By Dr. Perumpanani
Benjamin L. Landis

In the Spring 2013 issue of the Comparative Civilizations Review Dr. Abbey Perumpanani proposed a definition of the term and concept of civilization “…as an inclusive scientific definition that can bring about a convergence in the widely differing historical views on civilization”.  He proposed the following definition:  “A civilization is a dynamical system that supports endogenous cultural development through economic activity aggregated across elements of its data.”

Dr. Perumpanani’s definition contains, unfortunately, four fatal flaws.

The first to consider is his use of the term “dynamical”.  It is apparent that he uses this term to differentiate civilizations from pre-civilizations.  How does Dr. Perumpanani define “dynamic”? He does not give us his definition.  The truth is that pre-civilized societies were often dynamic.  We need only consider the evolution of the human species.  It exudes dynamism.  The domestication of cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep about 10,000-13,000 B.C.  The creation and development of agriculture as the way of life for the majority of humankind about 11,000-9,000 B.C.  These acts of human ingenuity enabled humankind to continue to progress.  The horse was domesticated around 4,000 B.C.  The spear was invented.  As well as the bow and arrow.  The plow.  The hoe.  Crop irrigation.  The development of new societal organizations as a result of the sedentary life imposed by agriculture.  The development of new structures for living space, for storage space, for controlling and guarding livestock.  The wheel was invented about 6500-4500 B.C. and the wheeled vehicle about 4500-3300 B.C.

Dynamism may be in the eye of the beholder.  It is difficult to measure with regard to human activity, although it is relatively simple to quantify and measure in the physical sciences.  Dr. Perumpanani cannot reasonably use it to separate pre-civilization humankind from civilization humankind unless he can devise means to define, categorize, and measure levels of human dynamism.

Dr. Perumpanani’s use of the term “dynamical” to describe an essential element of civilization fails another test also.  As demonstrated by Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee, civilizations have a life-cycle from genesis through growth or development to disintegration and termination.  When a civilization ceases to develop, it passes into a static condition.  In other words, its dynamism descends to zero.  The most striking example of this phenomenon is the history of Egyptian Civilization.  It ceased growing at about the end of the Old Kingdom circa 2300 B.C., but continued as a living fossil until it was conquered by Islamic armies representing the Syriac Civilization in 642 A.D.  For almost 3,000 years the Egyptian Civilization was dynamically nil, preserving and repeating what its creators had developed up until about 2300 B.C.  Unless one considers war, territorial conquest, and social rift as a sign of dynamism.  If not, what does one call a non-dynamic civilization? Per Dr. Perumpanani, without dynamism it can no longer be called a civilization.  He needs to clarify this issue, if he expects his definition to be taken seriously.  The Egyptian Civilization is only the most striking example.  The same phenomenon occurred in all extinct civilizations, with the exceptions of the Andean (Inca) Civilization and the Mexic (Aztec) Civilization which were prematurely ended by Spanish conquistadores.  (It is regrettable that Dr. Perumpanani apparently has not read the work of Dr. Arnold J. Toynbee, which he describes as having a “somewhat indecent corpulence.”  Just because Toynbee’s “A Study of History” takes up eleven volumes (plus a gazetteer and glossary) does not mean that it is indecently overweight. A gigantic subject, i.e., human history, cannot be adequately portrayed, studied, and analyzed in a couple of volumes.  I feel that Dr. Perumpanani was simply not up to the task of reading “A Study Of History”.  If he had, he certainly would have a far greater understanding of the phenomenon of civilization than what he may have gleaned from his mathematics and medical texts.)

The second fatal flaw is the use of the adjective “endogenous” to qualify “cultural development” in his definition.  “Endogenous” means “proceeding from within; derived internally”.  This is an inaccurate description of the cultural development of civilizations.  Except probably, but not definitively, for the primary civilizations, i.e., those deriving directly from primitive societies (Egyptiac, Andean, Mayan, Sumeric, Indus Culture, Minoan, Shang Culture) (I use A.J. Toynbee’s terminology), all subsequent civilizations developed culturally with imports from preceding civilizations, from primitive societies, or from contemporaneous civilizations.  As an example, let us look at our Western Civilization.  Our culture is primarily derived from Greek, Roman, and Christian inputs.  Our culture was not created in a vacuum.  It was not created in isolation.  To state that our culture was endogenously developed is so inaccurate as to border on a falsehood.  Once again, it demonstrates Dr. Perumpanani’s deep misunderstanding of the phenomenon of civilization.
Another striking and contemporary example of the porosity of civilizational cultural development is what is occurring in the world today and since about the end of the Second World War.  Our Western Civilization is westernizing the other still living civilizations (Russian Orthodox, Islamic, Hindu, Far Eastern).  They are slowly adopting, more or less willingly, the features of our civilization: Democracy, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, our Music, our Literature, our Sports, etc.  Eventually, but not in this century, as Dr. Targowski predicts, the world will be westernized, but at the same time, aspects of these other civilizations will seep into Western culture. Since the first civilizations there has not been endogenous cultural development in any civilization.
The third fatal flaw in Dr. Perumpanani’s definition occurs by correlating cultural development with economic activity, i.e., …”cultural development through economic activity…”  History has demonstrated that there is not a necessary correlation between “economic activity” and “cultural development”.  One striking example is the Seventeenth Century.  Economic activity was generally at a lower level than in the preceding century, yet scientific, educational, and artistic development flourished.  For example, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Milton, Monteverdi, van Dyck, Racine, Corneille, Stradivarius all lived and worked in the Seventeenth Century.  And they represent a very small sample of the intellectual ferment that characterized this economically disastrous century.  I encourage Dr. Perumpanani to read Geoffrey Parker’s “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century”.  It’s only one volume, but lengthy. I also cite the Hellenic Civilization (Again I use Toynbee’s terminology.) during the early years of Rome’s mastery of the Mediterranean world when economic activity flourished, but cultural development was virtually nil, the Romans merely repeating what the Greeks had achieved. It is up to Dr. Perumpanani to substantiate his claim that cultural development and economic activity are correlated.
The fourth fatal flaw in his definition is the phrase “…cultural development through economic activity aggregated across elements of its data.”  As a previous commentator, Wallace Gray wrote in the Fall 2013 issue of Comparative Civilizations Review “…If he’ll try to explain to me in non-mathematical language what he means by the phrase… ‘economic activity aggregated across elements of its data.’ ” I do not know whether Dr. Perumpanani has responded to Mr. Wallace’s request.  But I go one step farther than Mr. Wallace and ask, “What data?”  Dr. Perumpanani’s entire definition, his entire concept of linking mathematics and history, is inevitably based on the data selected to determine whether a culture is a civilization or not.  Even more, his data must also be capable of determining at what point a civilization is in its life cycle: genesis, growth, culmination, stagnation, decline, and death.  Yet he gives us no hint as to, not only what the data should be, but also how many elements of data are needed.

The flaws I have described above render Dr. Perumpanani’s definition totally useless, stillborn.  There are many errors of knowledge and judgment in his exposition attempting to clarify and explain his definition, but since the definition itself is fatally flawed, there is no need to treat in detail the eleven pages of exposition that follow the proclamation of the definition..        
I do not agree with him when he writes that there is an “absence of a…consensus definition of the term civilization.”  If one were to ask a high school student for a definition of the term, what would that student do?  He or she would go to a dictionary.  Every dictionary contains a definition of “civilization”.  “A condition of human society marked by an advanced stage of development in the arts and sciences and by corresponding social, political, and cultural complexity”.  “An advanced state of human society in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached”  “État de développement politique, social, économique atteint par certaines sociétés et considéré comme une idéale à atteindre”.  [State of political, social, economic development attained by certain societies and considered an ideal to be reached] (Translation by the author)  Finally, I cite the definition found in The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles: “2. The action or process of being civilized 3. (More usually) Civilized condition or state”.  I further cite this dictionary’s definition of the verb “civilize”: “To make CIVIL; to bring out of a state of barbarism; to instruct in the arts of life; to enlighten and refine”.  I find the Oxford Universal Dictionary’s definition to be quite inadequate and reeking of the Eighteenth Century.

The other definitions cited demonstrate that there exist quite usable definitions of the term “civilization” and that there is a striking similarity among them.  In my mind, I tend to condense them into the following succinct definition: The most advanced and most complex social, political, economic,  cultural, and military environment thus far achieved by humankind.
So, with a plethora of quite valid definitions of the term, why do academics and other scholars chase their tails to come up with another?  I believe that the answer resides in these persons attempting confusedly to mix a definition with the characteristics of “civilization”.  A definition categorizes.  Describing the characteristics or features of some object or concept is an entirely different exercise.  For example: in the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language cited earlier, the definition of bronze is “any of various alloys consisting essentially of copper and tin, the tin content not exceeding eleven percent”.  The definition does not address the characteristics of bronze, copper, or tin or of their various combinations.  Doing so would be beyond the scope of definition, i.e., categorizing, and would probably require a whole page of text, if not more.

I have reread the thirty-one so-called definitions of civilization on the home page of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC).  Not a single one can be legitimately called a definition.  They are ruminations on the characteristics of civilizations.  The Society would be well advised to change the heading of these ruminations to something like “Thoughts on the Characteristics of Civilizations”.  I was also very much surprised to note that none of these academics and scholars made any reference to the archaeologist, anthropologist, and pre-historian V. Gordon Childe (1892-1957).  He is considered by some to have been the pre-eminent pre-historian and archaeologist of the Twentieth Century.  Childe proposed ten criteria to distinguish civilized cultures from pre-civilized cultures.  They are: (1) Large and thickly populated settlements (2) A variety of specialized occupations (3) The ability to produce and store food and other surplus goods (4) Large public buildings (5) A variety and ranking of social positions (6) Writing and a system of notation (7) The development of science (8) The development of a style of art (9) Trade over long distances (10) Social control based on a central government rather than kinship.

Childe’s criteria are far more reasonable, pertinent, and coherent than the ramblings of the persons cited by the ISCSC.  What can we say about them?  Are these criteria essential to distinguish a civilized culture from a pre-civilized culture?  Are there certain criteria named that are not essential?  Are there criteria that need to be added?  I believe that these questions would be a fruitful discussion on the ISCSC blog, far more relevant to the purpose of the Society than “Laina at the Movies”.  And could also lead to articles in the Comparative Civilizations Review (CCR) as well as in the newsletter.

Two points I wish to make before ending this “somewhat indecently lengthy” comment.  Civilizations do not spring fully grown and armed as did Minerva from the head of Jupiter.  The transition from the highest level of primitive culture to the state of a civilization takes place over an extended period of time, even centuries (Our own Western Civilization is an example.) and the various criteria cited by Childe do not develop at the same time, nor at the same rhythm.  In my opinion one of the last, if not the last, of the criteria to develop is that of writing.  The Andean (Inca) Civilization is an example.  When it was destroyed by Spanish conquistadores its written language was embryonic, knotted ropes which have been thought to be mnemonic.  However, recent studies are interpreting these knotted cords as an embryonic written language.  So, the Andean Civilization was still evolving when its life was prematurely terminated.

Now, my final comment.  I believe that it behooves the ISCSC to give up trying to create a definition of civilization that combines what is normally considered to be a definition and the fundamental characteristics of the concept of civilization.  It cannot be done successfully.  The Society needs to develop a consensus of those elements of a civilization that are essential to distinguishing it from the highest level of primitive culture.  The Society needs to encourage a more precise use of the term “civilization.”  At present, as well as in the past, academics and scholars in different disciplines have felt free to label almost any social group as a civilization.  This is an insult to the efforts and achievements that humankind has made since the first real civilizations.

I also believe that the Society should develop a consensus list of all past and present civilizations, such as Dr. Toynbee did for his monumental “A Study of History”.  As well as a list of those cultures that can logically be considered to be arrested and abortive civilizations (Again I use Toynbee’s terminology.)  Doing these will not only further the study and understanding of civilizations, which is the purpose of the Society, but will also (One can hope) take the Society out of going to the movies with Laina.

We Americans Misread Our Enemies

August 15, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

We are the global giant who never seems to realize our own strength. Unlike so many others around the world who love to boast about how powerful they are, we almost never do this. Think about the Nazi goose-stepping marches in the 1930s, huge swastika flags unfurled, announcing to the world their intentions. Think about the annual Soviet May Day parades with marching Red Armies, tanks, displays of missiles, and aircraft in formation overhead.

These were the warlike adversaries that we thought could take over the world and were a real threat to us. The Nazi Thousand-Year Reich, however, became a mountain of rubble by 1945, having made the mistake of taking us (yes, indolent, unmilitary America) on. (Soviet Russia and Britain were no walk in the park either.)

Fascist Japan swallowed up the Asian colonies of Britain, Netherlands, and American Philippines in a flash and began devouring giant China. They woke sleeping America with an attack on Pearl Harbor, nearly destroying our Pacific Fleet, but that awakening was a huge mistake. Four years later, Japan was a smoldering heap.

We went into a great panic when the Soviet Union began to challenge us as the sole superpower. We actually thought they might take over the world.

When Japan became an economic giant, we thought they would soon clean our clock! They would overcome our economy. We thought the same about the Saudis and their enormous oil wealth. Next came the panic about the Chinese Miracle. Add to that the European Union. Talking Heads panicked that both would demolish America and relegate us to second class status.

When the economic panics proved silly, we turned to military ones. Iraq suddenly loomed enormous as a threat to us, a threat so large that we had to go to war! Now, the same Jeremiahs who sold us that war are preaching a war with Iran, for the same reason: that somehow, this third-rate Middle Eastern Islamic Republic will soon be able to send a nuclear bomb with an intercontinental missile that can hit the United States! Wow!

What is the matter with us that we get into such panics all the time? Every one of these predictions has been wrong! The Nazis were a menace and an alliance of the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union properly took them out. It was inevitable that they would fall, and their demise was already in the works internally even before the war began.

The dangerous Soviet Union, armed with nuclear weapons, also fell of its own weight in due time. Our patient policy of containment, proxy wars (some of them unnecessary), and intelligence, ultimately paid off.

Iraq was a mistake. Not taking out a bad dictator, but the long-term American policy of trying to plant democracies where they cannot take root. We are starting to see this; at least President Obama understands the folly of this policy and has resisted the hysteria to engage where panic leads.

Iran, he says, has a nasty government. It is a middling power that only has the ability to create trouble where opportunity permits. It has a young population eager to rejoin the modern world and a middle class ready for commercial opening. The only opposition to the Iran deal in Iran are the hard liners; they have the most to lose---their stranglehold.

The US is not the only country that sometimes does not know its own strength. Israel is another one. While Netanyahu imagines Iran to be ten feet tall, his own Security people see it for what it is: a country with more problems than advantages. For all of Iran's big talk and chest beating in their neighborhood, they have a terrible economy that even the unfreezing of their money will not immediately help. Their petroleum infrastructure needs an infusion of retrofitting right now. The country has a water crisis that dwarfs that of California. And their birthrate is plummeting. And that's just for starts.

Has anyone asked: Why would they lob a missile at us----or at Israel? What would they expect back?

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

Racism Has a Forgotten History.

August 8, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

We Americans in our self-centeredness think we invented racism and slavery, but we did not. We were one of the few societies in the world to outlaw it when it was a major part of our economy. Others were England, which outlawed the slave trade in 1772 and Russia in 1861 in freeing their serfs. France abolished Caribbean slavery in the French Revolution in 1794 and Napoleon shamefully reinstated it in 1802.

Slavery has been a human institution from the beginning of civilization, from the time that one group could compel another to do work that they did not want to do for themselves. Small hunter-gatherer families did not have enough food to support slaves. But once agriculture provided surplus, slavery became feasible. With settled communities, such tasks as irrigation trench digging, mining, and other large projects required labor beyond the voluntary labor of the citizens.

Mining (when metallurgy was invented) was particularly terrible and required forced labor. Seafaring soon required forced labor as well, which slavery, usually punishment, met the need. Roman galleys were infamous for this use, as well as using slaves for their favorite entertainment, the lethal Roman gladiatorial games.

Warfare from the ancient world until quite recently provided a steady stream of  slave labor. Female slave labor was provided largely in marriage and in warfare as well. This was the way of the world and nobody thought it could be otherwise.

Africa and skin color entered the story early. The Egyptians plundered the Sudan (their near South) for black-skinned slaves who provided them with slaves of both genders. With the advent of Islam, the Arabs sweept  North Africa and Islam forged some rules. Islam was supposed to be color-blind  but in reality, it was not. Because it was forbidden to castrate a fellow Muslim, one could castrate captive Black slaves before converting them to Islam, and so they did.

Africa was rife with slavery. Tribes enslaved other slaves and sold them readily to Arabs, and later to the Portuguese. The idea that Africans were just exploited by the west is nonsense. There was more than enough greed to go around. We just need to observe the utter evil of the civil wars in the Congo and elsewhere to see how little leaders care for their own people, especially their women and children.

The slave trade in Africa was endemic well before anybody in Europe ever thought of it. Islam's role in slavery has been overlooked for too long. When the ancient world, particularly Rome, which had been built on a slave culture, had already given up that institution under the urging of Christianity by the fourth century, Islam in the 7th century brought it back.

Islam had an endless endless appetite for slaves, needed for domestic labor, marble and salt mining, and most of all, harems. The Muslim slave markets were an enormous business, fed by by Arab piracy in the Mediterranean, depopulating much of southern Europe during the Dark and Middle Ages.  Sicilian nobility when short of money sold their own peasants. Vikings, before the first Crusade, partnered with Muslims to kidnap women from Ireland to Russia for Arab harems. Arab coins are still being found in Viking graves in Scandinavia.

The Bubonic Plague put an end to the White slave sources but reopened African slavery. Africa was the only place not hit by the Black Death. Black slavery moved from the declining Muslim world to the New World with its need for plantation labor and Western Slavery was born.

It is little recognized that Brazilian slavery dwarfed in numbers, and probably in cruelty, North American slavery, and did not come to an end until 1888.

Too many new Black converts to Islam do not realize Islam's bad history with slavery, ongoing today! Sudan persecutes not only non-Muslim Blacks, but even Black Muslims. Whole families in Chad have been kept in slavery not knowing that it is illegal. In Saudi Arabia, slavery was officially abolished in 1962. But what is the status of their women? And ISIS is back in the Muslim slave business, complete with slave markets.

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

Book Review: Erik Larson, In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Crown Publishers, 2011

By Laina Farhat-Holzman

Erik Larson has the remarkable ability to write solid history as though it were fiction. He selects issues so significant that they are page-turners, but there is nothing in his books that cannot be substantiated by the letters, memories, or other documents of the participants of the events at the time.

For example, his Dead Wake, the account of the sinking of the Lusitania, reads like a thriller: a German submarine hunting a British ocean liner with a number of important American passengers on board in the tense time during World War 1. It is very enlightening to see the increasing ruthlessness of the Germans in that war in which they violated every former rule of civility; we also see the ruthlessness of Winston Churchill who will sacrifice America civilians to bring America into the war. We watch an American President, Woodrow Wilson, whose judgment is clouded by bereavement, then love, then a stroke. Leaders are human beings. And finally, we see the hubris of the day's modern scientists and engineers, who considered the Lusitania (like the Titanic), unsinkable. Larson accomplishes all this with one book.

The Garden of Beasts may be even more important for our understanding of one of the most important mysteries of the 20th century. How could a country as cultured, educated, and sophisticated as Germany permit itself to be taken over by a group of thugs with scarcely a murmur?

It did not happen with scarcely a murmur. The takeover was far more complex than that, and this book provides us with an inside view of a seminal year, 1933-34, in which this takeover could have gone either way. The main inside view is that of a particularly able observer: William E. Dodd, Chairman of the History Department of the University of Chicago, appointed by President Roosevelt as Ambassador to Germany after Roosevelt was turned down by several other more likely (wealthy) candidates.

Dodd was certainly not one of the usual old boys' club appointees. He was, however, a distinguished historian, had gone to the university in Germany and was fluent in German, had fond memories of the country, and promised to be eyes and ears for the president of the weird events of the new Nazi regime roiling Germany. He also promised to live on his salary, unheard of in diplomatic circles where diplomats brought their own money.

He set out for Berlin with his family, including another important eye-witness, his grown daughter, Martha, a well-educated and sexually-liberated airhead who “fell in love” with a succession of beaux including the newly appointed head of the Gestapo, the French Ambassador, and a Russian who turned out to be the head of the NKVD. Although her romantic judgment was poor, her diary entries and those of her lovers are extremely interesting!

The title of the book is also significant. The Garden of Beasts is a translation of Tiergarten, the main park in Berlin, around which most of the embassies were located and where Ambassador Dodd walked each day. It was one place where people could walk and talk without being overheard.  It was also a place where someone observed: Germans love animals! Their dogs and horses are so loved, fed, talked to! Much better than they treat their children and each other.

The Dodds arrived in Germany with mixed views of the Nazi government. Dodd was skeptical from the start, quite certain that this was a temporary anomaly. However, Martha was, as were many Americans of her class at the time (such as Charles Lindberg), an enthusiast. She loved what she considered the vitality of the “new Germany.” The blond, healthy, young Germans striding around; the cleanliness; the seeming return to work from the desperation of the prior depression; all this seemed good to her.

And like her class of Americans, she was theoretically anti-Semitic. She didn't hate Jews; just thought that “they had too much power” in the United States. But this dislike didn't stop the Dodds from renting an amazing mansion in the Tiergarten region for next to nothing! Lovely mansions were available in that neighborhood that belonged to Jews suddenly deciding to leave Germany. How fortunate.

Dodd left his post in 1937,  just before “Kristalnacht,” in which Germany's intentions for the Jews left no doubt. In this book, the Dodds, particularly Ambassador Dodd, goes through a transformation from mildly anti-Semitic to a Paul Revere, by the end of  his tour of duty in 1937, warning that the Nazis were going to take on all of Europe and planned to murder all the Jews. He was greeted with disbelief by the American isolationists---only to be proven right by 1941.

The most surprising revelations in the book are those about the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934, which was the night in which Hitler supposedly acted with speed to wipe out the particularly thuggish Brownshirts, the Storm Troopers, who were supposedly plotting against him. Reading the diaries and memories, this is not what happened at all. This was one of those moments in which events could have gone in either direction. There had been rumors all Summer that the Army was going to get rid of Hitler. Democratic forces in the country were protesting the seizure of power by both Hitler and the Storm Troopers. It was starting to seem that Germany might be coming to its senses. But then events changed.

The Brownshirt “plot” was not so. Hitler fabricated it to seize an opportunity to grab total control over Germany. He not only got rid of his armed enemies, he got rid of all his democratic enemies as well, (including one unfortunate music critic, whose name was mistaken for somebody else). This purge set up such a regime of fear that until 1945, nobody ever got out from under.

How thugs can take over a regime is also contemplated by Martha's lover, Diels, the first head of the Gestapo---a man by far not the worst of those to come later. Diels commented later that his organization seemed to draw in every psychopath in Germany, something that was frightening even to him.

One description stays with me: that of frogs in a pot of warm water. They do not realize that the water is coming to a boil until it is too late.  This was Germany during that fateful year.

One last thought about a civilized country going bad: I have a hard time reconciling Germany's actions in both World War I and II in being the first to break the rules of civilized behavior. Germany was the first to use poison gas. They were the first to use submarines to attack civilian ocean liners. The first to use dirigibles to drop bombs on cities. All this in World War I. In World War II---the first to bomb urban targets and, of course, genocide (Turkey did it first, but they were not European).

Larson is a master writer. This is an important book.

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
July 2015

A Little Chaos

If there was ever a monarch who detested chaos, it was King Louis XIV! He controlled everything, fearing anarchy so much that even nature had to be under his control. Louis, ruled France with an iron hand between 1638 and 1715.

In this story, Sabine, a talented landscape designer wins a competition to help design and build a water-garden ballroom at Versailles, under the guidance of the royal court's famous garden master, Le Notre. What makes this a most unusual project is that Sabine is a woman in business for herself, has no noble lineage (making it difficult in a most caste-conscious court), and that she is an advocate of nature, not artifice, both personally and professionally. She is most assuredly a wildflower in a garden of orchids.

Those unfamiliar with history might think that no ladies at that time ever supported themselves, but there are a few examples in addition to this famous landscape designer. One in particular is the Comtesse Marie de La Fayette, author of La Princesse de Cleves, France's first historical novel and one of the earliest novelists in literature in the 17th century, Louie's time.  She was widowed and made her living with her writing. (The earliest novel in the world is Japanese, The Tale of Genji, also written by a court lady, Mirasaki Shikibu, in the 11th century.)

Alan Rickman wonderfully directs this film and plays most sympathetically King Louis XIV, much more sympathetically than that monster deserves. I never expected to feel sorry for a king who bankrupted his country and made the peasantry starve. But in a scene where the king goes into the countryside, takes off his wig, and pretends to be the proprietor of a garden shop where Sabine (played by Kate Winslet) engages him in a conversation about flowers, is so enchanting that I even liked him.

Sabine's tentative love affair with Le Notre (Mathhias Schoenaerts), the prickly master gardener married to a treacherous court beauty, unfolds with the grace of a rose opening.

One of the most touching scenes takes place as Sabine is summoned to a court function and she waits with all the court ladies, painted dolls, who grill her curiously. They know she is a widow and ask if she has children. She pales (obviously has a painful secret). Each pours out her own losses (smallpox, husbands lost to war, stillborns, the usual horrors of life of the times). Rank is no protection. This is sisterhood and I was moved.

The end of the movie is the absolute delight to wait for. No chaos there. Absolute artistic order. A great delight indeed, an elegant royal ball taking place in a garden.

Testament of Youth

This British period piece is one more revisiting of World War One, the start of which was in 1914, exactly 101 years ago. The war broke out in August at the end of a summer of such incredible beauty and tranquility, everyone on holiday, nobody even contemplating that the world was about to erupt into an unimaginable nightmare of death and destruction.

That was the surface of Europe in 1914. Under that serene surface, however, what exploded was not unimaginable. But for the underpinnings of World War I, this is not the movie to see. You would need to know that despite the fact that every major (and minor) monarchy in Europe was related by blood and marriage to their common grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain; that all of these countries shared a common European culture, values, and diplomatic rules; that all of their military forces shared common technologies and laws of war; that they would were already engaged in an arms war that would explode into a war that, before it was over, would sweep away almost all restraints. A quarter of a century later, that “almost” would be removed and no restraints would be left.

But this movie does not deal with that. It only deals with a handful of idealistic young aristocrats who go from innocence to the horror of warfare, one of them a young woman played by Alicia Vikander (she of the memorable face in Ex Machina), here playing a proto-feminist who first violates the rules to go to all-male Oxford and then serves as a nurse in the front lines of the horrible trench warfare of the war in France. She, playing the real life Vera Brittain, survives the war to become a naïve pacifist, believing that this is the only way to bring world peace.  Indeed, she had not yet met the Nazis.

This was a fine movie, but its two hours felt like four hours to me.


Like the film American Sniper, this movie will be loved by most Americans and scorned by the snooty critics. Not edgy enough for them, no doubt. I loved it! I thought it was everything that a movie should be: fit for a family, exciting, with a purpose, with values that one could admire, and with the best dog actor since Lassie! How different from the usual summer fare with its explosions, car chases, and hyper-sexuality.

Max was a military dog brought from Afghanistan whose Marine trainer/handler died in an IUD explosion. Inconsolable and devastated, the dog could not be retrained, but the Marines discovered that the dog would accept (reluctantly) the teen-aged brother of the dead Marine. The family adopted the dog and turned his training over to the boy. Josh Wiggins plays the teen-ager and I look forward to seeing much more of him.

The film is about the recovery of this remarkable dog, the healing of the devastated family, and the mystery of what really happened in the death of the Marine when one of his buddies turns up is the rest of the film. It involves a coming of age story for an adolescent who might otherwise have gone bad; the healing of a dog who might otherwise have had to be destroyed; the uncovering of some bad guys; and most exciting of all, a dog actor who deserves an Oscar! I don't know how they can train a dog to do what Max could do!  My goodness!

Lovely movie!


Ant-Man sounded like the typical Summer movie, but seeing the previews triggered my interest. Being a lover of Gulliver's Travels, I liked the idea of a science fiction treatment of a superhero whose powers might lie in being miniaturized to the size of an ant-aided by an ant army.

In this story, in 1989, a scientist, Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas), has invented a technology that can shrink a human being to the size of an ant. He considers this technology very dangerous and refuses to release it. He then resigns from his own company after discovering that his protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is trying to replicate the technology, which he will use for evil military purposes.

Science used for good or evil is not the only issue in this movie. People also have families. Pym has a grown daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) from whom he has been estranged, who is still in the company and is a partner of the evil Darren Cross.

Enter the movie's hero, newly released from prison, a thief, expert at house breaking, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who is desperate to go straight and find work so that he can pay child support for his own little daughter Cassie. In America, ex-convicts are punished for having been convicts; he cannot find a job. His old friends convince him to go back to his expertise and break into the house of a millionaire who is on vacation, the house of Hank Pym!

Now we learn of two magic garments---the very stuff of old fairy tales! While getting into the safe of Pym's house, Lang finds what looks like a motorcycle uniform. He puts it on, presses a button on the left----and with a whoosh---shrinks to the size of an ant.

The next few minutes are as good as anything in Gulliver's travels.

Darren Cross has invented another magical suit: this one a Yellowjacket (wasp).

This is enough for you to know. The rest of the movie is an absolute hoot, and is well worth the fun you will have watching it play out. It is clever, it has excellent human elements, and for those who like action, there is plenty here. It is not a trashy summer movie at all. It is really fun.

Mr. Holmes

When it seems nobody could imagine another take on the Sherlock Holmes stories, someone has! The newest film, Mr. Holmes, envisions Sherlock Holmes as a 93-year-old retired Holmes living in the countryside with his housekeeper, her young son, his bees, and his fading memories. This should be depressing stuff---but it most certainly is not.

Holmes is played by the remarkable Ian McKellen, who manages to create a fascinating man who even at 93 can think rings around most of us! Holmes has just returned from a difficult trip to Japan where he is confronted by a purported Japanese admirer who is, instead, a client with a grievance: a man whose father disappeared years ago in London leaving behind a note in a book Sherlock Holmes book. Holmes cannot remember this case.

Also haunting the detective is another case involving a beautiful woman who thirty years before Holmes followed, suspecting she was about to murder her husband. This case too has fallen into a black hole in his memory.

Holmes is cared for by Mrs. Munro, played by Laura Linnney, an unhappy widow, and her young son, Roger, played by Milo Parker, who becomes an impromptu apprentice to Holmes. He learns beekeeping---and prods the old man into solving the two mysteries haunting him.

This is a rich, wonderful film; Sherlock has plenty of life left in him even at 93!

(For the readers among you, I would recommend even another take on Sherlock Holmes: Laurie King's books in which Holmes has a young wife.  Start with The  Beekeeper's Apprentice. These would make wonderful movies.)

Paper Towns

Teen movies not just for adolescent audiences give grownups a chance to relive our own early years. This movie certainly does that, and unlike many that I have seen recently, this one does not alienate an adult audience with foul language, overt sexuality, or drugs. The teens are just nice kids at the end of their senior year, living in a pleasant community, all planning to go to college. Not much drama here. Except for an unexpected adventure that a most reliable youngster undertakes, along with his most danger-averse friends----in pursuit of a romantic runaway who has fled town, leaving a trail of clues.

This drama is based on a popular young adult novel in which Quentin “Q” Jacobsen ( Nat Wolff) who knows exactly what he wants to do with his life (medical school, oncology practice, wife, children), has long been enchanted by a young neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), who seems to be guided by magical spirits into great and fearless adventures.  At 13, they are kindred spirits, but later, they drift apart. However, just before graduation, she lures him again late one night to accompany her on one last caper of revenge against all who betrayed her: cheating boyfriend, best friend, another young man. The revenge is mischievous, not lethal. They end the evening at the town's tallest building, where Margo surveys the view, pronouncing the town a “paper town,” and her view of “Q's” future rather shabby.

The next day, she disappears and Quentin, stewing over her disappearance, manages to disrupt his two best friends' and their girlfriends' senior prom plans to accompany him on a road trip to find Margo, whom “Q” is sure is his true love.

The road trip is wonderful, and these youngsters are terrific and endearing children. Margo, however, is something else. Is her “magic” really just negativism? Is there no “there” there? Perhaps Q needs to know this if he is to grow up.

What if the 30-Year Religious Wars Prediction Is Wrong?

August 1, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

Yemen, once a backwater that nobody much cared about, is now a failed state that has inflamed an entire region. The Saudis, who have spent obscene fortunes on defense toys that they have never used are now tentatively using them and are rallying other Sunni Arabs to join them. For all their decades of bluster about Israel, they were never this serious before. This time, they are really frightened and their fear is directed at a rag-tag terrorist group that has taken over the government of Yemen. This group is Shiite, and supposedly backed by Iran. So, in effect, this is a proxy war between Sunni and Shiites, something that seems to be sweeping the Middle East. But is it really?

The wise “talking heads” are predicting a 30-year religious war between the Shiites and Sunnis, a prediction that seems to mirror the Protestant-Catholic 30-year wars, a 17th century struggle between Catholic and Protestant powers that killed of maybe 20 percent of Germany's total population and 50 percent along its main trade corridor (more deaths than the Bubonic Plague), ultimately discrediting religion as a cohesive political principle, replacing it with nationalism.

The trouble with this prediction is that these are different times, different religions, and very different players, and events are moving with much more speed. How can anybody make thirty-year predictions with a straight face today?

I, for one, cannot imagine that Iran, today the chief champion of the Shiite sect, will still be a revolutionary Shiite state in thirty years! Iran is timelessly Persian, its history and its geography much more intrinsically at home with its place and nature in the uplands as the crossroads between Asia and Europe. It has had more in common with being at the western end of the Persian-Chinese Silk Road than with Islam, which it tried to tame and make imperial during Islam's Golden Age. The taming did not last long enough. Its young people today chafe at their elderly clerics, longing to join the modern youth culture, which eventually they will.

So who will the Shiites, fueling the 30-years Shiite-Sunni war, be? They are not, even today, Persian-speaking Shiites. They are Yemeni, Iraqi, Hamas, and Alawite, and do not even share a common language (or values) with their Iranian brethren. How long can that relationship last?

As for the Sunnis, who will lead them? The Saudis are walking a tightrope, and tightropes are not very secure when leadership is in their 80s. What is going to happen to a country with money but no work ethic, too many princes, and no vision of a future? The only thing one can say about Sunnis is that they easily fall out, fracture, retreat to clan, and have little inclination to maintain national identity.

I really do not see the same fervent religious passion that fueled the Catholic-Protestant wars of the 17th century.  I do not see the intellectual theology. I do not see the industriousness of the population. I see none of this fueling a genuine religious war.  What I do see is the reemergence of Persian identity shedding its Islamic straitjacket.  I see the same thing eventually happening to the Turks, who also have a real identity and temperament (and a geographic reality) underneath a thin stratum of an unsuitable Islamic veneer.

I see the Arab world, however, fragmenting into the two geographies and histories from which they come: the urban traders (Lebanese, Syrian, Alexandrian, perhaps Baghdad and Cairo) and the desert Bedouin. They are not alike.

We are inclined to call all people who speak Arabic “Arabs.” This is not so. There are whole swaths of people in North Africa who had other languages, other much older cultures, who may well revert to their origins as the Arab world melts in the next half century. Egypt, for one, is much, much older than its Muslim history. We may be in for some surprises there. It is hard to tell.

But for certain, we need to rethink the glib 30-year Sunni-Shiite war.

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Putin's Has His Own Private Assassins

Putin's Has His Own Private Assassins
July 18, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

I don't know how many of you remember the story of the “Sorcerer's Apprentice,” charmingly done in the Disney film Fantasia. Mickey Mouse played the Sorcerer's apprentice, tasked with sweeping out the house. The lazy rascal found the master's book and tried his hand at magic, turning the broom into an army of brooms who swept and went to the well, nearly flooding the house and coming close to drowning Mickey until the Sorcerer returned and put things to rights, punishing the foolish apprentice.

In this case, things turned out fine. But the story has a much more menacing outcome when one lets loose forces that cannot be contained. Evil has a way of getting loose with consequences not controlled by their authors.

o     Hitler's Brownshirts terrorized the German public during the 1930s quite effectively, but became so bold that Hitler realized that he had to get rid of them all or risk his own neck. In 1934, he organized one night to take them down, in an organized purge. This was called “the Night of the long knives.” The Brownshirts were replaced by the SS.

o     Stalin's constant paranoia motivated purges against anybody that he thought might challenge his authority. Nobody in his inner circle knew who might be next. His assassin-in-chief, Beria, ran the Soviet network of slave-labor camps and was notorious for his sadistic enjoyment of torture and taste for beating and raping women and violating young girls. Beria carried out these purges. It is probably that Stalin so alarmed his inner circle that they finally managed to poison him and Khrushchev bravely organized Beria's arrest and execution.

It is here, however, that I call upon the wisdom of literature. There is nothing more satisfying than Shakespeare for exposing the underbelly of evil. In King Lear, we meet the terrible daughters of the delusional king, two of them in league in absolute ruthlessness----until they fall out! They only know how to hate, not to love even each other, and as such, they bring down their entire evil enterprise, along with their evil colleagues. In history, this happens too.

The great Cult of the Assassins in the 13th Century was exterminated by the Mongols. The Mongols were tamed by the Persians and the Chinese. Hitler wiped out the Brownshirts and the Allies wiped out Hitler. Stalin purged and purged, but his inner circle poisoned him just in time before more of them died, letting Khrushchev clear the air.

Now comes Putin, the latest Sorcerer's Apprentice. Putin has turned Russia's Chechen enemies into his own secret army, creating a Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, as his own man in Chechnya. This nasty dictatorship is a combination of a mafia state, pledging allegiance to Putin (not Russia) and to Militant Islam, at least that aspect of Islam that makes them fanatically immune to fear of death. Needless to say, this makes Russian legislators very nervous indeed, because they do not know who may be next on Putin's death list.

Chechens are known to carry out assassinations at the behest of Putin anywhere in the world. They have done so in in London, in Moscow, in Petersburg, and this inspires a pall of fear. Russian police went to Grozny (Chechnya) to arrest a murderer (Chechnya is part of Russia after all), and Kadyrov had them fired at and kicked out. Putin defended Kadyrov, not the Russian police!

Putin had better remember the Sorcerer's Apprentice. If the day comes that he and Kadyrov quarrel, who is going to assassinate whom first, eh? Will Russia have to declare a third Chechen war and level Grozny again? Or will Kadyrov set his assassins on Putin?  Could Chechnya take over Russia? Don't laugh.  Their demographics are better. Putin is bold, but I don't see him dying an old man in his bed. His playmates are far too wicked. Kadyrov may not die an old man in his bed either. Warlords don't.

Time Magazine June 25, has done an amazing reporting job on “Putin's Secret Army.” Simon Shuster in Grozny deserves credit!

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Middle East is Running out of Water

July 11, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

California knows how serious it is to have a water shortage. But we are a modern state and know perfectly well what to do about it. For us, it is just a matter of spending money and having the will to do what is obvious: desalinate the ocean water immediately to our west.

But when the entire Middle East is running out of water, it is another thing altogether. This is a region with a minority of scientifically educated people and a majority of ignorant, religious villagers and recent urban displaced country people, not to mention those newly uprooted by the vicious wars riling the region. This flood of newcomers is putting even more pressure on the flagging water supply in the Arab world. Even Egypt's Nile cannot keep up with the demands on it. Hunger is stalking Egypt.

But the Middle East is not just the Arab World.  It is also Iran and Turkey, the two non-Arab Muslim countries that have always had the advantage of being in the highlands with watersheds, where lakes and river systems begin (Turkey with the Tigris and Euphrates) and snow-capped mountains and one great lake (Urmia in Iran).

The second and third-largest Muslim states, Pakistan and India, are also running out of water, thanks to over-irrigation from their once lavish deltas and aquifers and prodigal overpopulations.

And worst of all is miserable Yemen, which was once a breadbasket and garden with the world's largest earthen dam (5th century AD), but since that dam's collapse, the country has declined. It is now in collapse, running out of water so that even its capital must move to the coast. It has become an anarchy of rival tribes, and its behavior is so stupid that what water is left is irrigating qat, its drug of choice (like pot). Its favorite bride age (9) has produced a population explosion that uses up what water is left. The IQ declines with it. Dumb and dumber?

The following numbers are taken from a reliable well-sourced article by Daniel Pipes (  Iran's Lake Urmia has lost 95% of its water; Esfahan's river, the Zayanderud wend dry in 2010; over 2/3 of Iran's cities and towns are on the verge of a water crisis in drinking water shortages; already, thousands of villages depend on water tankers. Unprecedented dust storms disrupt economic activity and damage health.

Egypt: Rising sea levels threaten to submerge Alexandria and contaminate the Nile Delta Aquifer. Egypt is alarmed that Ethiopia plans to build massive dams on the Blue Nile that will threaten water to Egypt and Sudan.

Gaza:  In a hydrological nightmare, seawater is leaking into sewage, making 95% of the coaster aquifer unfit for human consumption. Yet Hamas continues to dig tunnels to send rockets into Israel.

Iraq: Euphrates River waters are half or what they were. Already in 2011, the Mosul Dam was shut down entirely due to insufficient flow. Seawater from the Persian Gulf has pushed up the Shatt al-Arab, resulting in briny water destroying fisheries, livestock, and crops. Date palms have diminished from 33 million to 9 million.

Pakistan:  may be a water-starved country by 2022.

Climate Change and Arab Spring: Prolonged drought led to food shortages and civil collapses in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Yemen.

The only country in the Middle East without a water shortage is Israel. As recently as the 1990s, they suffered water shortages too.  But thanks to a combination of conservation, recycling, innovative agricultural techniques, and high-tech desalination, the country is awash in H2O.  Israel's Water Authority claims they have all the water they need and are quite willing to sell surplus to such friendly neighbors as Jordan.  They have a new technology that can desalinate about 27 liters of water for one U.S. penny. It recycles about five times more water than does second-ranked Spain.

Obviously tradition doesn't work. Could desperation be the mother of some new ideas? Could Israel's neighbors bury the hatchet and consider a common market? The smart ones could consider cooperating on water programs. Egypt and Jordan could, for a start. That could be a beginning of something very fruitful.

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Human Rights Widen In the West, Vanish Elsewhere.

July 4, 2015
Laina Farhat-Holzman

On June 26, the United States extended its freedoms to one more group of fellow citizens, homosexuals, who now have the equality in marriage. Over many centuries before this, homosexual males were jailed, beaten, tortured, and scorned. Female homosexuals were forced into marriage, institutionalized, or shunned.

In Muslim societies, even today, homosexuality is technically forbidden but socially rampant, particularly practiced against boys by those responsible for them (including having special bordellos) and boys among themselves. In harems, women practiced it, running the risk of execution if caught.

Today, in an amazingly short time, Europeans and Americans (even in macho Mexico), countries have extended to homosexuals the same rights that all adult citizens have: to marry, to have children, and to have the legal rights to live with the property rights and inheritance rights accorded to all in our civilization.

Marriage in the West has been a changing institution. Not too long ago, women were property and had no choice of spouse. Families would not permit children of different religions to marry. Not too long ago, it was illegal for marriage between people of different races to marry. All of this was challenged and changed under law. Now people of different genders may marry too. This is an extension of rights that is the hallmark of Western civilization: enlarging liberty.

This parallels all the other enlargement of liberty in America too, particularly in voting rights: from adult White men of property to all adult White men to all men (at least by law including Black men) and finally to all Women. This took several centuries and a bloody war and more bloodshed and grief, but it did happen.

As for the rest of the world, freedom is a work in progress, but is not doing as well as in the West. Unfortunately the Western model of expansion of freedoms has hit a dreadful roadblock, one which Samuel D. Huntington warned us of in 1993 in his Clash of Civilizations: the roadblock of Islam.

On June 26, when America showed its expansion of human rights with its Supreme Court Decision, the “Islamic State” showed its own values in three significant attacks.

Muslims worldwide are celebrating Ramadan, the month-long fast in which they are urged to meditate, pray, pity the hungry, show charity to the poor, and then break their fasts with kindness and good fellowship with family and neighbors. ISIS has a different idea: “To make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers.” This was their “noble” goal, and indeed they did.

In Tunisia, they pulled a Kalishnikov from a beach umbrella at a resort for European tourists and killed 38 people (go after the tourist industry). In Kuwait, they killed at least 27 worshippers at midday prayers at a Shiite mosque (wrong kind of believers). And in southeastern France, they car-bombed a gas factory and left the severed head of the driver's employer hanging at the entrance, the assassin taking a “selfie” of the deed.

Somalia doesn't have enough trouble. An al-Qaeda group attacked an African Union base and killed 25 soldiers there. They do not want any kind of law and order in Somalia.

Is it any surprise that Europe is dealing with 40,000 recent migrants fleeing the Muslim world? Why should anyone want to stay there? What does it offer other than death? Which freedoms do ISIS support?

Ken Burns' wonderful special on the Roosevelts has been rerunning this summer. Eleanor Roosevelt has been justly remembered for her stellar work in the United Nations as the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that spelled out in the 1950s the best values of Western Civilization, that all human beings should enjoy. Every member of the General Assembly of that day, signed that document, including the Saudis!  I watched with disbelief, knowing full well that the majority of signers had laws that forbade granting human rights to women, political opposition, religious diversity, legal independence, yet they signed.

Today, the General Assembly is a Cave of Winds with one agenda: Defund Israel, the only democracy among them. Human Rights is a Grand Canyon.

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