Monday, January 26, 2015

Torture Is Not In America's Best Interests

January 24, 2015

Americans are debating several complex moral issues:
o     Does torture produce essential information at a time of terror activity?
o     Does torture do moral damage to the torturers themselves?
o     Does imminent danger warrant violating US law?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. The 9/11 attack really frightened this country and the government went into emergency mode to find out if more attacks were on the way. This is the ticking bomb theory: do anything necessary to prevent more terror attacks.  And more terror attacks had been planned but were thwarted over the 13 years since 9/11.

When normal FBI or CIA vigilance can protect us as it has, we need to revisit “enhanced interrogation” (torture) as a means of getting information. There seems to be a majority view, even of operatives, that torture too often gets false information and the occasional truth could be obtained by other means. The Feinstein Report delivered on December 9 was a cry from the heart that America should not be doing such things and that we should admit we did, understand why, and resolve never to do it again. Her report was not advocating a witch-hunt against the intelligence community for what they did; torture had already been stopped by President Obama's order.

I agree with Feinstein's position, and it is obvious from some of her documentation that Americans charged with conducting torture were sickened by it. This speaks well for them because around the world, most other countries do not have such qualms. This was why most of this unpleasant business was outsourced to Lebanon or Egypt. The “World's” revulsion about the CIA's torture is pure hypocrisy!  Anti-torture zealots warn us that ISIS will read the report and use these tactics against hostages.  Baloney!  Isis uses a blunt instrument: decapitation. What information can they get from aid workers or tourists?

History of Torture.
Torture has been a judicial artifact from antiquity to today. From Assyrian times 4000 BC, we can see murals on their palace walls showing torture and decapitations. These were clearly propaganda tools to frighten anybody attempting resistance to their rule.

Rome used torture to punish people who threatened the state. Crucifixion was their public means of lingering execution, used after slave rebellions and most famously in Judea, when Jesus was swept up with other potential revolutionaries and crucified.

From the collapse of Rome to the 18th century in Europe, torture was a regular tool of the state to force prisoners to name accomplices or to ascertain the guilt of the prisoner. Trial by fire was such a mode. It was thought that an innocent person would not be burned. Obviously, there were no innocent persons.

There were periodic spasms of craziness in the late Middle Ages too: the Inquisition was the tool of the Spanish Catholic church to uncover insincere forced converts (Jews and once Muslims). After torture, the victims were burnt at the stake (further torture ending in death) with celebrating audiences watching. Eventually, the Inquisition deteriorated to torturing people accused by their jealous neighbors; the Church was also complicit because the accused's property could be confiscated.

The Protestant revolution brought with it a terror of witches. Hundreds of thousands of women---most old, some demented, and other victims of enemy neighbors---were hanged or burnt at the stake. The last case happened in New England: the Salem witchcraft trial. This spectacle sickened the new American colonists and it never happened again.

By the 18th century, along with a campaign to end the global institution of slavery (the Quakers did this) came a campaign to end judicial torture. Western civilization was the only place to do this. Torture remained in Islam, China, India, Russia. Torture returned hideously under the Nazis and USSR; the US disavowed this practice after the Cold War until 9/11. Fear made us revive it.

The greatest danger of any conflict is that the good guys start resembling the bad guys.  We must not let that happen. Our interrogators just have to be smarter than the terrorists they question. Torture, which is morally repugnant, is not needed.

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

Terrorists: “Insult us and we kill you.”

Laina Farhat-Holzman
January 10, 2015

We in the Western World think our sacred cows are strong enough to withstand mockery and humor. We do not like it when an artist's work shows a crucifix in a tube of urine; we write indignant letters to the editor, we boycott art exhibits, we even become amateur art critics, as did former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, over an exhibit he found offensive. But we do not kill over it.

In Muslim-Majority countries, they do indeed kill, not only over anything deemed “insulting” the honor of the Prophet Mohammad (which never would be exhibited in any case), but even those falsely accused of having in some way insulted Islam or the Prophet. “Blasphemy” is a crime punishable by death in Muslim-majority countries, and when opinion polls are taken, if such can be trusted, the majority approves this law, despite all the protestations that this does not represent the core values of Islam. These values have been carried out for 1400 years and people are under sentence for them today.

We can laugh at the ridiculous North Korean dictator's indignation and cyber attack on Sony, which was about to release a tacky movie “insulting” his honor, but his threats did not work. Many of us have now seen this silly film that we otherwise would have ignored. Kim Il Un lost on this one. But he did not kill.

The Ayatollah Khomeini put a price on the head of author Salman Rushdie because his brilliant and satirical book, The Satanic Verses, poked fun at him. Rushdie still lives, the Ayatollah is long dead, and the book was bought and was far over the head of most readers, especially non-English reading Iranians. Sophisticated Iranians laughed with the rest of us.

What is it that makes Islamists so sensitive about their prophet that they think he can be so easily insulted? Could it be that their entire culture rests on the very shaky notion of honor and insult, not on character and accomplishment? And what makes Islamists think that they can live in Western countries with Western values and yet try to enforce their own medieval concepts down our throats? Even more important: are we prepared to defend the values that make our civilization the place that people from failed civilizations flock to for a better life?

In Paris, on January 7th, two Muslim gunmen burst into a French humor magazine killing with careful deliberation two police and 10 journalists, including the editor in chief and a cartoonist. A getaway man rushed them away. This publication has made fun of everybody, Jews, Catholics, and Muslims, but only Muslim extremists have seen fit to kill over it.  They shouted “God is Great,” evidently meaning that God likes killers to assassinate people whose ideas offend. Bystanders heard them say they had “avenged the Prophet,” whatever that means.

This is not the only Islamist attack on French culture. There have been attacks and murders of Jews in French suburbs, honor killings, hordes of young French (male and female) who have gone to Syria to fight the Jihad, and France is definitely on alert.

There had better not be any tiptoeing around to avoid “insulting” people who most certainly need to be insulted! This is a war, a war against France, Europe, the United States, and Muslims who dare to be Western.

We really will have to be very vigilant----in our embassies abroad, when we travel as tourists, and in public places. This is a great nuisance, but will be necessary, and must be done calmly and without panic. In the war of ideas, theirs is not a winning one.  If it were, why would so many of them be immigrating to the West?

As for all the enthusiastic young European Muslims rushing to join the Jihad in Syria, do not look for their return any time soon. ISIS is killing defectors. They are welcome as cannon fodder, but are not welcome to think for themselves or to “insult Islam” by thinking better of this misbegotten venture.

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

Whose Fault Are the French Jihadi Murders?

January 17, 2015

After a horror such as the French-born Muslim assassinations of the editors and cartoonists of a national humor magazine who “insulted” Islam, everyone asks: whose fault was this? Were the French intelligence sources inadequate? Did the sarcastic humor of the French journal provoke sensitive Muslims? Were the killers not sufficiently loved by their mothers? The only question not overtly asked was: “Is there something about Islam that promotes murderous rage?” Even without asking this, Muslim spokesmen rushed in to announce that these murderers were not “Muslims.” They were criminals. Exactly where do these assignments of blame fall?

o     The Political Left.  It has been a long tradition of the university educated to believe that behind every misery in the world lurks the shadow of America, and preferably, American imperialist capitalism. Muslims are angry because Western colonialism (particularly European) has made these once powerful people so inadequate that they must emigrate to Europe to find a better life. Of course they resent the West for this outrage, but they come nonetheless, gritting their teeth and vowing vengeance.

o     The Usual Muslim Spokesmen. How quickly western Muslim leaders deny that Islam mandates death for apostates and for those who insult the Prophet Mohammad or Islam. “We might sue you for something we find objectionable, but do not kill you.” Ah, would that this were only so. In mosques and eagerly recruiting prisons around the world, the word is out that death for apostates and insulters is still very much alive in Islam. The French murderers illustrated this very well.

Blasphemy is the law, punishable most often by death in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and when the law hesitates, citizens step in. Thursday, Pakistani police released a 52-year-old mentally unbalanced man who had been jailed for “blasphemy” since 2011.  Angered, a posse murdered him on the jailhouse steps. In Saudi Arabia, 50 lashes of a sentence of 1,000  lashes was administered to a blogger for “insulting Islam.” He will get 50 lashes every week until either 1,000 are administered, or he dies. So much for freedom of speech being a part of Islam.

o     Round Up the Usual Suspects. One well-known Muslim analyst (whom I will not promote by naming) announced on a TV panel that the Paris murders had nothing to do with Islam at all. That a Jewish market was attacked, he said, proved the entire fault was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These North African thugs don't care a fig for Palestinians; but they do hate Jews for giving them a well-deserved inferiority complex. When the annual Nobel prizes are announced, there is no prize for killing unarmed civilians.

o     Can Islam Modernize? Egypt's president opened the new year with a plea for a revolution in Islam. He said it is time to retire many of the old interpretations no longer relevant to the modern world. It is nice to hear him say so, but religious revolutions have not come from heads of state since Henry VIII.

So much good comes from American religion: community, kindness, generosity to the needy, good works, and the rituals marking our lives. We forget the other side of religion: compulsion, intolerance, and violence. Europeans have had more experience with state-run faiths that persecuted, imprisoned, punished, and tortured to death those deemed “enemies of God.” For centuries, Catholics and Protestants murdered each other-and Jews and dissidents---in huge numbers. Religious bigotry became such a bad memory in Europe that post World War II Europeans bent over backward to avoid seeming prejudiced against a new religion in their midst, Islam.

Herein lies the problem. Islam has not yet joined the ranks of ecumenical modern religions, not even in the United States. Mosques around the world are still preaching the values of the past 1300 years: separation and inequality of men and women, family law that has not modernized since 1200, and the intrusion of a modern amalgam of fascism and Islam that has revived the original Muslim dream of world conversion or conquest under a world dictator (Caliph).

But the young are stirring. Maybe modern Islam is also being born.

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

It is Not Smart to Take Rule of Law for Granted

It is Not Smart to Take Rule of Law for Granted
January 10, 2015

We take “rule of law” as much for granted as we assume that our supermarkets will not run out of food. It is part of modern society that these things work.  Most of us drive our cars on the right side of the street, stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and generally drive with consideration of traffic flow and other drivers whether a police car is patrolling or not.

When we are stopped by a highway patrol officer for something we might have done, the exchange is usually civil. Body cameras will weed out abuses of power.

However, there are poor inner city areas rife with crime---and this is not necessarily because most people living there are bad. It is bad circumstances. Young males reared only by mothers, fathers long gone or incarcerated, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate education, and lack of jobs even if a youngster wanted something at minimum wage, create a perfect storm of dysfunction that gives birth to crime.

Youngsters can make more money being part of criminal gangs that provide the irresponsible among us with illegal drugs, illegal sex (sex trafficking) or protection rackets. The people living in these inner cities who have essential businesses needed by everybody are exploited by these gangs and when there is a street rumble, their property is torched.  We saw all of this in Ferguson and there was little attention to the people living there who would have liked law and order; they want the police to be there.

The Ferguson incident in which a young black man was shot by a white policeman offered the eager press and those looking for racial bias to weigh in against the officer. What they overlook is that he was in the inner city because that is where the crime is!  Police everywhere in this country spend the majority of their time answering calls from inner cities. Our own inner city is Watsonville, and the criminals are not black youth; they are Hispanic, in gangs that regularly murder other Hispanic youth in rival gangs.

New York City, which two decades ago was rife with crime, is now one of the safest cities in the country. It is not all white and middle class; it is a melting pot of every ethnicity imaginable. The transformation of New York from dangerous to wonderful is debated: some saying that the drop in crime was the result of poor women using contraceptives, having only children they want. Others say that the changes in policing made this possible. The broken window theory was that if you address little delinquencies, you have a better handle on bigger ones. Neighborhoods with graffiti and broken windows have crime.

Police also “profile” where trouble is most likely: they do not spend their time patrolling the suburbs; they spend it in the inner cities. A policy of “stop and frisk” turns up weapons that might otherwise kill both civilians and police. It worked, but at the same time, it offended many people of color who felt that they were being unfairly profiled. Driving while Black became a blanket accusation that it was racist, White cops annoying Black citizens, but Black cops were doing this too---an unpleasant action that saves lives.

The campaign to ban profiling is an enormous mistake. All of us profile those likely to endanger us: by dress, by demeanor, by actions. The ban on profiling is at its most ridiculous when we go through airport security. An 80-year old woman is a less likely candidate for terrorism than are young men in Muslim dress or women in total hijab.  Is that really a woman (who can tell) and might there be a suicide belt under that cloak? Not profiling here can mean death for many people.

Finally, our rule of law depends upon the foot soldiers on the front lines, our police. They must be trained not to abuse their awesome power, but they should not become victims of young thugs or terrorists because they are constrained by “political correctness.”

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

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
December 2014

Mockingjay 3
This film was part 3 of the Hunger Games series, a dystopian country in the future that distracts the hungry and miserable population with Roman-like gladiator games, something like our own “survivor” program. One young archer, Katniss, is a survivor of several games and has become a national heroine, and, in Part 3, a leader of a revolution against the evil government.

To make more money, the producer divided part 3 into two films, the next one to come next year.  I am sorry to say that I fell asleep early in this movie, and was only aware that most dialogue was whispered.  Only the most devoted fanatic of this series would enjoy this.

Exodus: Gods and Kings
I cannot resist biblical movies, which I find great fun and often I laugh in the wrong places. One of my movie buddies regards anything mythical or supernatural ridiculous, but goes along for the special effects.

Moses and the exodus of the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery is a terrific story professed by all three revealed religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The story handed down from antiquity is that the Jews had been enslaved for four centuries by the Egyptians, primarily because their birthrate frightened the government. This certainly would have been alarming to the Pharaoh, who decided to do some population control: every Jewish family was to hand over their firstborn boy-child for death. Soothsayers had also told the Pharaoh that a boy was being born who would challenge his throne.

One Jewish mother made another decision: she put her newborn, Moisha (Moses) into a basket and her daughter put the basked into the river where it would float up to the garden of the Pharaoh's childless daughter. The daughter greeted the baby as a gift from her gods and gave the young girl the job of nursemaid to both Moses and Ramses, the newborn and heir to the Pharaoh, his father.

The boys were reared together almost as brothers, and the Pharaoh privately recognized that Moses would have been a better king than his own rather reckless son. However, law is law, and Moses served the state as a general.
Moses one day happened to inspect the quarry where the Jewish slaves labored and he witnessed some gratuitous violence by an Egyptian guard. In anger, he killed him. Then some elders of the slave community sought him out and told him about his real birth. He was a Hebrew, and was predicted to be a leader to take them out of slavery.

In both the Bible and the movie, his murder made him a criminal and he was forced into exile, set loose in the desert, where he came upon a Bedouin tribe that took him in.  For the next nine years (in the Bible it was 20) he had joined the tribe, worked with the sheep and goats, and married a beautiful Bedouin woman and gave birth to a son.

Then out of curiosity, he climbed a mountain forbidden to the Bedouin, who called “God's Mountain.” Up on the summit and amidst a violent hailstorm, a bush burst into flame. In the Bible, a voice came from the fire: “Take of your shoes; you are on holy ground.” In the movie, instead of the voice of the invisible god (which I prefer), God was in the form of a 12-year-old boy, a baby god, which has some validity too because the first God of the Hebrews certainly was fierce and adolescent. The Jewish God changed as the Hebrews changed and grew up.

The rest of the story is best known: Moses returns to his foster brother, the Pharaoh, and demands the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves. The Pharaoh tries to explain that this would be economically impossible. Moses then attempts an internal revolt (which does not work) and the baby god goes into action.  And what action! The Nile and all waters turn to blood; a plague of frogs, then flies, then boils on all the Egyptians, and finally, the worst of all, the Angel of Death comes in darkness and kills every first born Egyptian boy, the Hebrew homes having been marked so that the angel would not come to them.

Also well known, and the delight of movie-makers from the beginnings of cinema, the Pharaoh yields and lets the Hebrew slaves go, all 600,000 of them. As they leave Egypt and approach the Red Sea, the Pharaoh regrets his weakness and rushes with his army to take back the slaves.  Of course, God is protecting them and he lets them go across the Red Sea almost dry shod. In the Bible, the waters part and they go through. But in both the Bible and the Cinema, the Pharaoh's army tries to go through and the parted sea floods together, drowning the army.

In this version of the story, Christian Bale plays Moses, and, I think, does so very well. Ramses is played by Joel Edgerton, also well, but who could forget an older film with Yul Brenner playing the role!

Really striking were the women's roles, several with Middle Eastern names (probably Israeli or Iranian): Hiam Abbass, Golshifteh Farahani;  and some male roles: Ghassan Massoud, Dar Salim, Kevork Malikan, and quite a few more.

I do like the Bible story better, but this was an imaginative attempt at making this story palatable to a whole new audience. It was fun, and as always, fascinating. My other cap, that of a historian, makes me wonder if there really was a Moses (no archeological evidence yet), but if there were not, somebody gave birth to monotheism, rule of law (ten commandments), and a sense of nationhood to the early Hebrews.

The Homesman
Having read all the Little House on the Prairie series in my childhood, and watching the televised version as an adult, it never crossed my mind that these pioneers might have included young women who were driven mad by this life. But there were, and this is a film about them, and about people who cared for them.

The extraordinary heroine of this movie is Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), who is a pious, proper, and probably once privileged single woman who has succeeded in making her holdings profitable in America's great prairies. She knows that three young wives in nearby homesteads have gone mad: losing all their children to a typhoid epidemic, or bleak loneliness, or a bad and abusive marriage. She is the only one in her church who steps forward to take these women to a place where they might recover, back to “civilization.”

She saves a low-life rascal George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) from being hanged by outraged townspeople and in return demands that he accompany her and her charges.

There were memories of the African Queen for me in watching these very un-alike people. But most interesting was how much Briggs changed and how useful he became.  He saved them from what might have been a horror when some Indians came with bad intentions and he distracted them by setting loose one of their horses.

The film was gripping and wonderfully made. My only gripe was historic: that nobody wanted to marry a successful and competent woman because she was “bossy” and “plain.” Considering the shortage of marriageable women and their death rate in childbearing, I don't believe for a moment that she would not be able to find a man to marry.  This was a little  bit of feminist nonsense.

But never mind that.  It was a movie worth seeing.  Even Meryl Streep and John Lithgow have cameo roles in this film.

Imitation Game
This movie had the double allure of a gripping story about World War II and a chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock to many of you) inhabit the role of Alan Turing, a very strange British genius who helped his country survive what might have been a losing war against Germany.

Germany's U-boat wolf packs were blowing up convoys of food and materiel being sent by the US to keep Britain afloat at the beginning of World War II. The British were slowly starving and were well in danger of negotiating a shameful peace (again) when British Intelligence organized a cadre of mathematicians and linguists to try to break the “unbreakable” Nazi code machine, the Intrepid. With this machine, their communications were so protected that they could broadcast in the open without fear of being understood.

Alan Turing, a university math professor joined a group of clever men (and women) working to break the codes. He was brilliant, very eccentric and strange, and did not “play well with others.” His behavior illustrated a little known syndrome: Aspergers, which made him obsessively single-minded, socially maladept, and not an easy man to like. But he was fascinated by problem solving and was determined to create a machine that could decode the German Intrepid.

That he and his team did so is historically known; by doing so, they enabled the British to survive and helped win the war. This was done at a price, however; they had to permit some of the air raids to go through (such as the destruction of Coventry) so that the Nazis would not see that their code had been broken.

(An aside from me: the US broke the Japanese code just before the outbreak of the war which gave us the same sort of ultimate advantage.)

An additional reason to see this film, aside from the pleasure of a great story, is to know that Alan Turing had his own secret: he was homosexual, a condition that was considered criminal in Britain, with the only options being prison or chemical castration. Hard to believe, and painful to consider.

This is a very rewarding and fascinating movie to see.

Laina, December 31

Youth who seek “meaning” find it in bad places

Laina Farhat-Holzman
January 3, 2015

Intrepid TV journalists have managed to conduct interviews with some of the most puzzling Jihadis flocking to ISIS. It seems inconceivable that a French teen-ager raised as a Catholic in Normandy could choose to join ISIS and decapitate a prisoner on television. But when asked why he does this, he says that he hopes to die and go to heaven. He hates western civilization because it is corrupt, run by Jews, and full of shameless women who dare to show their faces and who do not defer to men.

Young women also flock to Syria where they babysit until selected by a “warrior” to become his sex-slave wife and bear his children, preferably boys. I can understand why young Muslim women would rebel against their oppressive home life and use Jihad as an excuse for a little adventure (and maybe sex); but it is more difficult to understand why any European woman with half a brain would convert to militant Islam. Even more puzzling are girls willing to become suicide bombers. Their status in Muslim Paradise is not a happy one. They will still serve men.

Why are these young people so dense?

o     Boredom and the search for adventure with the justification that it is religiously blessed.

o     Failure of the European host societies to integrate immigrants into their cultures, opting instead to keep them on the dole. These young people neither feel Muslim nor French, British, German, Danish, or Swedish. Becoming a Jihadi provides fellowship and solidarity, helped by serious brainwashing.

o     Reluctance of modern European countries to practice any sort of love of nation, believing that patriotism leads to war. However, without understanding the miracle of western civilization, students have the choice of believing in nothing or believing in a cleverly propagandized notion of the superiority of Islamism. ISIS makes a point of condemning national identity, creating instead an imaginary supra-nation, an Islamic caliphate. This gives them a flag they can salute, a black pirates' flag.

o     One cannot but wonder how much of this movement is the result of the terribly inbred first-cousin marriages preferred in the Muslim world, the consequences of which are producing anomalies and mental retardation. Don't they, and converts  from prisons, know that ISIS will kill them if they want to go home?

It is not popular among our teachers and intellectual elites to praise our own civilization. There is handwringing over Western colonialism that did such damage to the Muslim world while ignoring that the Muslim Turks colonized this region and retarded it for 500 years. It is not popular to note that Western colonial powers actually created nation states that had not been there before, and gave them the institutions to run them. India, for one, would not be a country without the British colonial administration.

The scientific revolution of the 18th century rose out of two millennia of western institutions: revival of the learning of ancient Greece and Rome, some dazzling Islamic science which flourished briefly and then died, and a religious reformation that permitted rational thought to supplant obedient belief.

The ancient institution of slavery (including the slavery of women) was only ended by Western civilization. Not enough credit is given, or taught in schools, about our emancipation of black slaves and women.

The UN's 2013 Slavery Index lists 29.8 million slaves worldwide, involuntary servitude, including children; enforced child marriage; and criminal sexual slave trafficking. Countries with the highest number of slaves are China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Congo, Burma, and Bangladesh. India dwarfs them all in sheer numbers.  But seven of ten countries with the largest percentage of slaves are Muslim. If all married women, not just underage brides, were included as slaves, the numbers would be even higher.

Since war has been declared on the Western world (as well as on the western-influenced Muslim world), we should revisit how we understand and support our own civilization. It may be chic to be a nihilist, but has never been smart.  We have a civilization worth fighting for. ISIS doesn't.

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