February 28, 2006
Review: The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
The civil rights movement's most famous episodes in the 1950s were probably the small rebellion of Rosa Parks, and of course the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.
But whereas those moments were inspirational and uplifting in some ways, the tragic story of the murder of Emmett Till is an equally horrifying counterpoint.
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till due to be released today on DVD, is a fantastic little film. At about 70 minutes, it is short, but covers the whole narrative surrounding Emmett Till's death with abundant detail. Till was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, and is described by his relatives as carefree, and a practical joker, never taking anything seriously and always trying to play pranks on his cousins. In 1955, he went to visit relatives in Mississippi. While there, he famously whistled at a white woman as she was exiting a general store in Money, Mississippi. That night two men came and took him from his relatives' home. Three days later his mutilated body was found chained to a cotton gin motor in the Tallahatchie River.
Till's murder catalyzed the civil rights movement because his mother had a public funeral for him back in Chicago with an open casket, allowing all to see the violence visited upon her son. This public display caused only insult to be added to injury when the perpetrators were put on trial in Mississippi and it soon became clear that it was really a farce.
Keith Beauchamp, the director, makes excellent use of both original interviews with many of Till's relatives -- including his mother, who died in early 2003 -- and archival footage from the funeral, the trial, and the news coverage of it at the time. The soundtrack is moving, and there is a matter-of-factness to much of the interviews; that is to say, there is little in the way of melodrama. Till's mother does not need to resort to hysterics. Her calm demeanor as she describes her feelings upon seeing her son's tortured body is all the more powerful for its lack of dramatic embellishment. I thought the most moving portions were the stories of Till's cousins, who were his age, boys like him, but who are now in their sixties.
I grew up in Mississippi, a fact which I might not have mentioned on this blog before. There was a time in high school, when doing research into Mississippi history and the civil rights movement, that it dawned on me that until a few years before my birth, Mississippi had really been something akin to a police state for much of its black population. When one reads about the Sovereignty Commission -- basically a state-level secret police and intelligence organization -- one is left with indelible comparisons to the worst of repugnant regimes in other parts of the world. I say all this with no small bit of regret. It's hard to realize the dark side of the place that one has known as home all one's life. Mississppi has so many positives. Some of the nicest people I've ever met live there, both black and white. It has a history to rival nearly any other part of the country: key events in the civil rights movement, the development of blues, Grant's Vicksburg campaign, arguably more important than Gettysburg, and a long history of interaction between the French, Spanish, and Indians to boot. This underside of its story must be told, though, and films like this are among the better ways to do so.
I have but two critiques: the film uses a few brief segments of an interview with Al Sharpton. They are well done, and Sharpton does a fine job. But I think he's an inherently polarizing character in today's politics. I'm not sure that the story gains anything from his inclusion. If getting the story out is the goal, I'm not sure Sharpton makes that any easier. There are plenty of Mississippian civil rights leaders who do equally well: Charles Evers is one. So I might not have included Sharpton. Second, the film has a bit of a harsh transition from telling the story of Till to showing how the film itself played a role in reopening the Till case. One moment we are learning that Till's mother has died; the next we are watching City Council proceedings in New York City of all places, where a councilman is praising Till's relatives. It seemed a bit of a non-sequitur and needed more fleshing out. All in all, this was an excellent production though, and those are mere quibbles.
A natural prejudice leads a man to scorn anybody who has been his inferior, long after he has become his equal; the real inequality, due to fortune or the law, is always followed by an imagined inequality rooted in mores; but with the ancients, this secondary effect of slavery had a time limit, for the freedman was so completely like the man born free that it was soon impossible to distinguish between them.Mississippi might as well be a case study for what that wise man described.
In antiquity the most difficult thing was to change the law; in the modern world, the hard thing is to alter mores, and our difficulty begins where theirs ended.
This is because in the modern world the insubstantial and ephemeral fact of servitude is most fatally combined with the physical and permanent fact of difference in race. Memories of slavery disgrace the race, and race perpetuates memories of slavery.
This is a winning film and will be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about an important event in the history of the civil rights movement. I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Special Ops Media for sending me a copy to review.
UPDATE: The Amazon link above should be for the film, but it is acting a little funny. If it is showing a different work, here's another link.
February 24, 2006
"Solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism."
Ian Schwartz has a 2 mintue and 27 second video available of Christopher Hitchens' speech at the Danish Embassy in DC today, where Hitchens organized a pro-Denmark rally. [Hat-tip: Instapundit]. I've put together a little transcript of Hitchens' remarks:
"Brothers and sisters, I [inaudible] . . . a speech.I imagine that Hitchens and I might disagree on many points. He's more or less a socialist after all. But he's pretty much won my admiration for all time with his spirited defense of the war in Iraq. The piece he wrote in the Weekly Standard back in September alone is absolutely outstanding [see A War to Be Proud Of], and when I see things like Fukuyama backpedaling, I look back on that piece and feel comforted.
It misses the point . . . [inaudible] [laughter]
[Crowd: "Speech! Speech!"]
Brothers and sisters, I just thought I would thank everyone for coming and say how touching it is that people will take a minute from a working day to do something that our government won't do for us, which is quite simply to say that we know who our friends and our allies are, and they should know that we know it. And that we take a stand of democracy against dictatorship. And when the embassies of democracies are burned in the capital cities of dictatorships, we think the State Department should denounce that, and not denounce the cartoons.
[Cheers of support and applause]
And that we're fed up with the invertebrate nature of our State Department.
[Laughter, cheers, applause]
If we had more time, brothers and sisters, I think that we should have gone from here to the embassy of Iraq, to express our support for another country that is facing a campaign of lies and hatred and violence. And we would -- if we did that we would say that we knew blasphemy when we saw it, we knew sacrilege when we saw it: it is sacrilegious to blow up beautiful houses of worship in Samarra. That would be worth filling the streets of the world to protest about.
[Cheers and applause]
We are not for profanity nor for disrespect, though we are, and without any conditions, or any ifs or any buts, for free expression in all times and in all places
and our solidarity . . . [inaudible]
So, we said we would, I told the Danish embassy that we would disperse at one o'clock. I hope and believe we've made our point, I hope and believe that today's tv will have some more agreeable features, such as your own, to show, instead of the faces of violence and hatred, and fascism, and I think I can just close by saying, solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism.
[Applause as Hitchens steps away]
Today only increases my favor for Hitchens. Three cheers for Denmark!
February 23, 2006
Has war with Iran begun already?
Back in January, I said:
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.Is it possible that the Iranians have begun their campaign of terror, but with as much deniability as possible? Let's discuss.
-There will be airstrikes upon Iranian facilities by either the US or Israel.
-There will be catastrophic, if not cataclysmic, terror attacks in various parts of the Middle East, sponsored by Iran or its proxies; The Gulf States, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq are potential targets.
I'm not going to make any definitive statements of causality. Either of the above two events may happen before the other. What happens after those two is anyone's guess. But I think they are both coming, and coming faster than we may all expect.
As far as terrorism and its relationship to a state, Iran presents a different set of circumstances than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's raid on the eastern seaboard on 9/11 was an act of a transnational terror organization with sanctuary within a state. Afghanistan was a totally willing host to Al Qaeda's parasitic organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were still different organizations, with different goals, intents, and motivations, complementary though they might have been.
In Iraq, terror organizations have yet a different relationship with the state. There they exist as something more akin to a cancer, feeding off the ideological and organizational remnants of the Hussein regime, and attacking the host -- the new Iraqi state, founded in the period of 2004-2005.
But what if terrorism is not just a tactic, or an organization separate from its host state? What if instead, terrorism is part and parcel of the state, and not just a tactic, but key to the national security strategy of a state? What if its institutions are not just cooperative with those of a given state, but nearly completely reliant upon it, even to the point of serving as its proxy?
Something akin to this last scenario describes the relationship of Iran to terrorist outfits, whether Hezbollah, its own internal security organizations, or its Pasdaran officers who have made mischief in all parts of the Muslim world at some point or another. Let us then posit that terrorism in some form is an integral part of Iran's foreign policy.
Allow a slilght digression on the nature of terrorism itself. As much as Al Qaeda or its brethren may wish to inflict massive casualties within the West and the US especially, terrorism is just as much about, well, terrorizing a given audience or constituency. That is to say, even though many forms of it might inflict significant casualties, the ultimate goal is influence. It is meant to change minds. When its perpetrators are known, and terror acts are overt, it might be categorized within that type of operation that the West would know as a "show of force." When its origins are not known, or if it is perhaps not even clear that a certain event has a single human agency behind it, then it seeks other forms of influence -- perhaps to change mindsets or affect policy. In some cases, it might even overlap or be confused with covert action, one of the purposes of which is to affect or change policy without any public knowledge of agency or origin.
The US response to 9/11 -- transformation of two states, and an unremitting pursuit of Al Qaeda in all its forms -- would seem to suggest that overt terrorism does not influence the US in a productive manner. Any organization or state that used terror solely for the purpose of a "show of force" would be looking down the business end of the US military's arsenal with little delay. This is not to suggest that spectacular attacks won't be pursued, just that they might now be most useful only for their destructive power.
But the second kind of terrorism -- deniable, covert, and meant to influence -- might take on a whole new importance. These kinds of attacks might be meant to embarrass the West, harrass it, sow discord among its nations, or alternately (and perhaps not simultaneously) unify the Muslim world against it. What might some of these actions look lilke? Well, perhaps "spontaneous" demonstrations in dozens of countries about something published four months previously in an obscure news organ would fit the bill. Or, perhaps a massive terror attack upon a key Shia shrine, which has thus far not been claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, could fit into this category as well.
When considered in the light of the long history of Iran with terror, as both its sponsor and its exporter, one wonders if Iran has begun a new campaign in its quest to achieve nuclear power status with no real objection from the rest of the world. Much of the below has been stated in other venues, but consider each of these points afresh:
-the cartoon controversy did not really begin until after the IAEA had referred Iran to the security council.
-the current chairmanship of the IAEA is held by Denmark.
-some of the worst violence was in Syria, a state where the government controls association, and which is allied with Iran.
And as far as the mosque destruction goes:
-no particular group has claimed responsibility.
-conventional wisdom, correct or not, holds that this act has created one of the highest states of tension in Iraq in some time.
Have these acts been effective in influencing the West? The cartoon controversy might have united the West a bit, but it might have united the Muslim world much more. The mosque destruction is a bit too recent to judge.
One wonders though: how does the US public's reaction to the UAE port deal relate to the cartoon riots? One commentator today (can't find the link) mentioned that it is the reaction of the US public to distrust this transaction when they see that their own government was not forthright enough in supporting Denmark.
One can speculate all night on whether the above two acts are related and how. There are other explanations. Coincidence is one of the easiest.
But all of this raises a larger point: when Americans envision war, we imagine large scale military assaults and operations to neutralize targets, not covert and deniable violence on behalf of influencing public attitudes. Yet this blind spot is exactly what Iran excels at performing, and exactly what vexes Secretary Rumsfeld so much as he laments today in the LA Times:
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our government, the media or our society in general -- have not.I believe our war with Iran has begun.
Consider that violent extremists have established "media relations committees" and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Strategypage today has a list of "Ten Signs that the United States is about to Bomb Iran." These are things to look for that will indicate an imminent strike by the US, movements of units and materiel and such that intelligence analysts would examine.
Iran is playing quite a different game than us. It seeks a campaign of influence, of which terrorism and rioting might be key components. Iran's campaign needs no top ten signs to detect it. If the period before it was referred to the Security Council might have been called the "diplomatic phase," it is now in the "influence phase," which might last for a long time, and mean no further escalation is necessary. There may be no start or stop, there may be no formal military action, there may be no overt Iranian involvement, but war with Iran will likely look like a series of events, inexplicable and spontaneous, yet which frustrate our aims.
It is a well-crafted strategy really, as it seeks the seams in our defenses. It undermines our cultural assumptions (wars must be declared at a given point, ended at a given point, and fought by uniformed military forces on "battlefields") and even some of our societal organizational seams (media institutions are not part of the governments that fight wars, but are separate, and beheld to different standards).
For those who think I might be some sort of conspiracy nut, consider: a key part of influence is opportunism. I'm not implying that Iran knew the cartoons would be published, or even was behind the Danish imam who first started circulating them. But when you see an opening you seize it. Iran may have had nothing to do with the destruction of the golden mosque, but this doesn't stop Ahmadinejad from fanning the flames of popular emotion by blaming the US or Israel.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st century. What will be next?
UPDATE: Hat-tip to Instapundit for the Strategypage bit. Also, for this piece by Michael Novak:
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.I guess I'm not the only one . . .
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
February 21, 2006
"I want hard bastards. I want MI-5."
(dialogue excerpt from Episode 8)
I've finished watching Season 3 of MI-5 and it did not disappoint. MI-5 is consistently one of the best television shows around. It addresses varied aspects of intelligence work, the clandestine lifestyle, morality and national security, and is not afraid to call a spade a spade when face to face with Islamic terror. It is superb.
If Season 3 has a theme, it is of the trials of love while engaged in serving one's country, a cruel mistress indeed. Also, extended ruminations on death are throughout these ten episodes as well. When is it moral for a country to order an assassination? I found the scenario that the show used to be completely justified, but, well, I'm a Marine. Is the lifestyle of a spy compatible at all with a personal love life? When has an agent gone too far in influencing a target? What should one be prohibited from suggesting?
These larger questions are punctuated with bits of technological whimsy -- I'm no computer geek but I think some of the technology mentioned seems a little far-fetched -- but they at no point detract from the plot, as they are ancillary to the more substantial questions above.
There are also a few digs at the Americans ("Most Americans still think the world on the other side of the oceans is empty save for signs saying 'Here be dragons." -- I took no offense at this, but found it amusing.), interservice rivalry (whew! are things really that bad between 5 and 6?), political usage of the agency, and the role of corporations in influencing policy. But none of these made up the substance of plots, and were really sideshows -- maybe even bones thrown by the writers to their political masters at the BBC.
No, this show is a work of art of the highest quality.
One episode contains a chilling exchange between a suspected terror financier -- who hides beneath three-piece suits, flawless English, and legitimate businesses -- and a female agent sent to investigate his motives:
TARGET: [sipping cognac] "American rubbish."I found this exchange to be very compelling because the message was not only delivered by a silver-tongued businessman, speaking to an attractive woman in a $500-a-night hotel suite, but also because its content is not one of Islam, Allah, paradise or fascism. It is only the most cynical nihilism. What a telling scene. For all of our rightful stereotypes of poor Arabs shouting in the streets and brandishing AK-47s, here is another side of Al Qaeda equally dangerous: megalothymia wed only to violent thrill-seeking. Might this derivation of "Islamic" terror be a growiing constituency of Eurabia in the future? I hope not, but suspect so.
AGENT: "You don't like Americans?"
TARGET: "I think no better or worse of them than of anyone else. I did enjoy watching the planes flying into the Twin Towers."
AGENT: "It certainly made the pulse . . . beat a little faster."
AGENT: "The people jumping . . . was awful though."
TARGET: "Can't you imagine the excitement of those young men who had taken over the planes? To do something so . . . devastating, so spectacular . . . "
AGENT: "It almost sounds as though you . . . support Al Qaeda."
TARGET: "No . . . I'm not interested in their ideology. They're a business as well as a terrorist organization."
AGENT: "But they could do something here or back in London that would kill everyone."
TARGET: "Why be so frightened of death, Sophie? Couple kissing down in the lobby. Boy who brought us the drinks. Who would really care if they all vanished tomorrow?"
AGENT: "Well, their families, the people that love them . . ."
TARGET: "Compare their trivial lives to those men who rushed to their deaths on that beautiful morning in New York."
AGENT: "Is that what you enjoy then? Death and destroying people?"
TARGET: "Enjoy? No, not really. But if you don't like death and destruction, I suggest you look away for the next thirty years, because it's inevitable. And millions will perish."
AGENT: "You know, you make money from people who deal in death and destruction. I'm not sure I entirely approve of you."
TARGET: "But there is a part of you that agrees with me, I'm sure."
AGENT: "What makes you think that?"
TARGET: "You're clever. You're a bit lonely. I imagine you've never been able to keep a lover, but you pretend that's through choice. One thing puzzles me though. That lost child at the station.
AGENT: "What about it?"
TARGET: "I saw your face. It wasn't the Sophie Newman who screams at cloakroom attendants.
AGENT: "How do you know about that? . . . [recovers her bearing] I've always had a soft spot for children. That other bitch happened to lose a particularly beautiful scarf of mine."
TARGET: "Shall I have her killed?"
TARGET: "The girl in the cloakroom? Hmm? Come on, Sophie! I thought it was your mission in life not to be bored. Let's see if she's working tonight.
AGENT: "Let's just . . .sit down."
TARGET: "One call to the casino, and one of my men can follow her to her house, kill her, and everybody in it."
AGENT: "Stop it."
TARGET: "Come on, Sophie, you don't find this boring do you? We can listen to her screaming." [Speaks a few sentences in Turkish into his phone] Good. She's working. So how much pain does she deserve for losing your scarf?"
AGENT: "Stop it."
TARGET: [Looks at her, then hangs up phone] "One person. A million people. You or me. It changes nothing in the end. Life is only a dream. And one day, we all wake up from it."
AGENT: "I'd like to believe that when people wake up from it they'll see a kinder face than yours."
TARGET: "Good night, Sophie."
Lest you think that this is the only impression of terrorists that is given, I have to contrast the above depiction of terror's nihilistic side with the portrayal of an influential imam in a London mosque in an episode from Season 2. The imam gives this homily to six would-be suicide bombers in one scene:
"What is it to wear 150 pound American training shoes? To put on jackets with a label from Milan in Italy? What is it to drink alcohol? To go clubbing, and end up fumbling a slut of an English girl in the park at dawn, your mind wrecked with pills? It is nothing but ash in the mouth, the taste of the death of the soul. For the west sells you the illusion of an earthly paradise. This is how the American Jews on Wall Street make their money. But despite all the pressures of the West, gaudy promises in your schools, on the television, the way your British friends behave, you've kept yourselves pure. You've become the West's worst fear: young people they cannot sell to, young people they cannot touch. You know the way to true paradise: through a martyr's death." [ALL, shouting] "Death to America and her allies! Death to the unbelievers! Death to the West!"That episode aired at least a few months before the bus and train bombings in London. Like I said, MI-5 does not shy from asking the difficult questions inherent in strategy, or offending where necessary to ask those questions. If you aren't watching MI-5, why not? I recommend starting with Season 1.
February 18, 2006
The Saddam Tapes and the Intelligence Summit
The Intelligence Summit, a "non-partisan, non-profit, educational forum", is taking place this weekend in the Washington, D.C. environs. Another blogger, Kobayashi Maru
, is there and I just spoke with him on the phone. He had some highlights from this morning's speaker, John Tierney, who discussed the tapes of Saddam Hussein recently released to ABC, and subject of a story on Nightline.
Here are some points Tierney made this morning. Take from them what you will:
-Only 4% of the tapes have been analyzed
-The tapes contain the voices of senior Iraqi scientists, meeting with Saddam. Many of these scientists' identities were completely unknown to UNSCOM. Tierney implied that they were being hidden and were never interviewed in the search for WMD in Iraq.
-References are made on the tapes to "plasma programs" of some kind, which Tierney took to mean that Iraq was attempting to manufacture hydrogen bombs first, rather than more simple nukes.
-It is clear from Saddam's tone of voice, and his laughter on the tapes, that he was supremely confident that he had UNSCOM completely running around in circles and utterly confused insitutionally as to what he was actually doing.
Other speakers in the tapes share the same view.
-Tariq Aziz is not just a diplomat at arm's length on the tapes, but is very highly valued by Saddam. At one point, Saddam tells him that when they win the fight against the Americans, Aziz will write the book about it. (Readers with a sense of irony may enjoy knowing that US troops occupied Aziz's home in the spring of 2003. A detailed account of this may be found in The March Up by Bing West and Ray Smith.)
-Many speakers on the tape punctuate their remarks with references to Allah, God's will, etc etc. Tierney points out that Saddam never stops them, corrects them, or discourages them from using such pious language. This may be meaningless, as such expressions are common in the Arab world. But they seem to speak to the notion that Saddam would never cooperate with Islamists.
-Tierney implies that in one portion of the tape, Tariq Aziz makes the case that a biological weapons attack would be more difficult to blame on Iraq than a nuclear attack. Tierney then mentions that the anthrax attacks in 2001 were in some part blamed on personnel at Fort Detrick.
-Another speaker, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jack Shaw, has restated his case that the Russians helped move Iraqi WMD materials to Syria, and have even helped move some of them back to Iraq, and that many places in Iraq where they might be have still not been thoroughly investigated. He makes the case that the US wants to keep a lid on this in exchange for Russian cooperation with Iran in the future. Shaw also implies that some of these allegations have been corroborated by Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
So that's some highlights from today at the Intelligence Summit. Take what you will from them. Are they true? Who knows? But they're certainly interesting.
Based on my interpretation of the list of speakers at the conference, I think it probably succeeds as a non-partisan forum. Looks like quite a number of different backgrounds and viewpoints are present.
February 5, 2006
Today's sermon at church was pretty thought-provoking. The minister took the occasion of Bush's State of the Union address to offer his own interpretation of the "State of the Church," by which he meant, the state of the Christian church in general, not our own church community.
He pointed out that statistics show that 76% of Americans weren't in church today. He noted that long ago, when a new subdivision was created, the developers would choose a place for the church, making sure there was one, but now, churches have trouble expanding or even starting in some communities. Neighborhoods often even oppose church expansions -- which was apparently the case for our church several years ago.
Pastors are portrayed on television and in popular culture as bumbling, and inarticulate. Christians in general are shown as being narrow-minded and judgemental. In years past missionaries would depart the United States for lands abroad, then return to report on their progress. Now, the United States is the 3rd largest mission field in the world, with missionaries coming here to testify, then returning to their own countries to report.
The minister mentioned Thomas Friedman's book, "The World is Flat", which makes the case for the extreme interconnected nature of the world economy today.
He noted that we live in a time of extreme technological advance, with corresponding social upheavals, and political controversies. He said that although Christianity may seem as though it cannot adapt to new circumstances, and it may seem that our nation is not a Christian nation, that Christianity has weathered similar social upheavals before. I thought he was going to draw comparisons to the Reformation or the Renaissance, but instead, he drew our attention to the 1st century AD.
In the 1st century, Pax Romana ruled the world, and Roman engineering, in the form of roads and other public works projects, and shipping and transportation technology, meant rapid change in many parts of the world. Christianity started in this environment and began to spread like wildfire. By the end of the 1st century, the Christian church had spread until it covered most of the known world.
But its spread was not without strife. The Romans at first ignored Christianity, then began to persecute it, and then things got so bad that Romans would kill Christians anytime they discovered them.
How did Christianity spread so quickly in this environment? The pastor's thesis was that Christianity spread because it acted and "looked" differently than the rest of the world. That is to say, his thesis is that Christianity spread by its own example. He pointed us to the book "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark, in which it is argued that Constantine's conversion to Christianity was not a leading event but a trailing one: only when much of the empire was already Christian did Constantine convert. By that time, Christianity had already infiltrated all realms of empire life. The reason the pastor gave was that during the period between 100 AD and the conversion of Constantine, Rome had many troubles which its government and its elites could not solve. When they failed, Christians stepped in and attempted to take care of the people of the empire, to provide the services that the government could not.
The pastor noted that when Christians today discuss how to influence the United States so that it might become a more devout or devoutly Christian nation, they usually have two solutions: first, they want to somehow convert the media such that celebrities are Christians and set good examples. Second, they want to "vote out the bums" in office and replace them with Christians.
The pastor said that those ideas were all well and good but the real way that Christianity will spread is by the example of its philosophy in everyday life: Christians can change the culture "through the living of our very lives." Christians themselves can affect this change by 1) aspiring to be Christ-like, 2) going on mission trips of some kind, whether locally or abroad, and 3) having social and communal relationships with other Christians, because Christianity does not thrive in a vacuum.
I thought this was a very interesting sermon and I really agreed with his idea that Christianity must survive and thrive on its own merits, not by voting in certain politicians who might enforce it through fiat, or by merely having somehow the right celebrities in place to espouse its tenets. This appealed to me as one who tries to examine all manner of ideas on their own merits.
I did however, have two other reactions to the sermon:
First, if today is an era of rapid technological change and there is a faith that is spreading as quickly as Christianity did in the 1st century AD, I think the more accurate analogy is Islam. Islam is offering itself very clearly as an alternative to the modernizing forces of rapid technological change, social and political upheaval, and "mental war" as I mentioned in a previous post.
Second, if, as the pastor recommended, Christians can advocate their own religion by setting an example through the living of their very lives, how might Muslims be convinced to do the same? And not just Muslims in the US, or the West, but Muslims in the Middle East as well? Is this even possible? Or are they destined to attempt to impose their own enforcement of Islam upon the rest of us, by law when possible, or by protest when not?
Perhaps our own democratic initiatives in Iraq -- a secular country, and a religiously diverse one at that -- are as much about inculcating some sense of this striving to prove the value of one's own religion as a way of life in compeition with other ways of life, as they are about anything else?
I know that all may be a bit off the beaten path from the regular topics here, but it all seems incredibly relevant given the cartoon controversy of late.
February 3, 2006
The Strength of Unpredictability
here is an important law about power that is too often overlooked by rational and peace-loving people. Any form of power, from the most primitive to the most mind-boggling, is always amplified enormously when it falls into the hands of those whose behavior is wild, erratic, and unpredictable. A gun being waved back and forth by a maniac is far more disturbing to us than the gun in the holster of the policeman, though both weapons are equally capable of shooting us dead. And what is true of guns is far more true in the case of nukes.But it's not just nukes is it? The theme of the unpredictability of tyranny seems to be pretty prevalent in the past few weeks' news:
That is why nuclear weapons in an Iran dominated by a figure like its current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make us more nervous than nuclear weapons in the hands of the Swiss. Both could make big explosions; but the Iranian bomb would tend to keep us awake thinking in the night, while the Swiss atomic bomb would be as threatening as a cuckoo-clock. This does not mean that Iran has to use the bomb; it doesn't. All Iran has to do to make people wonder if it might use it -- and many of us are already pondering that question, thanks to the disturbingly bellicose rhetoric of Ahmadinejad.
It is an immense form of power simply to make other people wonder if you might not do something bad and unpleasant to them.
The Belmont Club has done yeoman's work in analyzing the similar crises about the Danish cartoons about Mohammed and the Washington Post cartoon depicting a quadruple amputee US soldier. The cartoons are protested violently and vociferously by the Muslim world. A British law is nearly passed that would "prohibit speech or artistic expressions deemed insulting by religious communities". In the US however, a tasteless cartoon is published, and the Joint Chiefs merely draw attention to its tastelessness. There is some outcry to be sure, but the Washington Post will probably suffer little long-term effect.
Google is asked by the Justice Department for some statistics on how frequently it is used to search for pornography. Google yawns and one of its attorneys says something like "we'll fight this tooth and nail". On the other hand, Google wants to expand in China, and in order to do so, the Chinese ask that it ban searches for controversial terms like "Tibet" "Failun Gong" etc. Google agrees.
And Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, as Harris mentions. The world falls all over itself trying to figure out the magic combination of buttons that must be pushed to simultaneously keep Iran from doing so, and not anger the Iranian leadership or people in the process.
On behalf of the free world, I am professionally embarassed at all of this.
How would the Muslims react if some brave EU politician just told them to grow up? How would the Chinese react if Google removed its ban one day out of the blue, or made an "error" in its Adsense algorithm which displayed pro-Tibet ads on searches for Communism? How would the Iranians react if the "international community" said, "Continue your attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will destroy your economy"?
I heard once that Margaret Thatcher told Saddam Hussein that if he used chemical weapons in Gulf War I, he had better take a photo of Baghdad because she'd turn it into glass. I wonder if that's true . . .