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Posts For: October 9, 2011

Which Matters More? Vandalism Against Mosques or Synagogues?

The arson attack against a mosque in the village of Tuba Zanghariya in Northern Israel has been widely condemned throughout the world. Israel’s government and the Jewish state’s president also condemned the despicable incident, which has garnered wide attention in the international press, and both of its chief rabbis have gone to the mosque to express their sorrow.

But a Jaffa synagogue that was struck by a Molotov cocktail on Saturday after Arab protests against the Netanyahu government cannot expect the same solicitude. Nor should we anticipate a similar outpouring from Palestinian Authority figures after swastikas were painted on the Jewish shrine of the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus last week.

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The arson attack against a mosque in the village of Tuba Zanghariya in Northern Israel has been widely condemned throughout the world. Israel’s government and the Jewish state’s president also condemned the despicable incident, which has garnered wide attention in the international press, and both of its chief rabbis have gone to the mosque to express their sorrow.

But a Jaffa synagogue that was struck by a Molotov cocktail on Saturday after Arab protests against the Netanyahu government cannot expect the same solicitude. Nor should we anticipate a similar outpouring from Palestinian Authority figures after swastikas were painted on the Jewish shrine of the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus last week.

The willingness of a tiny minority of Israelis to engage in violence against Arabs is reprehensible. The so-called “price tag” assaults on Arab targets in the West Bank are an outrage and have rightly engendered a full-scale effort from Israeli police and military officials to find and prosecute the perpetrators. But the fact Arab violence against Jewish targets is not considered worthy of much indignation is of great concern.

Part of the problem is the bigotry of low expectations. Since Israelis and Jews are considered to be too civilized to engage in primitive acts of violence and vandalism against Muslims, these acts are treated as atrocities to be deplored. There is nothing wrong with anger about such incidents. On the contrary, Israelis and their friends should be angry about actions that sully the country’s good name and offend the values of the Jewish state.

But why are Palestinians not held to the same high standard? If a case of arson by a Jew is deemed worthy of international outrage, why not a fire bomb thrown at a synagogue? If “price tag” vandalism in Arab villages is troubling, why aren’t the same people troubled by swastikas daubed on a Jewish holy place, especially when hatred at the spot has already bubbled over into deadly violence against Jews earlier this year?

Unfortunately, hatred in the Middle East isn’t a one-way street with only Jews showing signs of intolerance, though you might be forgiven for thinking that if your only source of information about the region was the New York Times. Given the non-stop flow of anti-Semitic incitement that pours out of the Palestinian Authority’s official media, it is little surprise anti-Jewish attacks are so prevalent they are hardly considered newsworthy any more. Those who cry out for mutual co-existence and tolerance between Jews and Arabs must send their message to both communities.

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Global Hypocrisy Watch: Syria, Kurds and Palestinians

The assassination of a Kurdish opposition leader in Syria may lead to more violence as protests against the Assad regime escalate. But it should also serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy of much of the world’s attitudes about the Middle East.

While most of the world has been obsessing about the alleged wrongs of the Palestinians, few seem to think it’s worth caring about the fact Kurds remain the object of violent suppression in both Syria and Turkey. Yet as we saw this past week, when Russia and China vetoed United Nations resolutions condemning the crackdown against dissent in Syria, few among the globe’s chattering classes seem willing to condemn any nation in the world other than Israel. Nor do many seem concerned with the plight of any national or ethnic group demanding sovereignty or rights other than those seeking to do so at the expense of the globe’s only Jewish state.

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The assassination of a Kurdish opposition leader in Syria may lead to more violence as protests against the Assad regime escalate. But it should also serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy of much of the world’s attitudes about the Middle East.

While most of the world has been obsessing about the alleged wrongs of the Palestinians, few seem to think it’s worth caring about the fact Kurds remain the object of violent suppression in both Syria and Turkey. Yet as we saw this past week, when Russia and China vetoed United Nations resolutions condemning the crackdown against dissent in Syria, few among the globe’s chattering classes seem willing to condemn any nation in the world other than Israel. Nor do many seem concerned with the plight of any national or ethnic group demanding sovereignty or rights other than those seeking to do so at the expense of the globe’s only Jewish state.

The focus of global attention in recent weeks has been the attempt of the Palestinians to get the United Nations to give them statehood without first having to make peace with Israel. This has resulted in an orgy of rhetoric about the right to self-determination of all peoples. But the plight of the Kurds, who have arguably suffered far more than the Palestinians or any other stateless people, doesn’t move the international community. Indeed, the only reason this latest outrage committed against the Kurds in Syria is getting any attention at all has been because it comes in the context of efforts by the Assad clan and its Alawite allies to hang on to power in Damascus.

It remains to be seen whether an uprising by the Kurds, who make up approximately 10 percent of the Syrian population and are concentrated largely in the northeast of the country along the border with Turkey and Iraq, will be the last nail in the coffin of Bashar Assad’s dictatorship. So far, the regime has been holding on with help from its ally Iran and Hezbollah. Assad is also confident the Obama administration won’t do anything more than issue belated protests about his behavior and is assured by Russia he need not fear action from the UN. If he survives, that may mean a new era of even more brutal government oppression for Syria’s Kurds.

Of course, the Syrians aren’t the only nation that seeks to repress their Kurdish minority. Kurdish culture and language were banned for decades, and any demand for independence or even autonomy has been summarily rejected. Turkey, which has thrown away its longstanding alliance with Israel out of sympathy for the condition of Palestinians in Hamas-run Gaza, has also been busy slaughtering their Kurds for many years. Turks rightly denounce the Kurds’ PKK organization as a terrorist group, but it is no worse than the Hamas killers the Turkish government supports.

Yet the Kurds, who have only achieved a degree of freedom in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, have not been able to mobilize the kind of sympathy from international human rights activists that the Palestinians routinely count on.

Unlike Turkey and Syria, Israel has repeatedly stated its desire to negotiate a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. And unlike the situation of Kurds in most of the Middle East, Arab citizens of Israel also have full civil and legal rights. It should also be stated that, whatever crimes have been committed in the name of Kurdish independence, the goal of Kurdish groups is not the eradication of other nations. The same cannot be said of the Palestinians. But no one should hold their breath waiting for the UN or its misnamed Human Rights Council to give the Kurds’ far more grievous wrongs the same hearing they give the Palestinians.

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We Cannot Afford to Stop Drone Strikes

The New York Times engages in some scare-mongering today about a drone ams race. Scott Shane notes correctly other nations such as China are building their own drones and in the future U.S. forces could be attacked by them–our forces will not have a monopoly on their use forever. Fair enough, but he goes further, suggesting our current use of drones to target terrorists will backfire:

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

“The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Missile Contagion, who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology. “The copycatting is what I worry about most.”

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The New York Times engages in some scare-mongering today about a drone ams race. Scott Shane notes correctly other nations such as China are building their own drones and in the future U.S. forces could be attacked by them–our forces will not have a monopoly on their use forever. Fair enough, but he goes further, suggesting our current use of drones to target terrorists will backfire:

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

“The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Missile Contagion, who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology. “The copycatting is what I worry about most.”

This is a familiar trope of liberal critics who are always claiming we should forego “X” weapons system or capability, otherwise our enemies will adopt it too. We have heard this with regard to ballistic missile defense, ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, land mines, exploding bullets, and other fearsome weapons. Some have even suggested the U.S. should abjure the first use of nuclear weapons–and cut down our own arsenal–to encourage similar restraint from Iran.

The argument falls apart rather quickly because it is founded on a false premise: that other nations will follow our example. In point of fact, Iran is hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons no matter what we do; China is hell-bent on getting drones; and so forth. Whether and under what circumstances they will use those weapons remains an open question–but there is little reason to think self-restraint on our part will be matched by equal self-restraint on theirs. Is Pakistan avoiding nuking India because we haven’t used nuclear weapons since 1945? Hardly. The reason is that India has a powerful nuclear deterrent to use against Pakistan. If there is one lesson of history it is a strong deterrent is a better upholder of peace than is unilateral disarmament–which is what the New York Times implicitly suggests.

Imagine if we did refrain from drone strikes against al-Qaeda–what would be the consequence? If we were to stop the strikes, would China really decide to take a softer line on Uighurs or Russia on Chechen separatists? That seems unlikely given the viciousness those states already employ in their battles against ethnic separatists–which at least in Russia’s case already includes the suspected assassination of Chechen leaders abroad. What’s the difference between sending a hit team and sending a drone?

While a decision on our part to stop drone strikes would be unlikely to alter Russian or Chinese thinking, it would have one immediate consequence: al-Qaeda would be strengthened and could regenerate the ability to attack our homeland. Drone strikes are the only effective weapon we have to combat terrorist groups in places like Pakistan or Yemen where we don’t have a lot of boots on the ground or a lot of cooperation from local authorities. We cannot afford to give them up in the vain hope it will encourage disarmament on the part of dictatorial states.

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The Theological and Political Errors of Pastor Jeffress

Robert Jeffress is a prominent Southern Baptist pastor. He’s also a prime example of why people of the Christian faith are sometimes embarrassingly unequipped for American politics.

Jeffress has created quite a stir by declaring Mormonism is a “cult” and because Mitt Romney is a Mormon, evangelical Christians should support Texas Governor Rick Perry over the former Massachusetts governor. That’s not the only reason evangelical Christians should support Perry over Romney, Jeffress argued, but it’s a key one.

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Robert Jeffress is a prominent Southern Baptist pastor. He’s also a prime example of why people of the Christian faith are sometimes embarrassingly unequipped for American politics.

Jeffress has created quite a stir by declaring Mormonism is a “cult” and because Mitt Romney is a Mormon, evangelical Christians should support Texas Governor Rick Perry over the former Massachusetts governor. That’s not the only reason evangelical Christians should support Perry over Romney, Jeffress argued, but it’s a key one.

As a minister, Jeffress is certainly free to express his views of Mormonism to his congregation and in a Sunday school class — and if he had done so, hardly anyone would care. But it’s the clumsy and destructive manner in which Jeffress has injected religion into politics which has caused the stir. So let’s examine with some care the logic and implications of the positions set forth by Jeffress.

Just to be clear what we’re talking about: The Jeffress Standard is religious beliefs should trump competence when it comes to selecting a president (see this interview). This view is of course at odds with those of Martin Luther, who famously said he’d prefer to be ruled by a competent Turk over an incompetent Christian. And it’s also at odds with  Jeffress’ own claim, which is that he would support Mitt Romney (whom he considers to be a member of a cult) over President Obama (whom he concedes is a Christian). So Jeffress favors voting for an evangelical Christian over a “cult” member — but favors voting for a member of a “cult” over a Christian who happens to be politically liberal? Where exactly in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is this stance articulated? The answer is: Nowhere.

The Reverend Jeffress is making this up as he goes along.

Let’s probe the Jeffress Standard a bit more carefully, shall we? Should we vote for a Christian over a person of the Jewish faith simply because of the matter of the divinity of Jesus? What about favoring an evangelical Christian over a Catholic over matters of purgatory and the authority of the papacy? And what about judging individual Christian candidates on their stance on, say, infant baptism? (No small matter to people of the Baptist faith.) Does the Reverend Jeffress believe we should give extra points to candidates who favor adult baptism? If so, does that apply only to presidential races or should it apply to state legislative races as well? How about for those running for sheriff?

Should Bret Baier, Brian Williams, and Wolf Blitzer set aside time during political debates to explore such pressing issues as transubstantiation, whether one is a pre-versus post-millennialist, and whether speaking in tongues is a sign that a 21st century Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit? If not, why not? Why wouldn’t Jeffress demand the “purity” of one’s theological views be relevant when it comes to judging political candidates?

While we’re at it, should late 18th century evangelical Christians have boycotted Thomas Jefferson as chief author of the Declaration of Independence, because he was hardly an orthodox Christian? If Stephen Douglas had been a more orthodox Christian than Abraham Lincoln, would a 19th-century Robert Jeffress have awarded more points to Douglas than to Lincoln? Where exactly does the Reverend Jeffress propose we draw these lines? Or does he simply believe evangelical Christians should be awarded points over Mormons but not over others? And let’s widen the aperture a bit. In Robert Jeffress’ America, should evangelical Christians boycott businesses run by non-Christians based on the view that those who deny the Lordship of Christ should not financially prosper? Should we choose where we eat pizza based on whether the owners of a particular restaurant believe in Biblical inerrancy?

One can begin to appreciate the thicket we would find ourselves in if we embraced the views and identity politics of the Reverend Jeffress.

There is in fact no sound reason to vote for a person based simply on their religious affiliation. Principles are obviously important in a candidate, and they may well be informed by religious faith. But the principles, not religious affiliations, are the things which have public relevance.

What Robert Jeffress has done — quite unwillingly, I’m sure — is to damage his own Christian witness by weighing in on politics with simplistic and unreflective comments. That is something that has happened time and time again when it comes to politics and prominent Christian ministers and activists, both liberal (like Jesse Jackson and Jim Wallis) and conservative (like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell). Often these individuals will take criticism of their views as a badge of honor and as a sign of their Biblical faithfulness rather than what it is: a sign of their shallowness and even, at times, ungraciousness of spirit.

Let me add a final word: One of the many wonders of America is that she has avoided, almost as if by an act of providence, divisions over matters of religious faith. Comity, tolerance, and respect for people who hold views different from your own is a sign of civility, not weakness.

In his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, President Washington wrote these beautiful words: “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

George Washington was a better general and a better president than Robert Jeffress. He was also, it turns out, a better theologian.

 

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Peace Laureate’s Islah Affiliation

Marc Lynch, a partisan professor who blogs at Abu Aardvark; Gregory Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate who studies Yemen (a country in which I have spent considerable time), Blake Hounshell, an editor at Foreign Policy; and other analysts tweeted to take issue with my post on Friday questioning both what Tawakkul Karman’s affiliation with the Yemeni Islamist party Islah means, as well the co-founder of that party’s work for al-Qaeda. Alas, they avoid addressing the questions at hand and instead substitute snarky and ad hominem attacks. Attacking the messenger rather than the message is a time-worn strategy to avoid debating issues on their merits.

As Thomas von der Osten-Sacken from the German NGO Wadi, which has been at the forefront of both Arab democracy issues and the fight against female genital mutilation, notes, a member of the Nobel Committee which awarded the prize made clear Karman’s affiliation with a Muslim Brotherhood party was key to the committee’s decision. From an Associated Press story: “Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AP that including Karman in the prize is ‘a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.’” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.’”

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Marc Lynch, a partisan professor who blogs at Abu Aardvark; Gregory Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate who studies Yemen (a country in which I have spent considerable time), Blake Hounshell, an editor at Foreign Policy; and other analysts tweeted to take issue with my post on Friday questioning both what Tawakkul Karman’s affiliation with the Yemeni Islamist party Islah means, as well the co-founder of that party’s work for al-Qaeda. Alas, they avoid addressing the questions at hand and instead substitute snarky and ad hominem attacks. Attacking the messenger rather than the message is a time-worn strategy to avoid debating issues on their merits.

As Thomas von der Osten-Sacken from the German NGO Wadi, which has been at the forefront of both Arab democracy issues and the fight against female genital mutilation, notes, a member of the Nobel Committee which awarded the prize made clear Karman’s affiliation with a Muslim Brotherhood party was key to the committee’s decision. From an Associated Press story: “Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AP that including Karman in the prize is ‘a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.’” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.’”

While most Nobel prizes are based on a life’s work whose value is apparent in hindsight, the Nobel Peace Prize is selected by a committee of Norwegian politicians, who base their choice upon a political agenda in the present. The agenda here is trying to counter the notion the Muslim Brotherhood, whose record of Islamist terrorism predates even Israel’s foundation, might hijack the Arab Spring demonstrations to usher in a situation of one-man, one-vote, one-time. To paraphrase the Egyptian-American sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim during a 2006 panel at the American Enterprise Institute, the dichotomy in the Middle East is one of autocracy and theocracy; the two are mirror images of each other, and both attack the liberals in between. The question, then, is whether Islah represents the liberals.

Let’s look at Islah co-founder Sheikh Zindani. The links to al-Qaeda were not drawn from thin air, but originate with the U.S. Treasury Department and were reported by the New York Times. But is he truly liberal and reformist? According to this Global Post article, Zindani does believe women can serve in parliament, but only if they are strictly segregated from men. As Zindani explained, according to the author, women can participate in government — so long as female parliamentarians attend sessions in separate rooms. Zindani also opposes restrictions on adult men marrying little girls. Karman may be honorable, but certainly it is worth asking her how she can affiliate with a party whose co-founder embraces such positions. The questions about terrorism are all the more relevant given that she was chosen precisely because of her affiliation with a Muslim Brotherhood party. As a Nobel Laureate, she will have a bully pulpit. It is worth knowing exactly what we are getting. True, Islah has multiple factions, but if Karman is deserving of the prize, it would be worthwhile to ask her to address the issue, condemning such factions if she so desires.

Alas, too often, Lynch, Johnson, Hounshell, and others obsessed with American domestic politics concentrate more on attacking those with whom they disagree than judging issues on their merits. I have never met Lynch; mutual acquaintances say he personalizes politics too much to associate with those with whom he disagrees. Nor have I met Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate who knows his stuff but who, like many academics, has trouble tolerating disagreement. I did have the pleasure of meeting Hounshell last month in Morocco. He was smart, engaging, and pleasant. However, Hounshell’s tweets do suggest he runs analysts through a political filter in order to decide issues. It is unfortunate that that leads him to be sanguine about a party whose leader supports child marriage and strict segregation of women.

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Perry’s Choice on Prejudice

In 2007, Mike Huckabee sent a not-so-subtle signal to evangelical voters about Mitt Romney’s suitability to be president when he made a disparaging remark about Mormonism and then ran ads touting his own Christianity during the Republican primaries. Four years later, the same prejudice raised its head when Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Rick Perry supporter who introduced him at the Values Voter Summit on Friday, declared that Romney’s faith was a “cult” and stated it was acceptable for voters to prefer or reject a candidate based on his faith.

While the Perry campaign has sought to disassociate itself from these remarks, the question today is whether the Texas governor’s faltering presidential campaign will seek to take advantage of Jeffress’ opening up of the issue of Romney’s religion. Perry’s choice will tell us a lot about who he is as a man.

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In 2007, Mike Huckabee sent a not-so-subtle signal to evangelical voters about Mitt Romney’s suitability to be president when he made a disparaging remark about Mormonism and then ran ads touting his own Christianity during the Republican primaries. Four years later, the same prejudice raised its head when Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Rick Perry supporter who introduced him at the Values Voter Summit on Friday, declared that Romney’s faith was a “cult” and stated it was acceptable for voters to prefer or reject a candidate based on his faith.

While the Perry campaign has sought to disassociate itself from these remarks, the question today is whether the Texas governor’s faltering presidential campaign will seek to take advantage of Jeffress’ opening up of the issue of Romney’s religion. Perry’s choice will tell us a lot about who he is as a man.

Though Romney’s faith was often mentioned in the early going of the 2008 Republican contest, Mormonism had faded from the national conversation this time around. But Jeffress ensured we would not be spared another appalling discussion about whether Americans would vote for a Mormon. As I wrote back in June, a recent Gallup poll showed prejudice against Mormons was worse than that directed at Jews or Catholics, with 22 percent of Americans (and 18 percent of Republicans) saying they would not vote for one for president. So clearly, there is an audience for the bias Jeffress brought out into the open.

After Perry’s recent meltdown in the polls and the failure of other contenders who might have garnered more conservative and centrist support to get into the race, Romney must be considered the clear frontrunner today for the Republican nomination. But he still faces resistance from conservative Christians who distrust his stands on social issues. Perry’s dwindling chances depend on the opinions of such voters, many of whom are evangelicals.

The temptation for the Perry campaign to take advantage of Jeffress’ opening up of this Pandora’s Box of prejudice will be great. All they have to do is to continue to publicly deny they agree with the pastor while at the same time produce campaign material and speeches hyping their candidate’s Christianity, in the same way Huckabee did, in order to remind evangelicals they have a reason not to vote for Romney.

But Perry has another, better choice. He can use the controversy as a platform to show what kind of president he would be if he got the opportunity.

Rather than merely deny he agrees with Jeffress about whether Mormonism is a cult, Perry can unequivocally denounce religious prejudice of any kind and say he doesn’t want votes based on bias. Perhaps that would lose Perry some support, but it might also be a chance for him to show there is real substance to his own very public expression of faith than we have already seen on the campaign trail. Doing so would allow him to seize the moment and illustrate that the bumbling speaker who has shown up at the last few GOP debates is not the real Rick Perry.

The next GOP debate this week in New Hampshire is rightly seen as a make-or-break moment for Perry, as he must improve his performance in order to save the sinking ship that is his candidacy. But by confronting this matter head on and metaphorically putting an arm around his rival to defend Romney on this issue, he can show he has character worthy of the presidency.

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