Friday, September 29, 2006

Iraqis Agree: Killing US Soldiers Is OK

By now this is old and unsurprising news: Iraqis, by and large, think killing American soldiers in Iraq is OK.

AP reports the following: “About six in 10 Iraqis say they approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and slightly more than that want their government to ask U.S. troops to leave within a year, a poll finds.

The Iraqis also have negative views of Osama bin Laden, according to the early September poll of 1,150.

The poll, done for University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, also found that almost four in five Iraqis say the U.S. military force in Iraq provokes more violence than it prevents.

About 61 percent approved of the attacks — up from 47 percent in January. A solid majority of Shiite and Sunni Arabs approved of the attacks, according to the poll. The increase came mostly among Shiite Iraqis.

It found an overwhelmingly negative opinion of terror chief bin Laden and more than half, 57 percent, disapproving of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Three-fourths say they think the U.S. plans to keep military bases in Iraq permanently.

A majority of Iraqis, 72 percent, say they think Iraq will be one state five years from now. Shiite Iraqis were most likely to feel that way, though a majority of Sunnis and Kurds also believed that would be the case…

The State Department, meanwhile, has conducted its own poll, something it does periodically, spokesman Sean McCormack said.  The State Department poll found two-thirds of Iraqis in Baghdad favor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to The Washington Post. McCormack declined to discuss details of the department's poll…

What I hear from government representatives and other anecdotal evidence that you hear from Iraqis that is collected by embassy personnel and military personnel is that Iraqis do appreciate our presence there," McCormack said.  "They do understand the reasons for it, they do understand that we don't want to or we don't intend to be there indefinitely."

Is it a surprise that a Bush Administration official so easily denies all the evidence and data in favor of vague conjecture and infallible ideology?

Even the fight against Al Qaeda seems to be made moot; they’re not popular in Iraq anyway since they kill Shiite Iraqis.  Only a continued comparison of Al Qaeda vs. US soldiers would boost Al Qaeda’s popularity.

Exactly what are we doing in Iraq, once again?  The results seems so distant from anything that could be described as advantageous that one cannot even claim it’s better than some other alternative.  What is this better than?  They hate us and want to kill us; they hate Israel and support its enemies; they are closer to Iran, the US’s greatest foe in the world, than ever before; Iraqis are now subject to even more violence than they were in recent years when Saddam Hussein was in charge and the no-fly zone was being enforced; Al Qaeda and its clones are more experienced andmore of a threat to the world thanks to this war than when Hussein ruled.

At this point it is clear that the best that can be hoped for is an American exit to somehow be engineered, leaving the rival Iraqi factions to solve their own disputes by themselves.  There is no chance that Iraq will be a reliable US ally, or a free country, or peaceful.  What better scenario is even imaginable at this point?

New Federal Law: There is No Law

    Exactly what does it mean to live in a “free country?”  Does it mean that you have certain inalienable rights, such as a right to trial and legal representation?  If one’s rights can be summarily be suspended, revoked or made irrelevant forever by a single branch of government without recourse to the courts or a legislature, is one still “free?”

    On September 28, 2006, the Senate passed a bill giving President Bush extraordinary abilities to do almost anything if not anything, with almost anyone, if not anyone, he chooses.  The Bill awaits expected reconciliation with the House version before it is signed into law by the President.

According to a NY Times editorial on 9/28/06, these are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

“Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal.  The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible.  And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.  These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists.  They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals.  The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly.  All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant.  Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer.  But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11.  Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex.  The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.”

Under this law, the President could literally designate Al Gore, the Dixie Chicks and Jon Stewart “enemy combatants” and imprison them, secretly if he chooses, torture them, deny them even an opportunity to see an  attorney or go to court, deny them contact their families and possibly even kill them.

Here is the question that Americans must ask themselves, although too few will: Are we still free?

Monday, September 25, 2006

If It’s Not About Religion, Then What?

(AP) Two gunmen on a motorbike killed the provincial director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs outside her home in the southern city of Kandahar on Monday, officials said.
    Safia Ahmed-jan was shot to death while walking to her office, said Tawfiq ul-Ulhakim Parant, senior adviser to the women's ministry in Kabul.
    Aleem Sidique, the spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said the U.N. was "appalled at this senseless murder."
    "What we need to see in Afghanistan is peace, development and progress," Sidique said. "We share the sentiment of the majority of Afghan people who are appalled at this killing."
    Ahmed-jan was an active proponent of women's rights in a region where insurgents are extremely active.
Recently on CNN, Christiane Amanpour hosted a “summit” featuring former President Bill Clinton and “an expert” panel including Israeli Vice Premier, Shimon Peres; U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Dina Powell; Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan; Former United Nations Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi; Former U.S. Senator and Northern Ireland peace negotiator, George Mitchell and editor-at-large of Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, Rami Khouri.
    At the end of the program President Clinton was given the final word and as one could predict, absolved religion as the cause of the world’s troubles: no, the problems are “political,” said President Clinton.
    Is it any wonder that absolutely no progress is being made to deal with the escalating violence and hatred when even a comparatively bright world leader is so oblivious to the obvious?
    Precisely what is the problem, politically, between the Palestinians and the Israelis?  Or the Muslims or Hindus in
Kashmir?  Or the Tamil Tigers and the government in Sri Lanka?  Catholics vs. Protestants in Northern Ireland?  Or Al Qaeda and the US?  Iraqi Sunnis vs. Iraqi Shia?  The US vs. Iran?
    Is it socialism vs. capitalism?  States rights vs. federalism?  Freedom vs. tyranny?
    Answers: No, no and no.
    The defining difference in each case is religious.  There indeed may be differences in income status or in state-sanctioned discrimination or some other “political” injustice; but the motive for the injustice or difference is based on religious identity.
    The Shia vs. Sunni tragedy is a shining example: both sides of this conflict view Islam as integral to governing a nation; neither side is noted as more freedom loving or hating than the other; neither is noted as more right-wing or left-wing than the other.  Both sides distrust the
US and resent US presence in Iraq.  What is the problem?
    Answer: One side is Sunni and the other is Shia.
  The story in
Afghanistan is another example of the religious root of so many of the world’s problems: the victim was not killed because of a political difference; she was killed because of her work toward the liberation of the women of Afghanistan and the opposition was religiously motivated.
    To be in denial of this is to close one’s eyes to the facts and to render oneself incapable of solving the underlying problem.
    And indeed, the underlying problem will remain unsolved as long as religion remains untouchable.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Does Humanism Have an Answer for Winning the “War on Terror?”

What kind of grade would one give the Bush Administration for their self-proclaimed “War on Terror”?  First one must decide exactly what the “War on Terror” is and what is the goal of this “war”?  Could a humanistically guided policy do better?  What would be the differences?

Defining the “War on Terror” is, of course, an enterprise that could easily veer into parody.  The concept assumes that there are organizations that promote terror for the sake of terror itself.

Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbullah and other non-government groups do not promote terror merely for the sake of enjoying terror although it may be that some of its leaders are psychopathic.  Their real goals are religiously inspired: they want to promote their brand of Islamic fundamentalism by any means necessary, and if terror is the method, so be it; if democratic elections are the method, that is also fine.  Should there be a concurrent “War on Democracy” as well?  Answer: No, the problem is not democracy (or psychopaths.)

Thus, the concept of a “War on Terror” is a sham; the real war should be on religious extremism and fundamentalism.  Unfortunately the US government is guided by a religious fundamentalist extremist sympathizer who has claimed on a number of occasions to a number of different persons that God has spoken and/or guided him even on matters of war and peace!  To a fundamentalist, the “War on Terror” is code for “Holy War”; a war of “good versus evil.”  Osama Bin Laden, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, and President G.W. Bush all see it precisely this way.  They ALL see it similarly - this should distrub every American.

In a “War on Terror/Holy War/War of Good versus Evil” since the other side is defined as evil, the only recourse is to wipe them out.  We take it for granted that if they could, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Ayatollahs and other such groups would do exactly that – kill all the infidels.  But exactly what does the Bush “War on Terror” imply?

Basically it implies killing all those who support Islamic religious fundamentalism and extremism.  This adds up to a lot of human beings if one is honest about it.  It is a nearly genocidal policy if carried out to its extreme.  Considering that for every jihadist killed in the “War on Terror,” there are some innocent civilians also killed which in turn radicalizes more disillusioned persons into jihadism, isn’t this where the current “War on Terror” is headed?  Could this really be implemented?

To date, no effort has been made to convince anyone that religious fundamentalism is incorrect, immoral or anti-reason.  How could President Bush, a religious fundamentalist extremist sympathizer himself at the least, bring himself to do this?  Even if he were a religious moderate, what could he say?

The onlyargument ever made by “moderate” religious believers is that Islam is being “incorrectly” interpreted or that it is being “hi-jacked.”  Unfortunately, this is a losing argument if indeed the fundamentalists are actually interpreting scripture and tradition correctly!  Why is that impoosible?  What moderates always fail to consider (just as religious fundamentalists do) is that they may be wrong.  The God of the scriptures and tradition just might be the tyrant that fundamentalists say he is and the fact is that in practice the more literally and devoutly a person adheres to scripture and tradition (in most religious traditions) the crueler their resulting religious practice seems to become.

Besides possibly being on the incorrect side of scriptural and religious tradition, religious moderates undermine themselves in another way: they promote respect for all religious beliefs.  This respect, of course, is often then extended by moderates to persons with fundamentalist beliefs who would then persecute and kill those very same moderates extending their respect if they were ever to gain authority in that respective society!  This is, of course, a suicidal and a losing strategy.  All persons have the right to their beliefs; they do not have a right to be respected for those beliefs.

Humanists cannot see the possible course of the “War on Terror” and the possible path to religious genocide as acceptable or optimal.  Self-defense is not eschewed in the short run; but in the long run, more than force must be used.  The attack of Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan could be viewed as self-defense; nothing about the war in Iraq could be so viewed however.  This sort of aggressive and ultimately genocidal form of the “War on Terror” is a losing strategy.  Are there more or less religious fundamentalists today as a result of the war in Iraq?  Answer: Many more.

Far better would be for the US to set an example by displaying to the world the blessings of liberty at home while at the same time undermining religious fundamentalism by undermining the concept of faith.  By promoting reason and science and by promoting concern for other persons as the highest good, not the universal worship and obedience to invisible and undetectable supernatural deities who if exist anyway, being omnipotent, can fend for themselves, we may better be able to win hearts and minds by setting this ethical example than by the use of bombs.

How could this be done without doing damage to the First Amendment?  The answer is simply to honor and strictly enforce the First Amendment while teaching critical thinking and logic in schools.  Objective courses in comparative religion would also assist in the effort to promote reason and reject irrational faith.  This can all be done while remaining neutral towards religion and non-religion.

The US also must not remain dependent on religiouslyfundamentalist nations for its own public welfare, particularly in the field of energy.  Every dollar spent in the US that finds its way into a school promoting religious fundamentalism will come back to haunt us.

The US must also be more helpful in resolving issues that religious fundamentalists use as excuses to blame the infidel US for their problems.  The Palestinians must be given a viable state while at the same time Israel is guaranteed security and recognition by some of its current enemies.  Border disputes between Lebanon and Israel and Syria and Israel must be resolved as well.  Yes, Israel may need to make significant sacrifices in order to have an opportunity for peace but it may be necessary to do so to have any chance for peace.  If it does not work out, war could resume... what would be the difference?  Resolving the Israeli differences with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians seems unthinkable but the irony is that the “solutions,” as understandably distasteful to Israel as they would seem, are probably necessary and perhaps inevitable.  Peace HAS been sustained between Jordan, Egypt and Israel, something once thought impossible; the resolution of the problems of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria are central to defeating religious fundamentalism in the world.  The idea that God gave one or another group a parcel of land on this earth cannot be a factor in US policy-making even if most Americans now believe that God gave the “Holy Lands” to the descendents of Abraham.

Differences based on faith in Gods who MUST be obeyed cannot ever be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties however; these differences, in a world of WMDs threaten the lives of billions of persons; therefore we must make our SECULAR way of life the envy of the world and the expected way of doing business in the world.  We must give the religious fundamentalists no rationalizations to offer prospective followers for why the US is at the root of their failures – we must truly be even-handed in US policy.

What are the chances that these changes in direction will occur?  Honestly, the chances are nil under the current administration and any other with similar ideology and next to none under most potential successors.  However, at some point it will become a necessity to promote reason at the expense of faith.  Hopefully it will happen before it’s too late.

Rosie Knows Best (or At Least Better Than Ashcroft)

News Item: (Sept. 2006) Rosie O'Donnell is blasted for saying on TV that radical Christianity poses as much of a threat to the US as does radical Islam.

News Item: (Bill Berkowitz, Three antigovernment activists were rounded up (in May, 2003): Edward Feltus, 56, a member of the New Jersey Militia movement; William Krar, a 62-year-old tax protester with ties to the New Hampshire militia and a range of hate groups; and Judith L. Bruey, 54, Krar's common-law wife.  Last November, Krar pleaded guilty to federal charges of "possessing a dangerous chemical weapon" and faces up to life in prison.  Bruey and Feltus also pleaded guilty to different charges.  According to CBS news, hundreds of federal subpoenas were issued during the course of the investigation, intelligence experts were alarmed enough to include mention of the case in President Bush's daily intelligence briefings, and more deadly cyanide bombs may still be in circulation.

One journalist who has closely followed all these developments is Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, Nov. 2002).

In an e-mail exchange, Levitas told me that he was curious about the lack of media coverage of the Tyler, Texas case so he telephoned the chief Department of Justice antiterrorism coordinator for the Eastern District of Texas, who is an assistant US attorney.  According to Levitas, "Heconfirmed all of the details as previously reported in the media and then some.  This case was huge," the assistant US attorney told Levitas.  "The real facts of this case are as bad or 'worse' than all previous reports and it does not appear as if media exaggeration is at work," Levitas said.

"The sodium cyanide device was fully functional and could have killed anyone within a 30,000 sq. foot facility; "Krar's stockpile contained more than 100 explosives, including 60 fully functional pipe bombs, as well as land mine components, det. cord and trip wire and binary explosives; machine guns and other illegal weapons; and racist, anti-Semitic and antigovernment literature, including William Pierce's Turner Diaries; "Krar, a tax protester who has never been indicted for his tax-related offenses, is from New Hampshire and has numerous ties to white supremacist and militia groups; "Feltus was a member of the New Jersey Militia.”

Why the severely limited coverage of the original arrests? Levitas believes that the Tyler, Texas arrests came at a time when the media was "distracted" by the invasion of Iraq.  However, "unlike the numerous arrests of suspected Al Qaeda militants, Attorney General John Ashcroft said nothing about this case."

It is more than curious that perhaps the most tangible terrorist threat to America in the few years may have been from a non-Muslim source; and that it may be a fact that since the threat was non-Muslim it was then “buried” by the media.

Is there any question that John Ashcroft (Attorney General in 2003) would have been front and center of this story if those captured had been Muslim?  Contrast his absence in this case with his conspicuous behavior when charging Muslim suspects (as in the Buffalo, NY area) accused of far less serious crimes and who had done far less to advance terrorism.

The New Jersey Militia, (they are not accused of being involved in this plot) is not a direct offshoot of any particular religious sect as far as can be seen.  However, they do promote belief in God as is evidenced by the following quote from their newsletter: “When government treats Unalienable Rights as though it has power to "grant" them, it, inadvertently or not, puts itself in the place of God as do all tyrants and dictators.” (

Despite the President’s constant claim that Islam is a “religion of peace,” it may be that within the administration, non-Islamic terrorists and Islamic terrorists are not seen in quite the same light.

And perhaps Rosie O'Donnell has it right after all.

It's Almost Christmas Season - War Resumes!

In Mother Jones magazine: Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appeared at a prayer breakfast just after the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 240,000 people.  DeLay read a passage from Matthew about a non-believer: "…a fool who built his house on sand: The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined."  Then, without comment, he righteously sat down.

The Religious Right (RR) has been using the last few year-ends to complain ever more stridently about a “War on Christmas” as if such a war actually existed and, if it did, that such a war was immoral.  This effort on the part of high profile pundits has filtered down to the local level – it is now not uncommon for local politicians and citizens of many typical American communities to gripe about how “radical secularists” are trying to destroy, prohibit and/or defame Christmas, Christians and Christianity.  It will be shown that these complaints are at best based on ignorance and at worst are a calculated hypocrisy.

At the same time, the incredible arrogance of the Religious Right and their need for conformity and control inevitably has led to the most immediate result of their campaign: a “War on Common Decency.”

To provide evidence that this seemingly orchestrated campaign to make Americans believe there is a “Waron Christmas” actually exists here is what some RRers have said:

From the Conservative Voice, By Michael l J. Gaynor: “The so-called non-existent war just reached my town. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the Town of Huntington, on Long Island, New York, was targeted by a young attorney who got his name in Newsday, Long Island's notorious secular extremist newspaper, and hopefully will be boycotted by all persons who are friendly to the free exercise of religion and patronized by people like himself, since people should spend their money to support their ideas instead of contrary ones.”  (Go to

I’m sure INQUIRER readers will be surprised to learn that Newsday, the same newspaper that publishes the bigoted and anti-secularist God Squad column each week, and has no corresponding secularist counterpart, is a “notorious secular humanist newspaper.”  Wait ‘til Newsday finds out that they’re secular humanists – what will Raymond Keating do?

Of course, this brouhaha referred to in Huntington, Long Island, home of the INQUIRER, is the result of the Religious Right’s arrogant and aggressive tactics regarding the public square – the public square that they believe they own for their own personal religious promotions, from “God Bless America” signs to Christian nativity scenes.  They are so used to ramming their beliefs down the throats of others that they are shocked when someone simply points it out, let alone takes action.

Would the Religious Right stand on the sidelines if “secular humanists” had an “Imagine There’s No Heaven… and No Religion Too…” sign on public property to commemorate John Lennon’s death?  Answer: Don’t make me laugh!

Mr. Gaynor’s column then proceeds to name companies that have “banned” Christmas from their retail ads and advises readers to tell these companies that they are offended by the omission.

It would be easy to dismiss or simply ridicule Mr. Gaynor; and truly that is all he deserves, but the unethical nature of his efforts must be pointed out.  He writes that readers should let companies who substitute “holiday” for “Christmas” know that they are offending shoppers with their “anti-Christan and anti-Christmas bias.”

Imagine!  Mr. Gaynor cannot deal with the idea that someone else does not handle Christmas or the holiday season in the same precise manner as he.  It does not matter that hell will freeze over before Mr. Gaynor pays the same respect to a Muslim, Hindu, Scientologist or secular humanist…  This is the arrogance of faith at its finest.

Bill O’Reilly of FoxNews has been one of the leaders of the “War on Christmas” myth.  In 2004 he shot this salvo:

“Christmas under siege — the big picture. That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo."

All over the country, Christmas is taking flak. In Denver this past weekend, no religious floats were permitted in the holiday parade there. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the holiday tree and no Christian Christmas symbols are allowed in the public schools. Federated Department Stores, [that's] Macy's, have done away with the Christmas greeting, "Merry Christmas…"

Secular progressives realize that America as it is now will never approve of gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation, and many other progressive visions because of religious opposition.

But if the secularists can destroy religion in the public arena, the brave new progressive world is a possibility. That's what happened in Canada.”  (Go to,2933,140742,00.html)

Oh: Blame Canada!

So here is O’Reilly’s thinking: The Religious Right has a special right to have the government promote their religious holidays in the manner they prefer, but it cannot and must not promote any sort of secular neutrality, or dog forbid, atheism.  As if atheism has ever been promoted by a US government!

They either truly believe that neutrality equals bias, which leads one to question their intelligence, or they know better which leads one to question their integrity.   This writer leans towards both explanations.

John Gibson, also of Fox, has written the, so far, definitive book on the subject: The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.

The book description that one finds on is very informative:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a war on Christmas. It’s the secularization of America’s favorite holiday and the ever-stronger push toward a neutered "holiday" season so that non-Christians won’t be even the slightest bit offended.

Traditionalists get upset when they’re told—more and more these days—that celebrating Christmas in any public way is a violation of church and state separation.  That is certainly not what the founders intended when they wrote, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

For instance:

• In Illinois, state government workers were forbidden from saying the words "Merry Christmas" while at work

• In Rhode Island, local officials banned Christians from participating in a public project to decorate the lawn of City Hall

• A New Jersey school banned even instrumental versions of traditional Christmas carols

Arizona school officials ruled it unconstitutional for a student to make any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project

Millions of Americans are starting to fight back against the secularist forces and against local officials who would rather surrender than be seen as politically incorrect. Gibson shows readers how they can help save Christmas from being twisted beyond recognition, with even the slightest reference to Jesus completely disappearing.

The annual debate will be hotter than ever in 2005, and this book will be perfect for everyone who’s pro-Christmas.

What about these “examples”?

In the Illinois case, the Attorney General overruled a supervisor of some state employees one month after the supervisor tried to enforce a ban on “Merry Christmas.”  Yes, that’s right, Mr. Gibson’s first example of the “war” consisted of one grumpy supervisor who was quickly chastened.  (Go to 

The banned “Christians” in Rhode Island?  An individual (whose case was eventually summarily dismissed in court) apparently had challenged the use of the lawn for display of all religious symbols (not just Christian) in a public square in Rhode Island.  It was found that many displays, including secular ones, could easily be applied for and allowed.  The court decided that religiously themed displays could not be discriminated against.

Once again, a pathetic example!  Is this part of an orchestrated war on Christmas as Mr. Gibson and others imply?  Once again, stupidity or dishonesty are the only explanations for why this example is presented as part of a “war.”

What about the New Jersey ban on “Christmas Carols”?

According to MSNBC (we’re sure this is also a secular humanist front), and other news sources, the ban on religiously themed music is an acknowledgment of the growing non-Christian diversity of the public school population and the fact that Christians have no right to have their sacred music played than do Jews, atheists or anyone else, no matter the time of year.

Mr. Schwartzberg, whose young children are about to enter school (in Maplewood, NJ) said (bad) memories (from his own childhood in the Bible Belt) surfaced this month when the South Orange-Maplewood school district decided to ban instrumental Christmas carols at school-sponsored holiday concerts…

Schwartzberg said a line can be drawn.

“When students are compelled to engage in evangelicalactivities — even without intent or proselytizing — with the alternative being nothing except to sit out, I think that’s not appropriate.”

A school board decides that it may be in poor taste to shove Christian music down the throats of its substantial non-Christian student body and some spoiled Religious Right apologist seize upon the opportunity to fabricate a mythical “War on Christmas.”  Please note that all Chanukah based music was also banned.  Some war on Christianity!

How about the final teaser – Arizona school officials ruling it unconstitutional for students to make any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project?  After searching the web, including the website of the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona Christian defense group, nothing can be found that ties together the gist of this claim.  Perhaps it is, as the others were, an exaggeration that did not target Christmas or Christians, or it is an outright fabrication.  Duly noted on the website was an effort by the ADF to mobilize attorneys to defend Christians in public schools, but this “case” was not mentioned.  (Go to .)

Losing Track of the Hypocrisy

Sometimes you just can’t follow the distortion and hypocrisy in a story – it’s piled so deep!

Jeff Gannon, the former White House “reporter” for the “Talon News Service,” an offshoot of a GOP group, and whose naked pictures have appeared on a number of gay escort sites, says that he has "regrets" about his past but that White House officials knew nothing about his former activities.  This doesn’t begin to address how he actually got the access to ask questions although it is widely suspected that GOP operatives pulled strings so that Jeff Gannon (real name James Dale Guckert) could toss softball queries to Scott McClellan or George W. Bush himself at press conferences.  The strings were pulled, the background check was avoided and voila: Mr. Guckert becomes Mr. Gannon and the Bushites always know who they can point to when the questioning gets tough!

Gannon complained in an interview with the Washington Post, "Why would they be looking into a person's sexual history?  Is that what we're going to do to reporters now?  Is there some kind of litmus test for reporters?  Is it right to hold someone's sexuality against them?"  Of course, Gannon is complaining about “liberals,” not those who people are actually trying to limit his civil rights by changing the Constitution.

Continuing this misdirected anger he offered that, "People have said some of my writing expressed a hostile point of view" toward gays.  "These people are willing to abandon their principles on the basis of trying to make me out to be a hypocrite.  These are the same groups that cherish free speech and privacy."

Huh?  Gay activists should embrace hypocritical gays?  Is that what he’s saying?

One gay activist noted that Gannon is now guilty of "what I call family-values hypocrisy.  Basically, he's asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us."

Gannon has not disputed evidence that he has advertised himself as a $200-an-hour gay escort but would not specifically address such questions.

Yet, in reporting on comments by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) that legalizing gay marriage could lead to judicial approval of bestiality, Gannon made an issue of the fact that the Associated Press reporter who interviewed Santorum was married to a top Kerry aide and described the comments of gay activists as "predictable responses."  Gannon said he was not taking a stand on this issue, yet he has not hesitated to bash Democrats, even falsely accusing them of making comments they never made, such as in the cases of Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

What courage!

In other media related hypocrisy, writers Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher have secretly accepted money from the Bush Administration to promote government programs in their print columns without disclosing this information to readers who may have thought that the columnists had no ulterior motives.

Both writers are openly and publicly pious yet seemed to not know the difference betweensincere opinions and opinions that may have been influenced by cash payments.

This is no shock.  As the clueless Jeff Gannon/James Guckert says, "People criticize me for being a Christian and having some of these questionable things in my past," he said.  "I believe in a God of forgiveness."

And they all believe in cash payments too, I suspect.

The President is Losing the War on Terror - Singlehandedly

What did the Pentagon really think of the “War on Terror” as long ago as September 2004?  Were they in full agreement then with the Bush Administration and what has happened since?

Why speculate?  The following is an excerpt from the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication” dated September 2004, from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Washington, D.C. 20301-3140 (

Our thorough inability to grasp the final dynamic changes that led to the end of the Cold War should be unsettling to us, but after all, the outcome was also a total victory.  So the Cold War template was almost mythically anointed in the decade before 9/11.  Thus, with the surprise announcement of a new struggle, the U.S. Government reflexively inclined toward Cold War-style responses to the new threat, without a thought or a care as to whether these were the best responses to a very different strategic situation…

But this is no Cold War.  We call it a war on terrorism¯ but Muslims in contrast see a history-shaking movement of Islamic restoration.  This is not simply a religious revival, however, but also a renewal of the Muslim World itself.  And it has taken form through many variant movements, both moderate and militant, with many millions of adherents of which radical fighters are only a small part.  Moreover, these movements for restoration also represent, in their variant visions, the reality of multiple identities within Islam.

If there is one overarching goal they share, it is the overthrow of what Islamists call the “apostate” regimes: the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, and the Gulf states.  They are the main target of the broader Islamist movement, as well as the actual fighter groups.  The United States finds itself in the strategically awkward — and potentially dangerous — situation of being the longstanding prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes.  Without the U.S. these regimes could notsurvive.  Thus the U.S. has strongly taken sides in a desperate struggle that is both broadly cast for all Muslims and country-specific.

This is the larger strategic context, and it is acutely uncomfortable: U.S. policies and actions are increasingly seen by the overwhelming majority of Muslims as a threat to the survival of Islam itself.  Three recent polls of Muslims show an overwhelming conviction that the U.S. seeks to “dominate” and “weaken” the Muslim World…

But if the strategic situation is wholly unlike the Cold War, our response nonetheless has tended to imitate the routines and bureaucratic responses and mindset that so characterized that era.  In terms of strategic communication especially, the Cold War emphasized:

• Dissemination of information to “huddled masses yearning to be free.”  Today we reflexively compare Muslim “masses” to those oppressed under Soviet rule.  This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies — except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.

• An enduringly stable propaganda environment.  The Cold War was a status quo setting that emphasized routine message-packaging — and whose essential objective was the most efficient enactment of the routine.  In contrast the situation in Islam today is highly dynamic, and likely to move decisively in one direction or another.  The U.S. urgently needs to think in terms of promoting actual positive change.

• An acceptance of authoritarian regimes as long as they were anti-communist.  This could be glossed over in our message of freedom and democracy because it was the main adversary only that truly mattered.  Today, however, the perception of intimate U.S. support of tyrannies in the Muslim World is perhaps the critical vulnerability in American strategy.  It strongly undercuts our message, while strongly promoting that of the enemy.  (End excerpt.)

The above is as non-ideological a look at the “War on Terror” as is possible from a Pentagon group.  And indeed, it is hard to argue that the War on Terror” is seen quite differently by the Bush Administration and many if not most Muslims around the world.

The complexity is deep.  For example, it is absolutely true that US support helps keep such non-democratic and non-free governments as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, etc. in power.  Unfortunately it is also true that such Islamic states as Iran and Sudan and Somalia operate without US support and enslave their Muslim populations as badly as or worse than the US-supported ones.  Why then, is not Iran also a target of Muslim discontent in the same way that the US is?  The answer that is avoided is that religious bigotry is deeply ingrained.  This is characteristic of nearly all religious groups.  The US is not forgiven while Iran or Saddam Hussein of Iraq is – almost.

Almost?  Yes, there is dissent among moderate Muslims against Islamic governments such as the Ayatollah’s Iran and the House of Saud.  But radical Islamists use religion in much the same way the American politicians use it – to gain support while working against the interests of everyday people in the here and now.  If peace and stability and prosperity are what one wants, the answers do not lie in religious fundamentalism.  However if one wants to go to heaven or paradise, religious fundamentalism is exactly what one wants: The irrational want paradise.

This kind of understanding and analysis is not the strong point of the Bush Administration.  In fact, such analysis is eschewed to this day.  Instead simplistic answers are sought and if they’re not found, they’re created.

If the US does not behave as if it understands the problem, the chances of solving the problem decrease.  Muslims logically see support of non-democratic tyrannies as hypocritical.  They are correct in this view.  They see one-sided support of Israel over the interests of everyday Palestinians as an example of bias, and they’re probably correct again.  The lives of ordinary Palestinians are as important as anyone else’s lives.

But the final piece of the puzzle, overlooked or unstated even in the Pentagon report cited here is religious bigotry.  It’s not as if religious fundamentalists have a vision of freedom and democracy in their minds.  No, they seek the tyranny of their vision of God, one that usually hates women and infidels, and cannot compromise.  Any strategy that does not seek to promote the moderate voices of Islam, or foster an Islam Reformation or better yet, Enlightenment, will not do well.

Ultimately it seems that the worst thing that the US could have done in the “War on Terror” was to attack a basically unarmed country, Iraq, when the option of continued inspections was still available.  Infidels (e.g.: the U.S.) are given absolutely no slack in such a situation.  Perhaps President Bush was able to explain his way out of it to the American Voting Public, but he has failed miserably in changing the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world, and his war of words with Iran is going similarly poorly – witness the reaction of Iran’s President at the UN recently.

Winning hearts and minds: what other goal is there in the so-called “War on Terror?”  Obviously, Bush is losing this “war.”

Them Damn Liberals and Secularists!

(From AP) A conservative leader has called for a purge of liberal and secular teachers from the country's universities.

"Today, students should shout at the president and ask why liberal and secular university lecturers are present in the universities."

This conservative complained that reforms in the country's universities were difficult to accomplish and that the educational system had been affected by secularism for the last 150 years.  But, he added: "Such a change has begun."

What conservative is calling for an end to any liberal or secularist influence in institutions of higher education?  Is it Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly?  Is it Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson?  Is it David Horowitz, Marvin Olasky or Karl Rove?

No; it’s their spiritual brother, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

This irony, of course, is completely lost on the current US administration, most conservatives and, oddly enough, many extreme left wingers as well.  How so?

Obviously while the right wing, in its typically (though not 100% of them) absolutist mentality, object to President Ahmadinejad because he adheres to the “wrong” absolutist system of belief, the left wing often sympathizes with opponents of the US reflexively, not understanding that opposition to US policies (even those policies worth opposing) does not mean that each opponent is righteous or moral in the least.

There is hardly any doubt that one can easily justify opposition to many current US foreign policy stances, but it is even more clear that Iran’s government opposes the very core of secularism and humanism, starting with free inquiry and respect for the rights of all persons, including and especially Iranian women.

The answer, as always, is for the US to proudly promote secularism and the use of reason, beginning here at home; and be a force for the uplifting of humanity, not by attacking and threatening other countries, but by setting a better example and helping countries that seek peaceful relations with the US.  It’s the “hearts and minds” stupid!

The First Casualty of Religious Intolerance: Religious Criticism part 2

In many, if not most Islamic countries, the mere questioning of Islam of Mohammed is prohibited, often by threat of death.  Is this a corruption of true Islam?

What, then, is an objective inquirer to make of Koranic verses such as:

[5.33] The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement

[5.51] O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.

[9.28] O you who believe! the idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise.  [9.29] Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.  [9.30] And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

Or what is to be made of excerpts from Al Bukhari’s Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet), the most trusted Islamic compilation available:

From Volume 9:

9:50 (& 4:283) Ali said, "... no Muslim should be killed ... for killing a kafir (disbeliever)." [In other words, killing a non Muslim is not murder, it is holy war.]

9:57 Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’"

In practice we hear on occasion the persecution of persons accused of insulting the Prophet or Islam in Islamic countries.  It would seem to be the case that Muslims routinely oppress the freedom of Muslims more than the Pope ever could.

On the other hand, in Islamic countries, criticism of other religions is abundant and often, it must be said, itis vile.  The criticism extends often beyond theology to the adherents of other theologies.  Is this not true?

Here is an excerpt of a magazine article by columnist Adel Hammoda, found in Al-Ahram, a leading Egyptian newspaper on 10/28/00:

"I thought that my grandfather's story was a fairy tale like the story about the wicked witch who turned children into frogs.  But when I matured and read... I found out that the story of the Jewish blood Matzah is true [and] that all its details are recorded in the Shar'i [Islamic Religious] Courts in Damascus, Aleppo and Hama in 1840.  The French Orientalist Charles Laurand published these details in a book called The Murder of Father Toma and his Servant Ibrahim Amara.  The book was translated to Arabic by Dr. Youssef Nasrallah and published in Cairo in 1898…

“The bestial drive to knead Passover Matzahs with the blood of non-Jews is [confirmed] in the records of the Palestinian police where there are many recorded cases of the bodies Arab children who had disappeared being found torn to pieces without a single drop of blood.  The most reasonable explanation is that the blood was taken to be kneaded into the dough of extremist Jews to be used in Matzahs to be devoured during Passover.”

Although the above item was in a large state controlled newspaper, the appearance of hypocrisy has not deterred numerous Egyptian and other Islamists from rejecting the Pope’s apology.

In the West, to be fair, you WILL find criticism of even the prevailing religions – a healthy situation, although not universally appreciated (by fundamentalists and others) as Ms. O’Donnell has discovered.  Once again, we are talking about criticism of the theologies and the demanded behaviors, not of persons of that faith who harm no one.  What we cannot do is move to further inhibit religious criticism; we cannot stay silent about unsupported beliefs that sustain sexism, racial hatred and tyranny of the mind.

We do not need less criticism of religion in this world; we need to get used to it and learn how to do it rationally; indeed we need more!

In a world where no one religion holds a majority, it is mathematically guaranteed that at least half the planet are wrong about their beliefs and are either damned, in need of saving or are wasting their time entirely with their religion!  Don’t MOST of us need to be corrected?  Don’t we need to hear the best arguments on why MOST of us are wrong?

We therefore also need more universally accepted ground rules for this kind of criticism; the do’s and don’ts of religious criticism.

Do not insult classes of persons for their mere affiliation with a group.  This will be difficult for many when scripture often defines non-believers or other believers as immoral or deserving of eternal punishment.

DO use concrete examples in the way of actual scriptural quotes or accepted historical references: the Pope did not; he demonized.

Do not assume that a revealed truth/myth/legend is obviously true, even (or especially) to others. 

DO respect the rules of logic.  Others must understand what is being proposing or proven.

DO allow an evidence-supported criticism of religion that is based on a challenge to facts and logic.

It would almost seem that acceptance of these ground rules is actually the major stumbling block: it is freedom of inquiry and religious opinion that is the issue, not just the beliefs themselves.  The simple act of voicing these reasonable guidelines would reveal the true nature of the problem: a religion can either be comfortable with free inquiry or it is self-admitted to be a tyrannical system afraid of the questions to be asked.  Framed in that manner, would religious leaders betray their cowardice – or face the questions to follow?

The Pope should seize the moment and demand secularism, free inquiry and a challenge to each religion’s revelations; that is, if he has any confidence in the ability of his own beliefs to withstand the same scrutiny.  This challenge would be the very essence of a new enlightenment.