When I first raised my fingers to begin typing, in my mind was the “inherent conservatism of religion.” Then I paused. Too often, those of us from culture dominated by one of the three Abrahamic religions fall into the trap of assuming all religions follow the model of those three.

The original prompting was an article on Reform Judaism that appeared on the website Breitbart. The title is “Reform Judaism Adopts Far-Ranging Transgenderism Resolution, Because They’re Not Jewish.”

I always find it funny when people outside the United States think all religion here is the holy-roller stuff. The lack of an establishment church resulted in an environment where religions compete with each other in a chaotic marketplace. All I would need to establish myself as head of a new religious movement is a couple people willing to agree I was.

So, yes, we have the holy rollers in their storefront churches in the cities and the preachers of the prosperity gospel in their megachurches in the suburbs. We also have Scientology, Mormonism and Christian Science. Quakers didn’t arise here, but they prospered here. The Reformed Church of the Netherlands became the mild mannered Reformed Church in America, highly criticized by traditionalists. Religion, one could say, is almost a competitive sport.

Another notable religious movement in the United States is Reformed Judaism.

Until the modern era, most (if not all) European countries enforced restrictions on the Jewish populations within their borders.

Jewish involvement in gentile society began during the Age of Enlightenment. Haskalah, the Jewish movement supporting the adoption of enlightenment values, advocated an expansion of Jewish rights within European society. Haskalah followers advocated “coming out of the ghetto,” not just physically but also mentally and spiritually.

On September 28, 1791, France became the second country of the world, after Poland 500 years earlier, to emancipate its Jewish population. There were 40,000 Jews living in France at the time. They were the first to confront the opportunities and challenges offered by emancipation. The civic equality the French Jews attained became a model for other European Jews.

That paragraph from Wikipedia mentions “opportunities and challenges.”

One of the challenges was how to maintain their identity and religious practices within a society that no longer excluded them by law. One response was the creation of Reform Judaism. Although most of the originators of this form of Judaism were in Germany, it took hold in the United States.

At Charleston, The former members of the Reformed Society gained influence over the affairs of Beth Elohim. In 1836, Gustav Posnansky was invited to serve as preacher and minister. A native of Hamburg, he knew the rite of its Temple. Posnansky was at first traditional, but around 1841 he excised the Resurrection of the Dead and abolished the Second Festival Day in the Diaspora, five years before the same was done at the Breslau conference.

In addition to Posnansky himself, the American Reform movement was chiefly a direct German import, brought along with the many Jewish immigrants from that country. In 1842, Har Sinai Congregation was founded by such in Baltimore. Administered from its inception according to the Hamburg rite, it was the first synagogue to be established as Reformed on the continent. In the new land, there were neither old state-mandated communal structures of the European variety, nor strong conservative elements among the newcomers, who were mostly thoroughly modernized individuals. Reform Judaism quickly became dominant even before the Civil War.

As I mentioned in other posts, until middle school my family lived in a town which was about a third Jewish. Our immediate neighborhood was probably even more so. The local congregation was a Reformed Congregation and the variety of Judaism practiced by most of my friends was Reformed. So when I see a headline about Reformed Jews, I see in my minds eye, not a faceless mass of people, but specific individuals with whom I grew up. They vary in their religiosity. It might surprise some people who associate more orthodox forms of religions with devotion, but a few among them were quite strong believers. Not everyone agrees that rigidity in the external forms of religion is a reflection of inner feeling. With precious few exceptions, I would say they were proud to be Jews. Those few exceptions would likely argue against the importance of ethnic identity more generally. So, when I read a post in which someone says that Reformed Jews are not Jews, I have to take it as an insult directed at some of my childhood friends.

Not being Jewish, I can’t really get into a theological discussion of what Jews should believe and can only discuss what they say they believe.

Throughout history, Jews have remained firmly rooted in Jewish tradition, even as we learned much from our encounters with other cultures. Nevertheless, since its earliest days, Reform Judaism has asserted that a Judaism frozen in time cannot coexist effectively with those who live in modern times. The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship. – See more at: http://www.reformjudaism.org/what-reform-judaism#sthash.dc3C6ygm.dpuf

I supposed I am a little biased, but I think that Reformed Judaism is one of the most humane and beautiful religious traditions there is.

The event that caused Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro to declare that Reformed Jews were not really Jews occurred earlier this month:

The largest movement of Judaism in the U.S. passed the most far-reaching resolution in support of transgender rights of any major religious organization, saying Thursday that it’s a continuation of a tradition of inclusion in the Reform Jewish movement.

Other religious bodies, such as the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, previously approved resolutions affirming equality for transgender and non-gender-conforming people. None, however, go as far as the one offered by the Reform Jewish movement, which counts 1.5 million members.

Shapiro writes in his post:

The challenge of organized religion has always been the question of interpretation: how literally should texts be interpreted? When should certain texts outweigh others?

Indeed. And that is the great problem with text based religions. All these religions will be riven with people who want to go back to the original text and interpret it as literally as possible. They come with built in fundamentalists because while society changes, the texts do not. It might be amusing when it comes in the form of an Amish man who refuses buttons. It is much less amusing when fundamentalist Muslims throw suspected homosexuals off of buildings.

In a related issue, Richard Dawkins retweeted a link to a video. In the video, a questioner asks a panel of prominent Muslims why “the media” always attacks Islam over issues like homosexuality, when, as he says, the same punishments exist in Judaism and Christianity. “For example,” he continues, “in the buses in Jerusalem women sit separate from men.”

As the debate about how Jewish congregations should related to their trans congregants shows, there is a lot of debate within Judaism and Christianity on just these issues. Many of my female Jewish friends have been highly critical of the attitudes towards women in many Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities. A friend who considered herself a Conservative Jew (another interpretation of Judaism) worked for a time at an Orthodox school and had many critical things to say on the subject. The issue of segregated buses in Israel, specifically, has been brought up with often quite heated emotions. It doesn’t get much attention outside of Israel and Jewish enclaves because Jews rarely foist their rules on others outside of Israel. On the occasions when they have, people are just as willing for push back as they are towards Muslims.


When a gym in Montreal tinted its windows at the request of a nearby synagogue, many heated words flew over that one.

The video is shown more for the response than for the question, I just thought that since I was writing a post about reformed Judaism, I would note that the question is not a valid one since the questioner clearly has not been paying attention to debates among Jews.

Originally, I thought I’d go back and finish my original post on Mali and use the completed post to test out other blogging platforms, but I just don’t have the momentum at the moment. So I’m just going to throw down here, in no particular order, some of the other information that I meant to put in the original post.

In the New York Times‘ “Borderlines” article, they describe the city of “Timbuktu” as “fabled.” It had its heyday in the 13th through 17th centuries and became rich due to its location on an Arab trade route. The city is known for two things (perhaps others, but these are the two I know): Its library and its shrines. There was a wonderful article in Smithsonian about the efforts to save the medieval manuscripts that existed in Mali. It’s really a fascinating story and I high, highly recommend reading it. I also recommend reading it because it puts real people into what, for many of us, is a story about nameless forces.

The second thing Timbuktu in known for is its shrines to the saints. The city is sometimes called the “city of 333 saints.” Sufi Islam is not considered a “sect”, but it is tradition within Islam that emphasized the mystical aspect of the religion. Most Sufis are Sunni Muslims. Sufis have a tradition of revering individuals who have been important to the tradition and who are called saints. Shrines to saints have been built around their tombs. This is a controversial aspect of Sufism. Such shrines exist in other parts of the world but Timbuktu had many of them reflecting their own style of architecture which I presume is indigenous. I highly recommend that design geeks take a moment to look for some images of these buildings. The shrines in Timbuktu were classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The rise of Islamism reflects not only the tensions between the Muslim world and the rest of the world, but a split within the Muslim world as well.

Salafism is a movement that began within Islam in the 18th century with Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and is sometimes called “Wahhabism.” It is a fundamentalist version that seeks to return to the ways of the seventh century. There are divisions within Salafism, but the on that concerns us here is Jihadist Salafism. Just keep in mind that all Salafists do not advocate offensive Jihad.

As I mentioned in that first Mali post, the ethnic nationalist rebel movement which started the Tuareg rebellion was pushed aside by Islamist rebels. When they took the city of Timbuktu, they destroyed the library and the shrines. Although the manuscripts in the library were Islamic and so were the shrines, they are not approved of by the current wave of Islamist Jihadis. There is something especially chilling about the destruction of the library.

Unfortunately, some problems I had using the new WordPress editor’s interface earlier today disrupted my train of thoughts as I was trying to write a post on Mali. I was trying to knit together quickly some information from a few different sources, things I’d read in the past and happened to recall and some background I had added to those things earlier this morning. I was juggling several things around in my head, but WordPress’s new design kept asserting itself. Eventually, after my unfamiliarity with the new interface caused me to make some mistakes and lose some of my writing, I just got too frustrated and published the half-written post.

Anyway, before giving up, I made this map of Mali showing the region that had split away a couple of years ago and the approximate location of the national languages. I thought since I did the work I might as well post it.



One of the things I would have noted had I finished the article was that the breakaway region included some ethnic groups other than the Tuareg.

Unmentioned in most reports, however, is the fact that the relatively densely inhabited southern part of “Azawad” is occupied largely by non-Tuareg peoples, which complicates the political situation considerably. As in-depth reporting, such as that of National Public Radio’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, shows, the Songhai, Fulfulde, and other indigenous residents of the middle Niger region are not happy with the self-declared country. As she reports:

[W] e think of the north and the Sahara Desert as being Tuareg country, but there are many, many other tribes who live there, the biggest being the Songhai, but there are also the Bella who used to be the slaves of the Tuaregs, and other smaller ethnic groups also live in the north. They held a meeting, those living in Bamako, the capital, yesterday to say, no. We are – we don’t want independence. We are part of Mali. We want to remain part of Mali.

The map is based on a vector map from Wikimedia and I added some additional information from other sources to it. I apologize for any inaccuracies. I tried to do my best in a short period of time. If you need accurate information, I would recommend verifying this with a better source.

I do not like WordPress’s new editor. I just lost a whole lot of work.

By coincidence, I’ve been getting those notices to renew my WordPress subscription. If you notice, I don’t have “WordPress” in my domain name, which means I’m one of those people who actually pay for my site. So, I’m going to take some time and see what other blogging platforms are out there. I know most of the people who comment also have WordPress sites since having an account makes you more likely to comment. If anyone has experience, good or bad, with other platforms, let me know.

Here’s an image of my workspace while I was working on that Mali post:


new wordpress format 1

Who on earth thought this was a good design.

As mentioned in the previous post, I read Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” recently. I was going to write a post about my opinions of it after having read it. I was lazy and dragged my feet and, as usual, the news has over taken me.

Due to an overblown title, “the clash of civilizations” has become something of a meme, one that is usually deployed derisively, which I’ve seen at least twice since Friday’s attacks in Paris. However, it was written over twenty years ago and has held up fairly well. I have some quibbles with it, but he doesn’t necessarily imply that we are doomed to a World War among “civilizations,” a thing he defines in the first part of the essay and only partly coincides with the vernacular use of the term. Despite my quibbles, it must be admitted that the essay has had predictive power and his ideas should be considered even if you don’t accept his complete argument. More specifically, he predicts smaller conflicts along the “fault lines”, where one civilization abuts another, and suggest that we must be aware of these differences if we don’t want a local conflict to turn into a larger conflagration.

He also predicts that many conflicts will occur along the “Islamic Crescent,” which not only has a northern border, but also has a southern border in Africa. I’m sure we’re all aware of recent attacks in Nigeria and Kenya. Today, we have Mali.

Mali is not a small country, but it is poor and landlocked an my experience is that most people in the U.S. are only half aware of it. I probably would be totally unaware of its existence myself if I didn’t happen to have known some people from Mali when I lived in Quebec. More accurately, my ex-husband knew some people through work. He helped one woman with a linguistics project and spent some days listening to tapes of people speaking her native language. Which language it was, I no longer recall.

According to Wikipedia, Mali has 13 “national languages”, and an “official language,” French. The figures given in Wikipedia are old, but in 1986 it was estimated that only 21% of the population speaks French, a number which surprised me since all the Maliouans I’ve met personally have spoken it.

Just the other day, while looking for some information about Belgium, I came across an article about the countries most likely to break up. The top of the list? Mali.

The current borders of Mali were formed in the wake of the collapse of the French empire in Africa in 1960. Although there had been a Mali Empire from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, the current state of Mali does not entirely coincide with the boundaries of the old Empire and is a state of multiple ethnic groups. Other kingdoms and empires have existed within the area that is now Mali as well. For a while, the New York Times ran a series of articles under broader title, “Borderlines.” One article described the situation as it existed in April 2012. At that time, the northern portion of Mali had broken away and declared itself a separate state called Azawad.

The short-lived breakaway state was the result of a rebellion by the Tuareg, a nomadic Berber people who live in a region that crosses several borders. The state was first declared by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

It owes its success in large part to the demise of the Qaddafi regime last summer. Libya’s previous regime had incorporated Tuareg fighters from previous rebellions into its armed forces, and when it fell, they fled back to Mali with large stockpiles of weapons.

Azawad itself faced internal divisions. Fighting alongside the Tuareg nationalists were an Islamist group, the Ansar Deen. From that same 2013 article:

“The MNLA is in charge of nothing at the moment,” one junta spokesman said. Instead, he said, the most powerful force is the Ansar Deen, an Islamist faction aligned with the terrorist organization Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

These organizations are less interested in establishing Tuareg independence than in enforcing Shariah law, which appears to have been introduced in Timbuktu and other areas held by the rebels. The black flags of Salafism have also been spotted in other recently conquered cities in the south of Azawad.


Further down in the article, the writer notes:

A secular government, focused on Tuareg independence, is more likely to focus on the region’s long-held goal of self-governance, a la the South Sudanese. A state driven by Islamists, however, is likely to push for maximum territorial control, since expanding the range of Shariah law is a central part of their ideology.








Just some notes. Nothing here is meant to be conclusive. Read it for the first time recently. My own thoughts are in italics.

“The Clash of Civilizations?” by Samuel P Huntington, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993.


The Next Pattern of Conflict

Central aspect of global politics in the future will be cultural

  • Summary of conflicts within Western Civilization
    • Peace of Westphalia
    • conflicts among princes-emperors, etc.
    • Emergence of Nation States
    • After French revolution conflict between nations rather than princes
    • Russian Revolution
    • Conflict of ideologies
      • communism
      • fascism
      • liberal democracy
    • the collapse of the Soviet Union marks the end of the conflict of ideologies

Nature of Civilization

  • Civilization is a cultural entity
  • Could be large or small – eg. China or Anglophone Caribbean
  • Civilizations blend and overlap and have sub-civilizations
  • Are dynamic, rise, fall, divide, merge

Why Civilizations Will Clash

  • civilizations differentiated by
    • history
    • language
    • culture
    • tradition
    • religion
    • different views of
      • God and man
      • individual and group
      • citizen and state
      • parents and children
      • husband and wife
      • relative importance of rights and responsibilities
      • liberty and authority
      • equality and hierarchy

Differences are more fundamental than political ideologies and regimes

Interactions among civilizations increasing with increasing possibility of conflict

Interactions increase “civilization-consciousness.” “…that, in turn, invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep into history.”

I think of ISIS talking about “Crusaders.”

Modernization separates people from local identities. Fundamentalist religion has filled the gap.

Most people active in fundamentalist religious movements are young and educated.

The “unsecularization of the world,” George Weigel has remarked, “is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twentieth century.”

Religion is an identity that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations.

  • In the past – elites westernized, populace with indigenous culture
  • Now – de-Westernization and indigenization of elites and populace more connected to Western culture, styles and habits.

Interesting – will have to think about this more.

“communists can become democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians cannot become Estonians”

Reminds me of how I could become Canadian but not Quebecoise.

“Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.”

Regional economic integration:

Regional economic blocs will reinforce civilization-consciousness. Success of Reg.Econ.Bl. might depend on common civilization.

Interesting in light of the opposition to the TPP.

…the efforts of the West to promote its values of democracy and liberalism as universal values, to maintain its military predominance and to advance its economic interests engender countering responses from other civilizations. Decreasingly able to mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of ideology, governments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by appealing to common religion and civilization identity.

We might abandon the idea of promoting our values but is in hard to imagine ceasing to pursue our economic interests or abandoning our military predominance.

Clash of civilizations: 2 levels

  • micro
    • adjacent groups, control of territory
  • macro
    • military and economic power
    • control of international institutions
    • promote political and religious values

The fault lines between civilizations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed.

Largest fault line in Europe: between Orthodox Christianity and “Western” Christianity.

The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history-feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems.

1,300 years of conflict along that fault line.

  • Arab and Moorish surge north
  • Tours 732
  • 11th – 13th century Crusades
  • 14th – 17th century rise of the Ottoman Turks
  • 2 sieges of Vienna
  • Decline of Ottoman Empire
  • British, French, Italian control of North Africa and Middle East
  • Post WWII – decline of European colonial empires
  • Arab nationalism
  • Islamic fundamentalism
  • Dependence on Persian Gulf oil
  • Wars between Arabs and Israel
  • 1950s Algeria
  • 1956 invasion of Egypt: UK and France
  • 1958: US involvement begins – Lebanon, Libya, Iran
  • 1990 – Gulf War

The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and their apparent inability to shape their own destiny. Many Arab countries, in addition to the oil exporters, are reaching levels of economic and social development where autocratic forms of government become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces.

Migration from Arab countries and North Africa to Europe.

Rising racism in Italy, France and Germany.

Writers from both Muslim countries and Western countries see a potential clash.

A reaction against “our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present and the worldwide expansion of both.” Interesting linkage between the secular present and Christian past. Usually only one or the other is emphasized.

Historically, the other great antagonistic interaction of Arab Islamic civilization has been with the pagan, animist, and now increasingly Christian black peoples to the south.

  • Civil war in Sudan
  • Fighting in Chad
  • Tensions between Christian and Muslims in the Horn of Africa
  • Nigeria

Huntington predicted an increase in violence. He was not wrong.

Russia’s southern borders. Concern about the Turkic ethnic group

Clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent

Will India remain a secular state?

Increasing conflict between China and the United States. Sort of, but it hasn’t turned “hot.”

The same phrase has been applied to the increasingly difficult relations between Japan and the United States. Here cultural difference exacerbates economic conflict. People on each side allege racism on the other, but at least on the American side the antipathies are not racial but cultural. The basic values, attitudes, behavioral patterns of the two societies could hardly be more different. The economic issues between the United States and Europe are no less serious than those between the United States and Japan, but they do not have the same political salience and emotional intensity because the differences between American culture and European culture are so much less than those between American civilization and Japanese civilization.

The weak spot in his argument – or at least it shows that serious conflict is not inevitable.

“In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia.”

“Islam has bloody borders.”

The Balkans have calmed, but most of the other areas he names have gotten worse.

Civilizational Rallying: The Kin-Country Syndrome

Example: The Gulf War

  • Arab elites privately supported Saddam Hussein
  • Islamic fundamentalist movements supported Iraq
  • Saddam Hussein invoked Islam rather than Arab nationalism
  • Safr Al-Hawali: It is not the world against Iraq. It is the West against Islam
  • Ayatolla Ali Khamenei: The struggle against American aggression, greed, plans and policies will be counted as a jihad and anybody who is killed on that path is a Martyr
  • King Hussein of Jordan: This is a war against all Arabs and all Muslims and not against Iraq alone.

A world of double standards – one standard for kin-countries and another for everyone else

1992 – 93: Armenia, Azerbaijan. Turkey supported Azerbaijan. Iran supported Azerbaijan. Soviet Union – Azerbaijan, but Russia supported Armenia.

The war in the former Yugoslavia.

Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. In 1991 and 1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low.

This prediction doesn’t look so great. On the other hand, he says that intra-Civilization conflicts are less likely to spread and it hasn’t spread.

The West versus the Rest

“The world community” a euphemism that gives legitimacy to actions in the interest of Western powers.

International institution used by the west to “run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promotes Western political and economic values.”

Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures. The very notion that there could be a “universal civilization” is a Western idea…

  • three possible responses for non-Western states
    • Extreme isolation
      • Myanmar, North Korea
    • “band-wagoning” – join the West
    • “balance” by developing economic and military power and joining with other non-Western societies

Torn Countries

Russia, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Mexico,

  • to redefine civilization identity, a torn country must
    • elite enthusiastic about the move
    • public must at least acquiesce
    • recipient civilization must embrace the convert

Did the EU’s rejection of Turkey cause Turkey to abandon its commitment to secularism. Very probably. I thought so at the time.

The conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equality and prosperity. A traditional, authoritarian, nationalist Russia could have quite different goals. A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist. It would be virtually impossible for him to do that with a Russian traditionalist. If, as the Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the relations between Russia and the West could again become distant and conflictual.

They did and they are.

The Confucian-Islamic Connection

countries that want weapons to counter the military power of the West.

Implications for the West

  • differences between civilizations are real
  • civilization-consciousness increasing
  • civilization conflict will supplant ideological conflict
  • non-Western civilizations will be actors not objects
  • successful political, security and economic institutions within civilization, not across them
  • conflicts more frequent, sustained and violent
  • central focus of conflic between the West and Islamic-Confucian states


  • short term
    • promote greater cooperation and unity within Western civilization
    • Incorporate Eastern Europe and Latin America into the West
    • Cooperative relations with Russia and Japan
    • prevent local conflicts from escalating into major conflicts
    • Limit the military strength of Confucian and Islamic states
    • Maintain military superiority
    • Exploit differences among other groups
    • Support groups sympathetic to West
    • Strengthen international institutions
  • long term
    • maintain economic and military power
    • develop a better understanding of other civilizations
    • identify areas of commonality

A few of my own thoughts:

Huntington’s essay is poorly served by its title. Although there are a few areas in which he’s gone off course, the intervening years have proven to his ideas to have some merit. It has definitely aged well and, for that reason alone, should be taken seriously and not dismissed on account of its title.

United States citizens may not be familiar with blasphemy laws. They are laws limiting irreverence towards or criticism of religion, and people, beliefs and customs associated with religion. In many instances, it can prevent the free exercise of religion for individuals who do not belong to a dominant group. Members of religious groups that depart from the mainstream views might be charged with blasphemy. The punishment for the seventeenth century Quaker, James Nayler was to

be put in the pillory in the city of Westminster for the space of two hours, on Thursday next, and then be whipped by the hangman through the streets from Westminster to the Old Change, and there be put in the pillory again from the hours of eleven to one on the following Saturday. He shall then have his tongue bored through with a red hot iron, and be branded with the letter B, and sent to Bristol, where he shall be paraded through the city on horseback, with his face backward. From Bristol he shall be brought back to London and sent to the Tower, there to be kept to hard labour by order of Parliament, and be debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and have no relief but what he can earn by his daily labour.

The Ranter John Robins avoided prosecution for blasphemy by recanting his former beliefs.

It may sound like a medieval concept, but the last successful prosecution for blasphemy in the UK occurred as recently as 1977. The Gay News had published a poem by James Kirkup that portrayed Jesus as gay. They were both convicted and fined and Kirkup was given a suspended sentence.

After Salman Rushdie, a respected author who has won many awards, published the book The Satanic Verses, the British Government was petitioned  “No charges were laid because, as a House of Lords select committee stated, the law only protects the Christian beliefs as held by the Church of England.”

In another case:

Michael Newman, a secondary school science teacher and an atheist, was arrested under England’s blasphemy law for selling Wingrove’s blasphemous video, “Visions of Ecstasy” in February 1992 in Birmingham.

Finally, in 2008, the law was abolished.

Less than a decade later, however, at least one Labour MP seems to think it would be a good idea to not only reinstate the law, but to extend it to other religions as well. From an article published in Al Arabiya News on November 13:

A MCB conference held in London on Wednesday, entitled ‘Terrorism and Extremism – how should British Muslims respond’, also heard debate over potential blasphemy laws in the United Kingdom.

Keith Vaz MP, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told Al Arabiya News that he would have “no problem” with blasphemy laws being reintroduced, under certain conditions.

“It should apply to all religions. If we have laws, they should apply to everybody. Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to them… but it must apply equally to everybody.”

Although people who advocate for such laws will surely invoke more plebian art forms such as cartoons and comics, we must forget that more genteel forms like literary novels and even possibly works of history will be affected. Not only professional purveyors of outrage like Katie Hopkins will be affected, but more sober and serious critics of religion and religious figures as well.

Update: Here’s a link to a short YouTube video about Wingrove’s Visions of Ecstasy.

Another quote from Days of Rage:

“I remember Russell Neufeld saying, ‘We have to wake up and realize we are not going to be Ho Chi Minh,'” says Baraldini

This is the thing that makes reading Days of Rage such an eyebrow raising experience, many of the people involved held ideas which, if they held them alone, would easily be considered delusional. Even as a group, they border on delusional.

I’m not an especially punitive or vengeful person and it doesn’t really irk me that when these domestic terrorists finally decided that they were tired of hiding and wanted to return to the middle class life they’d left behind, wasting their youth lost in a megalomania fantasy of leading a revolution, the government let most of them go with comparatively minimal punishments, if any.

We all have crazy thoughts and I’ve had pretty radical friends and acquaintances, but at some point you recognize reality. It does amaze me that not only did many of these people escape punishment, but their names and reputations are not entirely mud.

James Kilgore joined one of the nuttier groups, the Symbionese Liberation Army, better known as the people who kidnapped Patty Hearst. Yet he writes for outlets like Counterpunch and Truthout and now, in retrospect, I recall seeing his name on articles I’ve read. More recently, he’s jumped on the radical left’s latest delusion and published a book on “mass incarceration.” Why are these people not just laughed out of the room?

As I’ve made it clear several times on this blog, I’ve been struggling with my political alignments ever since the terrorist attack in Paris last February that killed supermarket shoppers and cartoonists. Politics requires joining together with other people, preferably a large number, and that requires compromise. I’m still a liberal, but I’m not a radical. I very much believe in democracy and the rule of law. These radicals have demonstrated a lack of lucidity so tremendous it’s amazing they can tie their shoes without seeing a conspiracy. That they are given any credence, that they didn’t just tuck their tails between their legs and slide into obscurity is just amazing to me.

When former Governor Palin suggested that President Obama was “palling around with terrorists,” I entirely dismissed it because – well – because it came from Sarah Palin who is not credible to me. However, Bill Ayers really was a terrorist. That he is given even an iota of credence by anyone anywhere borders on remarkable.

The new play, China Doll, “is the story of a man of means, ready to walk away from it all to start a new life with his young fiancée.” This sounds like exactly the sort of story I would normally avoid. The title doesn’t help any, either. However, it was written by David Mamet and starring Al Pacino, so I thought it was worth giving it a chance.

Since the play is still in previews and over a week from the opening, this shouldn’t really be taken as a “review.” I’ve been trying to get tickets for plays as close to the opening as possible, that wasn’t a choice for this one. Sometimes, you go to a preview and it feels like everything is set and other times it feels like it could develop a bit since. This could get better.

On the other hand, the play is hobbled by the writing. Unless there are some major changes to the script, there’s a ceiling on how much better it could get.

Al Pacino is being savaged in the press. Most of it seems to be based on the same October 29th piece from The New York Post which reports that Pacino can’t remember his lines. I didn’t, myself, notice this during the play. In a piece of the usual internet garbage, in which website writers don’t bother to learning anything new but just repeat what they’ve read on the internet, Maxim turns The Post’s report that Pacino can’t remember his lines to Pacino won’t remember his lines. As someone who has directed plays, that is a tremendously different statement to make about an actor, especially when the play is essentially one long monologue and still in previews. Furthermore, Maxim’s writer Killoran says, “Let this be a lesson to Broadway casting directors that maybe it’s better to hire actual theater actors than movie stars.” I, for one, am far more sick of writers that don’t know what they’re writing about than of movie stars on Broadway. Pacino started as a theatre actor and has a pretty solid theatre resume. The play’s bad, but Pacino doesn’t quite deserve this level of criticism. It’s probably because a lot of people will go to see this because Pacino’s in it and that makes it feel natural to direct your annoyance at him.

It’s the writing.

It’s always the fucking writing. Years ago, I came to the conclusion that if you have a weak script all the good acting and good directing is just a matter of throwing good money after bad. I had the distinct impression that Mamet had a core idea, a character, a basic scenario, but was not able to develop it into a fully realized play. The macho rhythm that comes off almost as poetry that Mamet is known for is only there in spurts. The lines, frankly, are not memorable. Thematically, it’s about how men use politics and business as a form of fighting to establish dominance.

It is staged as a two person play. In the beginning of the play, the main character, Mickey Ross, is upset about the possibility of paying tax on a new plane he has just purchased and is trying to figure a way to get out of it. This goes on for a while, with Ross alternately yelling into the phone and yelling at his assistant. At one point, he gives the assistant a speech about how business is a form of fighting between men and how it is conducted. At one point, I was wondering if it was going to get more interesting than being a play about a rich man who doesn’t want to pay tax. It did. The stakes get much higher and by intermission I was interested how it would develop.

The second act entirely dropped the ball. The ending was ill-fitting and hard to swallow. On the way out of the door, I could hear many of the other theatre goers saying that the ending was awful.

Although it’s clearly a vehicle for Pacino, Mamet says he wrote it for him, the assistant character should have been more clearly developed. I don’t know whether to blame the writer, director or the actor. Probably all three are at fault. A better development of the assistant character might have made the ending seem less hapless. The whole thing feels as if Mamet got himself into a particular position and didn’t quite know what to do.

Mamet has an interesting take on human nature. As a cynic, I can be very sympathetic to his point of view. But in China Doll, his insights only get us a scenario and a character. His lack of emotional depth keeps us from really giving a damn about the character. I don’t want to give away the ending, but, ironically, it feels like Mamet didn’t have the balls to do what he had to do to make his script work. In the dog eat dog world of male dominance that Mamet explores, older men eventually must lose to the younger men. That’s just how the life goes. It felt that Mamet, an older, successful man himself, lacks the courage to look death in the eye. He blinks and loses.


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