Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hamas KO's any Palestinian peace initiative; Bloomberg may run as an indie

The Washington Times today (Tuesday June 19 2007) has an op-ed by Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Wheel of Misfortune," on p. A14.

It's a no brainer that the recent Hamas "seizure" of Gaza KO's any idea of a stable independent West Bank government. The writer points out that Saudi Arabia had designed a program in 2002 that would lead to a reasonably moderate Palestinian state (pre 1967) with normal relations with Israel. Now, Fatah is weakened, and the entire region seems ready to burn. President Bush had wanted to export democracy to Palestine from Iraq, which is also burning in religious, tribal and sectarian violence.

Now we all remember that part of Palestinian shame is that property was taken from them for Israeli settlements at various points in history (not just 1948), and this is a source of personal shame. Individualists, and particularly libertarians understand that. And the whole idea of religious interdependence, preached as a moral virtue in this country by social conservatives (however indirectly), seems to be going up in flames with tribal violence, ultimately inviting even a nuclear confrontation. The ideology gets personal in a way that the Cold War never did.

It's a good thing that Michael Bloomberg now considers running for President in 2008 as an independent -- if he can win (H. Ross Perot of Dallas (at one time, founded or EDS) had thrown a temper tantrum and dropped out for a while in 1992 when he might have won). Bloomberg separated himself from the Republican Party, no doubt in part because of its loss of integrity in handling Iraq. We could have three presidential candidates from New York. He could bring back the idealism that Jesse Ventura ("no time to bleed") tried to bring to Minnesota in 1998 when I lived there.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Demonstrations about Israel and Palestine today at and near Capitol

Today, as I walked back to the Federal Center Metro Station from Gay Pride Festival on Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Ave., I walked back down 3rd Street and came first upon a counter demonstration that appeared to oppose Palestinian and other anti-Israel extremism. There were posters about Hamas, Sharia law, dhimmis, and Iran. Apparently this event was the "Counter-Rally to Stand with Israel". On the West Lawn of the Capitol the groups called "United for Peace and Justice" and "Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation" demonstrated. I took a picture from a distance. A counter demonstrator offered to take a picture with me in the foreground. No real objection to this at all, but it was just easier to snap the picture myself, as I had one frame left on the one-use Rite Aid camera. Here is a writeup, from Maine Indymedia, on the main demonstration.

As I walked further, I came upon Washington DC Metropolitan Police officers at Constitution Ave. One of the officers was under the mistaken impression that both demonstrations were for Israel.

It's interesting that, for most people, their concept of activism is to shout in demonstrations. It's also interesting to see the wide range of human rights issues encountered within about seven blocks of walking along W 3rd Street, across the Mall, in Washington DC this pleasant, cooler than average Sunday afternoon. These ideas are more interrelated than most people realize, and that is one main point of all of these blogs.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Democratic capitalism, dual citizenship, and a new Cold War: some random thoughts

I’ve met a few people with dual citizenship over the years, in various academic and media (movies) fields. One was born in London and is dual US and Britain. Another was born in Toronto and is dual US and Canada. Still another was born in Leipzig when it was in East Germany, and had the opportunity to grow up in Britain (through graduate school) before returning to Germany after the Wall fell. Various other people I have met were born in Islamic countries and lived free and professional lives in both Europe and the US, sometimes converting out of Islam, sometimes simply practicing it quietly like any faith.

After 9/11 we would hear a lot about the essential paradigm of “democratic capitalism.” There was a lot of talk about how most Muslim societies had not tried it, but recently there has been a lot of talk that the West must tread carefully in expecting the Muslim world to accept anything like our values of democracy, individualism and rationalism. (The book by Robert W. Merry, Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition, comes to mind). A free society seems to be one that, whatever the details of some of its political and social quirks, still, after all is said and done, encourages the individual to grow up and be himself or herself, and think for himself or herself.

Generally, we do find this in the West, regardless of government format (constitutional monarchy or republic) and regardless of the tricky politics of social entitlements. We bicker over how free we should be to speak our minds (Suzanne Fields has a telling op-ed today (June 4, 2007) in The Washington Times, “Peanut butter and free speech: How robust debate is diagnosed as disease.” But in western society, there is a growing understanding that the flow of information to an individual should be under his/her control and not depend on the “permission” of those above them in a social, political, or especially religious hierarchy. The same could be said of what someone does with his life. Rational thought, most of all, belongs to the person. This has emerged from older patterns of thought where biological and social loyalty defined how one is allowed to experience life and faith, as appears to be the case in much of the Muslim world today (look at the recent case in Malaysia over whether a convert out of Islam is free of Sharia law, May 28 blog entry). Western society seems to appreciate the personal value of the individual's exploring his or her own abstract thoughts and sense of aesthetics, outside of the sphere of physical familial and religious relationships.

There is a lot of talk over whether the tenets of faith in Islam require such a psychological stricture. There have been films and claiming that it does (and is aggressive), but then look at Muslim leadership in the arts and culture over a millennium ago, as centered in Cordoba, Spain--even if this culture was far from perfect with respect to the rights of dhimmis.

History has indeed left western societies with tragic divisions that plague citizens: slavery and segregation in the U.S., and the complex colonial history (and “crusades”) that has isolated and radicalized Muslim immigrants in much of Europe (as in Bruce Bawer’s recent book While Europe Slept). But the basic structure for freedom is in place in the West and in relatively few countries in the Muslim world (besides Turkey).

All of this comes to mind as recent uproar from Russia’s president Putin over NATO plans to deploy missile defense batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic – arguably a defense against “rogue nations” like Iran – threaten to bring back the Cold War. I remember the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 all too well, as I traveled to class at George Washington University on pass from my phony psychiatric treatment at NIH. Those were not good days for me.