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The Iron Mistress:  Bowie & His Knife Revisited 

It still amuses me that despite having two blogs; this blog on – usually – political and social issues, and my other blog (http://ndktravels.wordpress.com) on – usually – photo and photo education issues, one of the most viewed posts of either blog had nothing to do with either main topics but instead is one from this site on knives, discussing specifically the pros and cons of Bowie styled knives.  Click here to read it: (https://ndkphotoblog.wordpress.com/?s=Bowie+Knife).  That post was written to answer a question from a previous more generealized post on knives and knife sharpening and uses for different designed blades.  And because I was bored with politics and am a student and aficionado of the American frontier and old west, it was a fun diversion for me.  Characters who were larger than life even back then in their own time fascinate me, in no small measure because even the “normal” folks of their time were so vastly tougher than we are. What were the people THEY thought were tough like? Too many soft sheets separate our generations and every time some experiment is conducted to see how modern people fare trying to live the lives of ordinary folk back then, the moderns fail miserably.

I also had no idea that people these days were so interested in knives, especially THE one belonging to Colonel James Bowie, late of Texas by way of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  And now, over a year since I wrote and illustrated that post, I received another question from a viewer who somehow stumbled across and read my comments on Bowie knives.

The reader asked a very legitimate question.  He asked how I could write so specifically about a knife style that was based on a near mythical knife that had never been illustrated.  No one, he correctly pointed out, knows exactly what the famous knife actually looked like since although there are lots of examples of large knives from that period, there were no drawings or paintings (photography was not available at the time) showing Bowie and his knife together.

The questioner is correct and that fact in itself is interesting since it was part of Bowie’s persona and legend and many other portraits of the time show individual males with their weapons.  In fact, over time, it was clear that during his life Jim Bowie owned and used several different large knives from several sources and the knife that started his reputation as a knife fighter at the “Sandbar Fight” was a gift from his brother Rezin, and was NOT the blade that later became famous in its own time.  It almost certainly was not the blade Bowie had when he fell at the Alamo or even after its famous use on the sandbar..  Why do I think this?

Big knives were common and not the stuff of news stories; knife fights were common — there were even schools, especially in New Orleans, like fencing academies, that taught various styles of knife fighting.  We do not know if Bowie ever attended one or if his fighting style followed one or another approach, in fact other than for the results in terms of wounds to opponents, we know almost nothing about how he used his knife or knives in various encounters.

Additionally, dueling was increasingly frowned on officially but it was still a common way to settle affairs of honor. Rarely were the weapons used set out for special comment like Bowies knife had been. (The  growing illegality of dueling was why the fight took place on a sandbar: it was an impermanent feature in the river and therefore in no one’s official jurisdiction.)  Rezin’s knife was beautifully made but it was not the sort to inspire legend.  That took a different and unique type of weapon.

It should be noted that some historians believe ALL of Jim Bowie’s knives were designed by Rezin but if so there is no hard evidence to support it and a lot of anecdotal evidence to contradict it. Resin cashed in on his brother’s growing reputation at every opportunity including designing and selling knives as “Bowie’s” knives. No one knows for sure, however, but history seems to not support Rezin as the prime designer of the knives that came to be called “Bowie knives” even though he likely DID design the knife Jim used at the Sandbar fight.

So who cares?  Well does it not seem odd that we know so little about what is arguably the most famous real weapon wielded by a real person in history? Yes, this is a bit of historical trivia with little or no modern relevance.  But try to tell me you would turn down a chance to recover, say, Excaliber! The Bowie Knife as an archetype has become a sort of American “Excaliber,”  a legendary blade wielded by a mighty and perhaps mythical warrior. But Bowie and his knife were real.

Setting aside for this discussion the inconvenient truth that James Bowie was a land speculator, slave owner and trader, timber seller, gambler, notorious hot head as if the term were created to describe just him, and part time con man and scoundrel whose legend and general personal reputation was saved for posterity largely by having the good luck to die at the Alamo, what remains accepted is that his knife and his fighting prowess were legendary in his own time and that by all accounts he was essentially fearless.

As it is with following gunslingers from Hickock to Hardin, real and pretend historians get apoplectic over how many fights – if ANY – he actually had or used his knife beyond the first very heavily documented one on the sandbar outside Natchez. He came from a well-to-do family but could have become even richer in his own time just licensing his blade design.  But there were no such “intellectual property” protections available then and as his reputation grew, every knifemaker in the country was inundated with requests for a knife “like Bowie’s.”

And yet, strangely, there are a couple of drawings/painting of him, one even holding a sword… but not one of him with his knife… or ANY knife. In fact in all of his writings, Jim Bowie himself never mentioned a knife of any sort.  The only paper evidence that Jame Bowie ever even owned a knife is a store receipt from 1823 in the Cris Nolen collection and from four years before the sandbar fight..

So what did the knife, especially the last one, the one he had with him at the Alamo, look like?  We know he had one since surviving women wrote in their journals about Col. Bowie and his knife.  But no one took the time to describe it.

Perhaps because big knives were so common at that time that even if it had a unique design the assumption was that it was not the knife per se that won the fights but the person wielding it.  We think of knives as weapons of last resort today, but in the era of unreliable one-shot firearms they were higher in the order of selection.  If, in the middle of a fight you carefully aimed your one shot firearm and heard a click instead of a bang, without a backup you were likely in for a very bad day.  Not until the era of repeating and reliable firearms did the knife lose its status as a primary weapon.  Jim Bowie did indeed, at the Sandbar, take a knife to a gunfight, but for most humans today that would be a terribly desperate action.

Because of their importance as tools and weapons, Bowie (and his family) commonly gave knives as presents or as trade and a number of those have been passed down through the families of the recipients.  They are of several blade designs although multiple examples look very much like the Collins/Musso/Hibben knives (a Hibben version is shown below).  There is even an old image of an unknown man (below right) holding a knife that is almost a dead ringer for those knives including the brass back..

old photo from a painting of an unknown individual holding a

old photo from a painting of an unknown individual holding a “Bowie knife.” Note the resemblance to the Collins/Musso/Hibben blades. (Any of you history buffs know who this is?)

(I do not know who that portrait is of?  It does not look like James Bowie at least based on other portraits, or of Rezin Bowie either.  If anyone knows — and why he might be holding a Bowie knife — please let me know. Today, with our modern attitudes playing down the concept of exceptional people, we often credit the tool with the users’ success and so are interested in it thinking that if only WE had that gun, camera, car… knife… we could do what they did,  so we focus more on that tool than the user and their skills.  And so an interest in and countless arguments have ensued over just what that knife looked like.  And enormous amounts of effort have been spent trying to find an example, perhaps THE example — THE knife itself — to end the discussion.

Some claim we will never know the answer — which is good for maintaining the argument.  Others claim we already have it and just won’t accept it or at least those with a different idea about what it “must” be like won’t accept it and thereby crush their fondly held theories.  There are a couple of interesting possibilities.

Phil Collins, the musician, is an avid follower of all lore involving the Alamo.  He possessed the largest collection of Alamo artifacts in the world and recently donated them to the Alamo museum.  In his travels he came across a very old knife in a museum that was said to have been THE knife taken off of Bowie’s body by one of Santa Anna’s soldiers, handed down through the family and finally sold.  This is not the first or only such claim for the knife in some family collection, but this knife is more like what one would expect and that knife looks very much like the 1830’s pattern Bowie by Gil Hibben shown in the previously noted post and below and in the portrait to the right.

And it also looks like the knife now owned by John Musso, a Hollywood art director which has “JB” engraved on it and has been mineral tested and dated to the 1830s.  If course there was no properly credentialed provenance for either so no one knows with absolute certainty that either specific example was Bowie’s own knife (and in fairness, Musso has never claimed that the knife he acquired was, in fact, owned by Jim Bowie).  Both of those knives, however, nearly identical in appearance, were well made while some others claiming to be THE KNIFE were pretty crude by comparison.  It is unlikely that Bowie, who was not poor by any means, would accept a poorly made knife — or anything – much less inscribe it as his own.

We have muddied the water with all this attempt to find THE knife as a sort of historical Holy Grail, but the people of the time knew what a Bowie knife was.  And it scared them so much that in many places they were banned and killing a another man with one, even if the opponent was armed, was a prima facie case of murder.  C’mon now, that has to be some incredible hunk of steel!  Below is Gil Hibbens’ modern handmade copy of one of the better candidates for Bowie’s own knife.

Gil Hibben Bowie is a neaar match for the Collins and Musso found knives, It has a 14

Gil Hibben “Alamo” Bowie is a near match for the Collins and Musso found knives and the knife in the old photo above, It has a 14″ blade with brass blade catcher, sometimes called a “parry bar.” This knife epitomizes the “Texas” style Bowie and many feel it would have been the style of knife Bowie had with him at the Alamo .  The stars on the cross guard were commonly stamped into the weapons of officers in the Texas Army.  Houston or Austin commissioned Bowie as a Colonel and it is known that he did lead men into battle in the Texas war of independence before the Alamo, so the rank was more than an honorary one. On top is an early Buck 110 folding hunter with an obviously Bowie inspired blade. I thought they made a good pair to photograph together.and to provide a sense of scale.

To add to the confusion, although the knife was loosely described a number of times in period newspaper accounts… those accounts vary in details.  Additionally other famous knife makers of the day including Searles of Baton Rouge and Schively of Philadelphia made versions for customers based on tales of “Bowie’s knife” and the English knife makers of Sheffield, who made some of the most sought after cutlery in the U.S. at the time, produced quite a variety of so-called Bowie knives sold in large numbers to frontiersmen of the mid to late 1800s and even early 1900s, some even marked  “Bowie.”

Among the most common styles was a pattern with a shallower but longer clip or “swedge” that extended back of the clip along the spine or back of the blade.  That style is now known as the “I*XL” style Bowie and was incredibly popular, In fact the Sheffield Bowie knives were for a spell England’s second major export item shipping all over the world.

Here below is a more modern adaptation of the I*XL Sheffield pattern.  This knife, made by Schrade with a 12 inch blade is a very strong working knife, extremely sharp yet easy to handle. The tip is inline with the grip axis.  I’ve not seen old examples of double hilt knives (though there may be some) though it is more prevalent in modern knives.  It significantly improves the grip on an already heavy knife. As I noted in the first post, this is a knife I often have lashed to a backpack or otherwise had handy when heading into seriously off-trail areas.This knife will — and has — made short work of making a shelter or a fire.

A Schrade Bowie with 12

A Schrade Bowie with 12″ Shefflield I*XL inspired blade. As a working knife not a fighter there is no brass blade catcher on the spine.  The sub-hilt Micarta grip is a modern addition but it significantly improves handling and control of this heavy working blade.  This is a really serviceable tool but Bowie probably never saw a blade that looked like this.

Another style somewhat between the Hibben and the Shrade/Sheffield styles came after the turn of the century from Cooper knives, one of the oldest continually manufactured custom knives known. Beginning in 1924 Cooper who made incredibly popular knives for outdoorsmen, farmers and ranchers, patented a process to seal the grip and tang to avoid moisture seeping into the spaces and rotting the handles which were often wood and prone to cracking.  Now however a “Cooper Style” knife refers more often to the sealing process than any specific blade design.  Steve Voorhis makes a “Texas/Alamo” style Bowie though with a narrower blade with less of a full “belly” than Hibben’s.  It more closely follows the original Cooper style and as with all of his knives, it is a mirror-finished beauty.

Custom Steve Voorhis Cooper Style Bowie with 13.5

Custom Steve Voorhis Cooper Style Bowie with 13.5″ blade.The mirror finish blade and nickle bolsters and guard are reflecting the perfect blue skies of southern California.  I’d heard of Steve Voorhis’s knives before and this one lives up to his sterling reputation as a master bladesmith.

As an aside, I recently read the opinion of an armchair outdoorsman who waxed poetically about how anyone going into the woods with a knife bigger than a folding knife or small belt knife was a “fool” — his word.  Goodness knows I’ve done some foolish things in my life, of that there is no question.  But I’ve been on my share of survival outings, some lasting several weeks, and I’ve made fires and shelters with little knives and big ones from skinnning knives to machetes and including with that Schrade shown above.  I can assert categorically it was easier and faster to do so with that Schrade.  And if there had been any sense of urgency (weather or medical issue) mandating the need for the fire and shelter quickly, I would far rather have that big Bowie than just my Swiss Army knife or even a small belt hunting/skinning knife.  But that is getting me off track and away from the question at hand…

Old Jim, looking down from that great land office in the sky, must be quite amused.  He was the namesake for arguably the most well-known knife in history and yet, my questioner is quite correct: no one can say with any certainty what it actually looked like.

However there is one blade design that became so associated with the Bowie type that most non-collectors or historians upon seeing it would immediately say was obviously a Bowie knife because they have seen it over and over in the movies and on television playing its role as The Bowie Knife.  In the early 1950s Warner Brothers bought the rights to the recently published book on Bowie’s life by Paul Wellman titled “The Iron Mistress.”  The book is a good read, unflinchingly depicts the sordid side of Bowie’s life by accepting the sensibilities of the early 1800s southern states.  A little more squeamish about things and far more politically correct than the author, and needing more of a love interest for its story arc, Warner Brothers produced a movie of the same name, “The Iron Mistress,” with Alan Ladd as Bowie. They ended the story before his death at the Alamo in order to concentrate on the love(s) of his live using the knife as a backdrop and supporting character.  It was released on 1952.

But THE KNIFE could not be ignored as a major part of any story about Bowie but, as we noted, no one knew for sure what it looked like.  So Warner’s  prop master, Arthur Rhoades and John Beckman, the Art Director, buried themselves in research, studying all they could of period accounts of the weapon as well as seeking out examples of so-called Bowie knifes of the era from private collectors and even the Smithsonian. Phil Collins’s knife had yet to be discovered so there was no actual knife existing in 1951 that claimed to be Bowie’s own.  The closest were copied and recopied patterns from James Black and family, who made the thing in the first place according to most historians, and nearly endless Sheffield versions. Marketed as “like Bowie’s” there were myriad American and British-made Bowie style knives that flooded the various collections.

Many of the Sheffield Bowies, though very well made, had a narrower blade.  They could be sleek and “pretty” (if a tool designed to remove an oppponent’s body parts can be called pretty) and were quite lethal but they didn’t “look” so intimidating.

Here is another example of a derivative pattern from the Sheffield Bowies that is a gorgeous Rosewood handled Damascus steel knife, but despite the fact that it is strong and hair-shaving sharp, it is not all that scary looking.  It is also not a true Bowie knife, it has a clip blade but the clip is not sharpened and the tip is not in perfect alignment with the grip axis.  I did not highlight it in this photo but the back has some custom file work that is decorative but would be a barrier to penetration in a fight.   This is more of a big outdoorsman’s camp/hunting knife than the true Bowie.

A Demascus hammer welded blade, 11

A Damascus hammer welded blade, 11″ in the I*XL sheffield bowie style. Not a true Bowie but a petty blade that takes a wicked edge.

However, for the movies especially, Bowie’s blade needed that intimidation factor… in spades.  Armed with that intensive research and informed by the needs of the viewing public to be awed by “The Knife”  Beckman designed and Rhoades made the “Iron Mistress” knife.  I’ve not read whether or not they ever anticipated the public response to it but it was immediate.   When in the movie Bowie/Ladd picked it up from the maker, Black, and held it up for the camera, it instantly became the iconic Bowie knife for generations of movie goers and old western buffs.  If it was not what Bowie’s knife actually looked like it certainly should be… it had the visceral feel of the knife that made Bowie famous – and infamous as a ruthless duelist known mostly for disemboweling or decapitating opponents with his knife.  His was a knife that when displayed, according to some period accounts, brought several fights to a halt before they even started. Given the alcohol-soaked realities of the frontier, that had to be some knife.

For a moment try to put yourself into the mind of a potential antagonist facing Bowie.  Here was a man whose common reputation was that against all odds he ended deadly bloody knife fights with minimal injuries to himself and maximum injuries to his opponents.  All the papers carried lurid accounts of opponents being disemboweled or beheaded.  Almost every one in those days had been injured at one time or another and knew what it felt like to receive a cut.  But this blade was different

You could imagine that devilish tool raking along an arm or leg or side and parting flesh like a razor, except a lot deeper.  And there you stood with your hunting knife and a blade of maybe 7-9 inches.  Knife fighting was no elegant enterprise like dueling with epees or rapiers.  Knives were and are brutal awful tools with minimal finesse; like dueling with cutlasses or battle axes. And there you are, staring at a man reputed to be adept at carving body parts like a Christmas turkey.

In our modern world we automatically think of a firearm as more deadly than a knife but FBI statistics do not support that idea.  To the contrary, within its range, an edged weapon is statistically far more lethal than a firearm. According to those FBI statistics, 10% of attack victims who are shot will die of their wounds, but 30% that were stabbed will die.  According to Darren Laur, an expert on edged weapons and tactics, in a comprehensive multi-country study, “Knife attacks were found to be exceptionally accurate, to penetrate deeper that some bullets, creating remarkably permanent cavities and rip through numerous organs in one stroke.”

So here then, Bowie’s adversary is facing a person who has been here before as evidenced by, the planted, balanced stance that lets him advance or retreat easily, his knife hand and arm cocked back, the point of his knife never leaves a line to your throat and his eyes never waver from watching for any twitch or movement that will trigger that cocked arm and its cold steel. and that knife… dear God that awful knife… A thought starts down in your toes and quickly infiltrates all the fibers in your body: first it whispers then it silently screams at you that this is a huge mistake and you think of an urgent need to be somewhere — ANYWHERE else.  You did not have to be a coward to size up this unflinching man and his massive blade to think better of going ahead with the fray.

Now here, folks, with the Iron Mistress, is what a Bowie knife should look like.  It met all the design criteria we have come to accept:  the point is in line with axis of the grip for thrusting. It had a sharpened recurved scythe-like clip for “rib tickling” and eliminating the need to turn the knife into a blade edge up position for fighting (though in the movie Bowie/Ladd does needlessly turn the knife main blade up in a fight probably for effect), and a long, thick, heavy blade that could easily chop through muscle and bone.  Rhoade’s version did not have the swell and “belly” of Collins’s find or Hibben’s version (which are probably more accurate), nor did it have the “Spanish Notch” often mentioned in old descriptions of Bowie’s actual knife. But it had its own vicious “look.”

It was not quite as big as those found versions from Collins and Musso (the blade was 11+ inches instead of 14,)  but in the hands of the actor it was designed for, Alan Ladd, who was not a large man himself, it looked plenty big.  And plenty intimidating. (Interestingly the posters and one sheets of the film REDUCED the size of the knife in Ladd’s hand… I’ve never understood why unless to downplay the violent aspects and build up the love interest with Virginia Mayo).  And it still would be more than a match for some punk’s switchblade or balisong in the hands of someone who knew how to use it.

This movie version of the knife was a somewhat brutish, inelegant design that seems purpose built to carve opponents into spaghetti with frightening ease.  The design effect, more pointed cleaver than hunting knife, was softened by giving it a mirror polish.   That prop knife (and its trick special effect siblings) became so associated with the Bowie character that Warner Brothers, whose prop department owned it, used it in several Warner movies featuring Jim Bowie (played by Sterling Hayden and Richard Widmark) and even rented it to Disney for “Davy Crockett” with Kenneth Tobey as Bowie and then to DesiLu studios for the pilot of the TV series about Bowie starring Scott Forbes. It is a trick version of that same knife that opened each episode of the series as it was thrown at and stuck in a doorway. It should be noted that in the movie, Bowie/Ladd throws his knife away leaving it to viewer speculation what he ended up carrying at the Alamo.

Answering a flood of requests, Warner Brothers commissioned a commemorative limited edition of 200 fully functional copies of their now famous contribution to the Bowie lore (which sold out almost immediately) and famous knife makers like Bo Randall, Gil Hibben and Jimmy Lile (first Lile then Hibben made the knives for the Rambo series of films and who claimed their interest in knifemakng came from the Iron Mistress) to Steve Voorhis have made versions of the Iron Mistress that are still in demand.  And since most have accepted that Bowie’s real knife is lost to history, the arguments now have centered on whether the Iron Mistress pattern is good or bad, whether it looks like the real one or not.

So… OK, OK, if we don’t know for sure what the real knife looked like, what does the famous/infamous Iron Mistress look like? I can hear the question filtering through cyber space: “Are you going to quit talking about it and show it to us?”  Alright, since you asked so nicely, I’ll show you…  The knife below is one of that limited edition of 200 knives. Except for lacking the escutcheon plate it is identical to the movie knife and is a fully functional, extremely sharp knife made of 5160 steel.  There are a number of better made versions by custom knifemakers, indeed I have one by Steve Voorhis that is in all ways a superior knife.  But this knife in the photo below is one of the commissioned limited edition knives, so I am please to have it in my collection.

The Iron Mistress. This is 1 of 200 limited edition copies of the knife fromr the Iron Mistress Movie commissioned by Warner Brothers. The edition sold out almost immediately. The knife appeared in 4 moovies and a television series as THE Bowie knife and is what generations of fans think of as the quintessential Bowie knife even though it is probably not exactly what Jim Bowie's famous knife actually looked like. This has a nearly 12

The Iron Mistress. This is 1 of 200 limited edition copies of the knife from the 1952  “Iron Mistress” Movie starring Alan Ladd as Jim Bowie. commissioned by Warner Brothers. The edition sold out almost immediately. The knife appeared in 4 movies and a television series as THE Bowie knife and is what generations of fans think of as the quintessential Bowie knife even though it is probably not exactly what Jim Bowie’s famous knife actually looked like. This has a nearly 12″ blade and is shaving sharp. The blade, like that in the movie, is mirror polished and in this shot is reflecting the clouds overhead.

It may have no resemblance to Bowie’s real knife but nevertheless it remains what, to many people, is the quintessential Bowie knife.  But before it is dismissed entirely as a modern invention, as some modern “experts” are quick to do, log onto Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUFYU3cTm3I for a video on Bowie’s sandbar duel and more data on period Bowie knives.  At 09:39 of that video the camera is panning across a display case of period knives and there in the case, 3rd and 4th knife up from the bottom on the right side of the case, are two spitting images of the Iron Mistress blade design.  HMMMMmmmmmmm…

So to answer the question, while it is true we have no renderings of Bowie’s actual knife and no defendable provenance for found knives that may or may not be his, it remains one of the more interesting mysteries from the early days of the American frontier.  But since large knives were a common adornment of frontiersmen and outdoorsmen throughout the 18th and 19th century, we do know what came to be commonly accepted as a design reflecting Bowie’s knife created circa the late 1820s (The Sandbar fight was in 1827).  The knife he used in that fight was certainly technically a “Bowie knife” since it was made by a family member (Rezin Bowie) and worn by and used by his brother Jim Bowie.  But it was basically a well adorned straight bladed butcher knife (in the early 1800s any large knife was generically referred to as a “butcher knife” regardless of design or actual purpose) and it is possible we actually have that knife or a twin still being displayed. It is very different from what we now call a Bowie Knife.  As his brother’s fame grew, Rezin cashed in on it and had many finely wrought knives of HIS knife’s pattern made and distributed as gifts calling them, accurately, “Bowie’s Knife.”  After all, he was as much a Bowie as Jim was.

But as brother Jim’s legend grew and the concept developed and solidified a very different blade design emerged to lay claim on the “Bowie Knife” title.. Being big did not make it a Bowie; having a clip point did not make it a Bowie, having a sharpened false edge did not make it a Bowie.  It was a unique combination of these characteristics and others that made it a Bowie knife.

It was a large heavy bladed knife (10″-14″ in blade length) but not just any large knife would meet the criteria.  To properly be called a Bowie knife the clip of the blade was 1/3 to over 1/2 of the total blade length and was sharpened, usually showing a recurve (though some examples were more straight), It needed a good thickness (1/4 inch or more).for strength and to avoid breaking against an opponent’s blade but did not rely on a fuller (often misidentified as a “blood groove”) to stiffen and strength the blade, Its tip or point was inline with the grip axis to facilitate thrusting, The balance is slightly forward of the guard to facilitate cutting and chopping strokes and frequently a soft brass bar was soldered or welded to the back of the unsharpened blade starting at the hilt to help slow or parry an opponent’s blade. And it had a cross guard sufficient to protect your hand from an opponent’s blade sliding down your blade during a parry.  This created a knife that was both frontier tool chest AND a deadly fighting weapon sometimes of first resort when your single shot smokepole either misfired or was quickly empty while the enemy was still coming at you. Black claimed the characteristics noted above were an accurate reflection of the knife he made, but that is the only word we have for it.  And we even have others claiming that Black did NOT make the famous knife but some other knife for Bowie.  Good grief…!!!

So whether or not ol’ Col. Jim ever had or even ever saw a knife like that is open to speculation.  But if not, I think he would have loved it and wanted one for his own.  But as to historical accuracy for ANY of these designs, we simply do not know.  All we can do is the best research we can, factor in what we know about the grim business of fighting with knives, and then, like everyone else… guess.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Voicing the Modernly Unthinkable

Followers of my blog and writing know that I am a huge fan of the private intelligence company, “Stratfor.”  That they are so often right on when even the resources of a governmental intellligence agency fail to deliver functional results is because their clients — international corporations — need to know the truth in order to operate in an increasingly complex world.  Privately CEOs may support one political philosophy or another, but when it comes to business… it is all business.  Only a grasp of the geopolitical realities of the world in which they operate gives them a good shot at the revenue they seek.

Let the politicos duke it out over positions left, right, and in between.  They are all based on theories of how the world OUGHT to operate but rarely on observations of how it actually works.  And at the moment it does not take a deep covert spook to know that the world is in chaos.  Divides of ideology, faith, economics, philosophies, are turning ever larger areas of the planet into bloodbaths.  The promised peace and understanding of the information age  have failed to materialize like the hoped for Arab Spring.

But is there a root?  The often rancorous discord between scientists and social observers about underlying causes brings them to the point of a shooting war itself.  But somethings seem to have become accepted as completely out of bounds.  Our own leaders cannot bring themselves to accept that Islamic Extremist Terrorists even exist… they are now  labeled “armed insurgents.”  And no view bumping into the idea that there are some cultural roots of the discord are allowed, especially in academia where diversity and cultural tolerance are so evolved into an evangelical faith as to bump often into craven cowardice.

THat can work for politicians and sycophantic partisans.  but it cannot work for those whose businesses depend on trying to get to the truth.  And into that fray, marches Stratfor with a typically blunt, no-nonsense inquiry into causality not just correlations.  Reprinted with their kind permission below is such an essay.  It does not pretend to answers.  But answers will never flow from a denial of problems and issues.  Just as you cannot defeat an enemy you will not identify, you cannot solve problems you cannot identify.  Here is an essay asking hard, uncomfortable questions.  But they are questions with which we had better get comfortable.

———— STRATFOR ARTICLE ON CULTURE by JAY OGILVY———-

Mind the Gap

JANUARY 28, 2015 | 09:00 GMT

By Jay Ogilvy

The Charlie Hebdo attack and its aftermath in the streets and in the press tempt one to dust off Samuel Huntington‘s 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Despite the criticisms he provoked with that book and his earlier 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, recent events would seem to be proving him prescient.

Or was he?

While I am not about to deny the importance of religion and culture as drivers of geopolitical dynamics, I will argue that, more important than the clashes among the great civilizations, there is a clash within each of the great civilizations. This is the clash between those who have “made it” (in a sense yet to be defined) and those who have been “left behind” — a phrase that is rich with ironic resonance.

Before I make my argument, I warn that the point I’m trying to make is fairly subtle. So, in the interest of clarity, let me lay out what I’m not saying before I make that point. I am not saying that Islam as a whole is somehow retrograde. I am not agreeing with author Sam Harris’ October 2014 remark on “Real Time with Bill Maher” that “Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas.” Nor am I saying that all religions are somehow equal, or that culture is unimportant. The essays in the book Culture Matters, which Huntington helped edit, argue that different cultures have different comparative advantages when it comes to economic competitiveness. These essays build on the foundation laid down by Max Weber’s 1905 work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is only the “sulfuric odor of race,” as Harvard historian David Landes writes on the first page of the first essay in Culture Matters, that has kept scholars from exploring the under-researched linkages between culture and economic performance.

Making It in the Modern World

The issue of the comparative advantages or disadvantages of different cultures is complicated and getting more so because with modernity and globalization, our lives are getting more complicated. We are all in each other’s faces today in a way that was simply not the case in earlier centuries. Whether through travel or telecommunications or increasingly ubiquitous and inexpensive media, each and every one of us is more aware of the cultural other than in times past. This is obvious. What is not so obvious are the social and psychological consequences of the inevitable comparisons this awareness invites us to make: How are we measuring up, as individuals and as civilizations?

In the modern world, the development of the individual human, which is tied in part to culture, has become more and more important. If you think of a single human life as a kind of footrace — as if the developmental path from infancy to maturity were spanning a certain distance — then progress over the last several millennia has moved out the goal posts of maturity. It simply takes longer to learn the skills it takes to “make it” as an adult. Surely there were skills our Stone Age ancestors had to acquire that we moderns lack, but they did not have to file income taxes or shop for insurance. Postmodern thinkers have critiqued the idea of progress and perhaps we do need a concept that is forgivingly pluralistic. Still, there have been indisputable improvements in many basic measures of human progress. This is borne out by improved demographic statistics such as birth weight, height and longevity, as well as declining poverty and illiteracy. To put it very simply, we humans have come a long way.

But these historic achievements have come at a price. It is not simple for individuals to master this elaborate structure we call modern civilization with its buildings and institutions and culture and history and science and law. A child can’t do it. Babies born into this world are biologically very similar to babies born 10,000 years ago; biological evolution is simply too slow and cannot equip us to manage this structure. And childhood has gotten ever longer. “Neoteny” is the technical term for the prolongation of the period during which an offspring remains dependent on its parent. In some species, such as fish or spiders, newborns can fend for themselves immediately. In other species — ducks, deer, dogs and cats — the young remain dependent on their mothers for a period of weeks. In humans, the period of dependency extends for years. And as the generations and centuries pass, especially recently, that period of dependency keeps getting longer.

As French historian Philippe Aries informed us in Centuries of Childhood, “in medieval society, the idea of childhood did not exist.” Prior to modernity, young people were adults in miniature, trying to fit in wherever they could. But then childhood got invented. Child labor laws kept children out of the factories and truancy laws kept them in public schools. For a recent example of the statutory extension of childhood known as neoteny, consider U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement that he intends to make community college available for free to any high school graduate, thus extending studenthood by two years.

The care and feeding and training of your average human cub have become far greater than the single season that bear cubs require. And it seems to be getting ever longer as more 20-somethings and even 30-somethings find it cheaper to live with mom and dad, whether or not they are enrolled in school or college. The curriculum required to flourish as an adult seems to be getting ever longer, the goal posts of meaningful maturity ever further away from the “starting line,” which has not moved. Our biology has not changed at anywhere near the rate of our history. And this growing gap between infancy and modern maturity is true for every civilization, not just Islamic civilization.

The picture gets complicated, though, because the vexed history of the relationships among the world’s great civilizations leaves little doubt about different levels of development along any number of different scales of achievement. Christian democracies have outperformed the economies and cultures of the rest of the world. Is this an accident? Or is there something in the cultural software of the West that renders it better able to serve the needs of its people than does the cultural software called Islam?

Those Left Behind

Clearly there is a feeling among many in the Islamic world that they, as a civilization, have been “left behind” by history. Consider this passage from Snow, the novel by Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk:

“We’re poor and insignificant,” said Fazul, with a strange fury in his voice. “Our wretched lives have no place in human history. One day all of us living now in Kars will be dead and gone. No one will remember us; no one will care what happened to us. We’ll spend the rest of our days arguing about what sort of scarf women should wrap around their heads, and no one will care in the slightest because we’re eaten up by our own petty, idiotic quarrels. When I see so many people around me leading such stupid lives and then vanishing without a trace, an anger runs through me…”

Earlier I mentioned the ironic resonance of this phrase, “left behind.” I think of two other recent uses: first, the education reform legislation in the United States known as the No Child Left Behind Act; the second, the best-selling series of 13 novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in which true believers are taken up by the Rapture while the sinners are “left behind.” In both of these uses, it is clearly a bad thing to be left behind.

This growing divide between those who have made it and those who are being left behind is happening globally, in each of the great civilizations, not just Islam. To quote my fellow Stratfor columnist, Ian Morris, from just last week:

Culture is something we can change in response to circumstances rather than waiting, as other animals must, for our genes to evolve under the pressures of natural selection. As a result, though we are still basically the same animals that we were when we invented agriculture at the end of the ice age, our societies have evolved faster and faster and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate in the 21st century.

And because the fundamental dynamics of this divide are rooted in the mismatch between the pace of change of biological evolution on the one hand (very slow) and historical or technological change on the other (ever faster), it is hard to see how this gap can be closed. We don’t want to stop progress, and yet the more progress we make, the further out the goal posts of modern maturity recede and the more significant culture becomes.

There is a link between the “left behind” phenomenon and the rise of the ultra-right in Europe. As the number of unemployed, disaffected, hopeless youth grows, so also does the appeal of extremist rhetoric — to both sides. On the Muslim side, more talk from the Islamic State about slaying the infidels. On the ultra-right, more talk about Islamic extremists. Like a crowded restaurant, the louder the voices get, the louder the voices get.

I use this expression, those who have “made it,” because the gap in question is not simply between the rich and the poor. Accomplished intellectuals such as Pamuk feel it as well. The writer Pankaj Mishra, born in Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1969, is another rising star from the East who writes about the dilemma of Asian intellectuals, the Hobson’s choice they face between recoiling into the embrace of their ancient cultures or adopting Western ways precisely to gain the strength to resist the West. This is their paradox: Either accept the Trojan horse of Western culture to master its “secrets” — technology, organization, bureaucracy and the power that accrues to a nation-state — or accept the role of underpaid extras in a movie, a very partial “universal” history, that stars the West. In my next column, I’ll explore more of Mishra’s insights from several of his books.

Read more: Mind the Gap | Stratfor
Follow us: @stratfor on Twitter | Stratfor on Facebook

————– END OF ARTICLE BY STRATFOR ———–

It is interesting in how it echos some of the warnings I’ve written about simply by reading the Qu’ran and applying its dictates to the modern world.  As the Turkish writer agonized over his people focussing their energies on arguing over the proper head scarf while all of that talent and intellect was running toward the ash heap of history, we are no better.  We make philosophical minutia into earth-shattering importance and create a great political divide that accomplishes nothing except to take our collective eyes off of the real issues in the world.

I do not think the appraisals of history written in another hundred years ill be kind to us.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Cartoons, Terror, The Qu’ran, & The Religion of Peace

(NOTE:  The first post I made on this general topic was to address the then impending war in Iraq.  I thought the commonly provided rationales against it were bogus, though at the end I provided my own reasons for being opposed to going to war in Iraq. I now think, more than ever that it was a bad idea at the time  (but I also think our recent precipitous withdrawl was a strategic blunder of a level to easily match going in in the first place).This has been a general topic I’ve researched and studied and written about for a long time.  Some of this material appeared in that first post though I have, in the past few days preparing this post, returned to review it for needed modifications or corrections.  )

The world is responding to the murders of the satirical journalists and cartoonists in Paris.  First of all there is a display of hypocrisy that would be amusing were it not part of such a tragic event..  Many of these sudden “supporters” of Charlie Hebdo, especially those “friends” on social media, would have led the charge to flay alive any writer with the temerrity to write or draw such insulting stuff and post it, say, on Facebook or other public outlet Issues of 1st Amendment Rights aside, the modern liberal mind would have exploded to think someone would openly write such scurrilous things about a group their sensitivity to diversity would go to great lengths to protect regardless of their somewhat anti-social behaviors.  But this document is not about the brilliance or lack of it or even common taste and respect involved in openly ridiculing someone’s beliefs, it is about a belief system that allows or encourages followers to kill the authors of said insults.

Regarding the murderers, it seems to me to be a no-brainer to think it likely that killers shouting “Allah is Great” in Arabis.   and “The Prophet has been avenged” are Muslims.  That does not seem surprising to me though it does seem discomforting to those insisting that Islam is THE religion of peace and that their actions do not reflect the teachings of Islam as revealed in the Qu’ran and Hadith, the sacred texts of Islam..

Right…Let’s examine that, especially in the bloody light of modern terrorism.  Below I’ll also look at some other factors that I believe are playing into the time-bomb that is the Middle East and is accelerating toward critical mass.  Is there a solution to terrorism?  There was a time, right after WWII when it might have actually been so simple as having Britain and France keeping their word.  We would still see probably constant inter-tribal warfare but at least some of the animosity directed at the west would not be there.  But from days long before that and adding in modern issues as well, solutions are no longer simple or easy and certainly not painless.  Maybe they cannot be solved at all, perhaps it is too late and the war of cultures is beyond solving until one side or the other ceases to exist.  I would like to not believe that but what I do believe strongly, is that until we in the west are willing to see the various parts honestly we will never be able to solve them.  As long as we deny some of the root and fundamental realities in the name of political correctness we will never address the issues that actually might lead to resolution.

I will try to address several of them here. I’m sure there are other more localized issues as well.  But under them all, driving perceptions and behaviors is a belief system — Islam. So long as we continue to blind ourselves to the literal meaning of the words in the Koran and Hadith, we are fooling ourselves and preventing us from truly understanding on of the core issues that desperately needs resolution.  So long as we only concentrate on other issues, even legitimate ones, but do so to the exclusion of accepting the reality of the words of the Qu’ran, we will not, we CAN not, solve the conflict in any properly civilized manner.

But once again, well meaning Americans search only for simplistic answers while awash in the blind acceptance of warm and fuzzy apologies that do honor to Pollyanna, trying to excuse savagery and brutality of the present by savagery from hundreds and in some cases thousands of years ago all so that they can see a different culture in a better light than our own.  Their agenda betrays them but more importantly betrays anyone searching for real answers.  Indeed this essay is inspired in no small part by a correspondent on social media that actually wrote that calling someone uncatholic and expelling them verbally from a religious enclave was no different than killing over differences in religious belief.  That level of moral bankruptcy stunned me.  So I thought it time to quit dancing around the edge and get into the fray after some updated research to check facts, dates, personages, etc. and to see, honestly, if my own views would change in light of more recent data.  It, in fact, HAS on some topics.  But this time the first hand impressions I got long ago have only been strengthened. The result was too long for a Facebook post but a blog essay was doable.

Now let me be clear at the start, I truly am indifferent to what someone believes vis-à-vis their belief in and their relationship with a divinity.  I have no standing, by my beliefs, to judge that on theological grounds.  But when that belief takes on physical action it is another story.  As with our Constitutional Rights, anyone else has an absolute Right to swing their arms but that Right stops at the end of my nose. When someone’s beliefs, therefore, hold that it is OK to do violence to my own Rights then not only am I willing to judge them, given the opportunity I am willing to carry out judgement.  A character flaw perhaps, but since I am now surrounded by weak-in-the-knees apologists for every belief different from those of our core culture while being first in line to put down those beliefs that allowed this country to become, at least at one point in time, the bright beacon to the world, it seems to me someone has to be willing to stand up and say, “Sorry, but that is unacceptable.”

If people within a consenting community think it good to hack each other to bits I think that is their right.  It is just more chlorine in the gene pool in my estimation.  But when the violence puts a single toe over the borders of their space into the space of others then I have no issue with the idea of cutting it off. If we do not want that spread of violence to happen then we must ask where would the belief that violence aimed outside of their group is OK come from?

The problem is that actions, good and ill, are informed by beliefs.  Only sociopaths have no inhibitions doing things they know to be evil in the eyes of others. That does not describe terrorists.  They all, including these killers in Paris, believe they are doing good as perceived through the filters of their own belief system.  In a phone interview with with one of them yesterday when he was holed up with hostages, he was clear of his own innocence.  He, in his own mind, was NOT a killer of other innocents which Islam does prohibit; he was instead doing the good work of Islam by visiting just and proper “revenge”” (his word) on those that had insulted the prophet.  Relieving them of life was NOT killing to him.

Will you please take a moment and wrap your minds around that position!  Some belief system had convinced him of that.  He felt no pangs of regret since he had done as his religion told him his God demanded, not by killing but by avenging an insult.  What????   And that belief is based on their core beliefs as expounded in their theology. That sick perception is no different than for those seeing moral equivalence between harsh condemnation and killing.  What we have is a failure of values but that is another issue for another post.

And that means, in regards to terrorists, if we wish any chance to solve this sort of thing, we have to view that belief system objectively and based in reality not in just happy thoughts about how we all (i.e. people everywhere) really think the same and want the same thing.  We have to accept that there is a belief system that makes it possible for a follower to slaughter others, kill children, murder women who will not marry them, .engage in “honor killings,” without seeing their actions as actual killings.

No, the core fundamentalists/jihadists do not just want what we want or think like we do.  I had that realization slap me in the face during a mission, long ago, through Ethiopia and into the Sudan where our “guides” were local tribesmen.  It was the only time when my team was more concerned about those we were helping than those we were eliminating.  To be honest although I had a double major of studio art and philosophy in college and had studied comparative religions extensively, I had read their sacred texts and knew how Judaism and then Christianity has evolved over the centuries and assumed the same for other religions.  I was surprised to discover that was not the case so in order to get a better understanding upon my return I re-read the Qu’ran.  After 9-11-01 I re-read it again.  The second and third times no professor was there to tell me what I was reading was not what it really meant.  Given the frightening potential of a literal reading the professor’s stance made sense to my (then) liberal mindset. But reality had forced a different view. Those tribesmen had proven to me it meant what it said and its followers took it literally.

We dismiss “fundamentalists” as some looney fringe of a religion. A fundamentalist of any belief, however, is simply someone who believes the sacred text says what it means and means what it says.  It is apostates that wish to ascribe new meanings or modify or moderate the words to better fit the more modern world in which they live. In our fantasy about how the world ought to operate we see that moderation as positive and it certainly allows for more of us to get along with each other.  But the honest ones realize that to stay in a religion where they no longer can accept the words of the core text is hypocritical.  Martin Luther understood that when he posted his famous Papal Bulls and broke with the Catholic Church as part of the “reformation.”  He no longer disingenuously pretended to be Catholic.

Christianity, broadly defined, is full of splinter groups from the true fundamentalists to the “do whatever feels good” concepts of some of the California based TV preachers.  Yet Catholics or Lutherans have not strapped on explosives and tried to blow up the Crystal Cathedral.  Even the moronic zealots of the Westboro Baptist Church have not hauled out their weapons and tried to slaughter Unitarians or Methodists.   Hundreds of years ago that was not true but those who follow the Judaeo-Christian theologies have, for the most part, matured out of those awful days. You cannot hold a modern moderate believer accountable for the actions of their theological ancestry which they have disavowed… unless, that is, they have continued the same behavior.

But at the core in terms of how the words of the Qu’ran and Hadith are viewed and followed, Muslim sects have not changed.  Yes, it is heartening that a few moderate Muslims are speaking out against this atrocity, sometimes at great danger to themselves.  But despite the pandering of the newsmedia, the moderates are, based on the words of their sacred text, not the true believers… unfortunately it is the Jihadists and extremists that, by definition, are.  We need to come to grips with that reality and below I’ll let the Qu’ran itself make the case for me.

Meantime Sunni, Shia, and to a far lesser extent Sufi and even Kurds kill each other wholesale over trivial differences in dogma.  If we continue to refuse to grasp the depth of those beliefs and the passion that inflames their actions, we will have zero chance of ever dealing with it and reducing the world of terror. In a previous post I wrote that we were crippled by an increasing inability to understand the difference between an ideology and faith.  An ideology is something changeable.  I started out in college being liber, ran into reality and became conservative, owned a business and went from even more conservative to a middle ground where socially I became far more liberal again and morphed over the years into some mutant libertarianism, combined with some liberal social views and some conservative fiscal and geopolitical views.  The changes came with additional information, experiences, broadening influences, associations, etc.  THat is my ideology.  But faith, a sense of relationship with a diety, the universe, however it is comfortable for you to view it, is more deeply personal and profound and leads to far more passion about my sense of values and ethics than my feelings about how I relate to the government.  Americans want to see everything as a mutable ideology and so are clueless when dealing with behaviors stemming from a deep personal faith, especially when those run counter to their own sensibilities.

And we of the western world have another problem: we long ago ceased being a nation of chess players.  Now our leaders seem unable to predictably win a checkers game with the nearest potted plant.  We have become short term, bottom line, simplistic thinkers with minimal if any ability to understand or deal with an adversary who takes the long view and plans out a strategy for the distant future utilizing tactics mixing political goals with theological values and military-style actions.  And because it might be seen as politically incorrect, we ignore those in the intelligence community who can and try to tell us.

And into that already volatile mix we have the disastrous fall out and continual anger over the British and French led arbitrary break up of tribal areas into their own “spheres of influence” following WWII where after placing their faith in T.E. Lawrence and helping to destroy the Ottoman Empire in promise for their own tribal lands returned to their control, the Europeans ignored those promises and carved up territory to suit themselves and their own interests.  To fully understand how the Arab leaders were betrayed look up the Sykes-Picot or “Asia Minor Agreement.”  It takes our broken treaties with Native Americans to a whole new level of perfidy and deceit.

The current situation then is exemplary of the complex and long term strategy we are facing.  Images, cartoons, satirical articles, etc. are not the real issue.  Collectively they are a Red Herring.  The goal is to divide the world of disbelievers to create openings for the advancement of the Qu’ran-promised global Islamic State.  The long term strategy – something to which our low information population is notoriously blind – of fomenting a complete breakdown of any acceptance by Muslims of our depraved culture is aided by the tactic of making our culture see themselves as victims of Muslims per se that will, through expected backlash, attack all Muslims including the moderate ones, and drive all of them back into the accepted corrals.  That is certainly working domestically with us on a political/economic front and it works globally on a geopolitical front.  Having a plausibly acceptable focal point such as Rushtie’s writings or Charlie’s cartoons provides the perfect cover and distraction from which, and with which, to increase the rancor and push both sides toward a final glorious showdown as the Prophet promised..

I am so tired of this knee jerk denial and acceptance of evil, this is simply tolerance transformed into cowardice.  Instead of believing what those with a vested political/economic interest in your opinions and support are saying, those of you who credit yourself with such careful research interests, how about reading the source material —  The Qu’ran.  The whole thing.  I admit that because it is alien to how North Americans think it is almost impossible to believe the bottom line without reading the premises first hand. It makes so much more sense to our modern sensibiities to assume that is a misinterpretation.  But the words and admonitions of the Qu’ran are actually pretty clear on the face of them.

The truly unfortunate reality is  that the conflict between the Muslim and non-Muslim world is a core issue that will not go away with a victory or loss of Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan or any of those artificial States.  It is, therefore, I believe, imperative that we understand the foundations of the larger and future conflict.  I believe we are seeing the worst possible amalgamation of tribal and theological beliefs.  The warm and fuzzy acceptors of anything so that no one will look closely at them either, are engaging in dangerous delusion.

From the very beginning, Muhammad’s warrior culture history was evident in his writings.  He grew up in, lived and believed in, that warrior ethic and the Qur’an is infused throughout with it.  From a merchant family he spent time as a youth alone meditating and finally came to believe the archangel Gabriel came to him and dictated what was to become the Qu’ran/Koran and charged him with converting others to the beliefs contained in the writing.  From that very first effort, Islam was established and spread through conquest…  Yes, just like early Christianity, it was parent and host to unacceptable, sometimes unspeakable atrocities in advancing its conversions and theological/political goals which it sees as intertwined.  But the admitted excesses of one group does, in no way, excuse the excesses of another.

Though at the first (when the writing is ordered chronologically which the Qu’ran does not do) he preaches getting along.  That was necessitated by reality because he was vastly outnumbered and needed to be careful to survive amidst the pagan believers and leaders he was threatening.  Starting to gather followers around 622 a.d. in Medina he was conciliatory to attract converts and not bring the then powers crashing down on him and his followers.  But around 630 a.d., now with an army of 10,000 converts and Medina under control, he took Mecca, then dispatched armies of newly minted Muslims to spread the word, destroy the pagan temples there and throughout Arabia.  After the victories that put he and his followers in the driver’s seat, the tone of the writings that that were written later changes dramatically.  By 632 a.d., the year he died, he had united (then) Arabia under Islamic rule.

Preaching virtual slaughter he emboldened and hardened his followers thusly with Surah II, 216 that states clearly, “Warfare is ordained for you though it is hateful to you. It may happen that you hate something that is good for you or love a thing that is bad for you.  Allah knoweth, you know not.”

In this context, nearly 1,400 years ago his tactics were no different than other savage despots of the time.  And it worked as it had worked for centuries.  So it continued through history.  Saladin, (Sala a din) in the latter quarter of the 12th Century became Sultan of Yemen, Egypt, and Syria, recaptured the “Holy Land” from the previous Crusade, and ruled the Levant with an iron fist and sharp sword.  Under later Ottoman Turkish leadership Islam expanded enormously.  The Moors conquered northern Africa, southern Europe and Sulleiman The Magnificent even expanded Muslim rule well into middle Europe (Vlad Tsepes “Dracula” became a Romanian national hero because of his successes at holding off Turkish incursions into his principality).  The Ottoman Turks brought Islam to a major portion of the world from Europe to India.  It had embraced the knowledge of the world in science and most arts.  It was an Egyptian astronomer, Ibn Al Hassan who first wrote of what we today would call a pinhole camera.  However, following the admonitions in the Hadith (post Qu’ran writings of Mohammed and the writings of subsequent Imams, all sacred writings to Muslims), icons and portraits were, however, forbidden as idolatrous leading to an art form of dazzling calligraphy and design. Idolatry, per se, is addressed specifically in the verses of the Qu’ran below.

What is most important to grasp first is that Islam had made a bold promise to the believers that seemed to be coming true for hundreds of years, for example the words of Surah XXIV, 55.  “Allah has promised such of you as believe in him and do good works that He will sure make them to succeed in the earth  even as he caused those who were before them to succeed.” And Surah XXXIX, 10  “O, my bondsmen who believe! Observe your  duty to your Lord.  For those who do good in the world there is good, and Allah’s world is spacious.  Truly the steadfast will be paid their wages without stint.”

Allah would give the dedicated followers the world, the Imams and Mullahs told them, if they were just willing to live a righteous life following the dictates of the Qu’ran to the letter, accept Sharia, and fight in his name to achieve it.   And until the growth of scientific knowledge and the European Renaissance began to bump into theological tenets of the Prophet, it seemed to be working extremely well and providing a reinforcement of the rightness of the beliefs.

At that point the western world began its slow climb into the modern era while the Muslim world sat on the intellectual/economic plateau it had reached, mired in its own theological constraints while Christians began to question church doctrines that ran counter to observation – something few Muslims would dare do publicly.   As the western world continued to grow, expand, and progress, the comparative world view of Islam began to shrink and fall away because economically, scientifically, industrially it could no longer keep up.   Taking a defensive posture behind in an increasingly obsolete world view that essentially let fundamentalists ignore half the population’s brain power and potential contributions and who rewarded dissent with grim death, it ultimately had no chance.  Islam had, in some senses, failed to learn the lessons of its fellow theologies in that when scripture that, in context, referred to man’s cosmic, heavenly goal was interpreted literally to daily life, all manner of aberrations could be done in the name of the scriptures and of God and cultural progress was stymied.

Christianity, of course, went through some inexcusable behavior itself before it matured.  But when you believe, as the followers of Muhammad were told, that if you strictly obeyed the Prophet’s words you were destined to greatness,  then only blasphemy and heresy (which was a danger that made the Spanish Inquisition seem like child’s play) could make one even think that perhaps the problem lay internally in the system.  Therefore, by definition, and by faith, whatever was letting the outside world get ahead of the believers absolutely had to come from outside.  From “them.”  From those people who were somehow getting ahead and had to be doing it by the evil work of the Devil since it was the only workable explanation.   Translation:  “From us.”

We are the ones seen as persecuting the believers and waging an insidious covert war specifically keeping them from their promised glory.  Their sacred text allows for no other conclusion.  No interpretation need be applied here, only a simple reading of the words and an acceptance that they mean what they say just as the followers of Islam believe them to.

Well, happily for them, the Qur’an has a solution for the problem.  And it is a simple and incredibly effective one.  Kill the infidel who is holding back the Faithful from their rightful global Islamic state.   Don’t forget, that “infidel,” that purveyor of depravity and sin, those minions of the Devil, that’s us.  And it’s a very difficult position to face since there is no room for negotiation.

You don’t believe it?  It certainly is not what the apologists are telling you about the “Religion of Peace.”  So instead of believing me, would you believe the Qur’an itself?  Let’s see what, in addition to the section above, it says with a few examples…

Surah III, 196-197.  Let not the vicissitude of the success of those who disbelieve deceive thee.  It is but a brief comfort.  And afterward their habitation will be hell, an ill abode.

Surah V, 10.  “They who disbelieve and deny our revelations, such are the rightful owners of hell.” .. (14) “And with those who say, “Lo, we are Christians,” we made a covenant but they forgot a part of that whereof they were admonished.  Therefore we have stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the day of resurrection”.  (51.) “Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for friends.  They are friends to one another.  He among you who takes them for friends is one of them.  Allah does not guide wrongdoing folk.” 

Surah VIII, 12-13.  … “So make those who believe stand firm.  I (Allah) will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve.  Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger.  That is because they oppose Allah and his messenger.  Lo!  Allah is severe in punishment.”   (38-39) “Tell those who disbelieve that if they cease from persecution of the believers that which is past shall be forgiven them.  But if they return thereto, then the example of the men of old hath already gone before them for a warning.  Fight them until the persecution is no more and religion is all for Allah.”  (65) “O Prophet, exhort the believers to fight.  If there be of you (believers) twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred and if there be one thousand steadfast they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah.  Allah is with the steadfast.  It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land.”

Surah IX, 36. … “Wage war on all the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you.  And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him.” (123) “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness in you and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him.”

There are 114 Surahs in the Qur’an.  And from Surah X to Surah CXIV they continue with this same unremitting hatred and encouragement of violence against the disbelievers and those who, in their view, persecute them.  Don’t be fooled by people trying to put a polite spin on this.  Islam is indeed, sometimes, a VERY peaceful religion if – IF — you are also Muslim AND of the correct sect.  But if you are not; if you are, by their definition, a disbeliever or worse, an apostate, then it has no patience, no room, no quarter, and no mercy for you.  If Sunni and Shia are anxious to kill each other, and both willing to kill Sufi and Kurd (even though the Great Saladin was Kurdish), over subtle disagreements in dogma, why would you not think they would delight in killing complete disbelievers?

So is there a solution?  We all want fast, simple, clean solutions to every problem with minimal fuss and no real effort on our personal parts.  When we can’t find them we tend to go into delusional denial to make it go away.  But this issue is not going to go away.  With at least – at least – four major issues at play: (1) Intra-Muslim conflict over final control of the final Caliphate, (2) the dictates of the Qu’ran for its followers to establish that global Islamic state/Caliphate, (3) the incredible betrayal of faith by the secret Asia Minor Agreement of WWII, and though we have not mentioned it before, (4) the centuries old paranoia flowing from the Crusades which is, to the Arab street something that happened a few days ago and we are simply reincarnated Richard the Lion Hearted returned in BDUs, it is hard to imagine the leadership insight available to us now that might be able to begin unraveling this situation.

We are now faced with a real “Gordian Knot.”  Alexander The Great famously solved it with a sword.  But we have neither the will nor ability to do that.  That leaves us with the monumental task of trying to untie it.  But whatever the sequence of steps that might be able to start bring peace to the region and a diminution of terror, it will never be started until we admit and accept the reality of the fundamental issues to begin with, starting with the literal directives of the Qu’ran to the followers.

However a positive sign has happened.  This event is so atrocious that finally, it may be the final straw for the modern moderate Muslims to stand up and denounce the actions of the murderers.  Several interviews today were with Muslims who have been wavering; especially ashamed of the actions of those who were killing children, though it was not enough to get them into action.  This final act of pure barbarism seems to have pushed them over the line.  If that actually proves to be contagious in the Muslim community then the real goal of creating a backlash and dividing Muslim and non-Muslim into violently opposing camps could backfire and fall apart.

That would be wonderful and a major step toward resolution.  But it will have to become widespread, not just a few isolated voices.  But it is a very commendable start.

 

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Moral Conundrum: Good versus Greater Good

Increasingly, especially now with the flap over the report on CIA activities, I am seeing posts by individuals living a life I used to envy.  Safe and secure in a land of freedom purchased by a nearly died-out breed of men and women who valued our land and ideals so much they were willing to risk and sometimes give their lives to protect and maintain it, these beneficiaries of the bravery of others sat back in homes, the lowliest of which would be a palace to multitudes in that messy, sometimes ugly, often brutal world “over there” somewhere.  They dreamed of a world where all peoples of all creeds and all colors and all ancestry played nice in the global sandbox together simply because it was the right thing to do.  Limited by intellects that often could not keep up with their education they fancied, ignoring the lessons we should have learned back in the Carter Administration’s geopolitical fantasies, that if WE just were nice to them the rest of the world would be nice to us and soon to each other.

I must agree it is a pleasing vision and confess I wish it were true.  But my own experience of it taught me clearly and painfully (both figuratively and literally) that it is not.  Back in the halcyon days of college and callow youth coupled with shallow pleasures I went through my own academic fantasy land emerging thinking, because it was the song of the choir du jour, that the rest of the world simply wanted what we wanted: that being to raise their families in peace and harmony and maybe be able to buy that new cow or car next year.

It was a shock to my entire system to come face to face with people who did not want what we wanted or had, who did not give a tinker’s damn about whether we were nice or not but only wanted one thing from us… that we be gone from the face of the earth and out of their way so they could establish the world order their sacred text promised them.   And as true believers they were willing to commit any deed, no matter how shocking or heinous it might seem to us, in order to achieve that goal because all would be forgiven if they were successful to what, in their eyes, was the greater good.

As a warrior culture they saw kindness and concession as weakness and an indication of their own strength and rightness of purpose.  Meantime we here in the lap of comparative luxury and soft living (abject depravity and decadence to them) were increasingly populated by terminally ignorant people who equated, morally and ethically, depriving someone of sleep with depriving them of their life.  They saw no distinction in their world view between making someone THINK they were going to drown to scare them into divulging information and sawing the head off of a captive with a hunting knife.  They conflated embarrassment from immodesty with live dismemberment.  They believed in the moral equivalency of hacking a prisoner to death with making someone put up with a cell where the lights were never turned off and loud hip hopmusic was played constantly.  (I might have to agree about the hip hop music…)

Don’t misunderstand me.  Torture per se is never “good” (and there are certainly various definitions about which we might argue). But then neither is killing. Nevertheless the real world contains grim unfortunate moments when good and bad are relative and balanced on a a razor;s edge against awful but mutually exclusive options where one good must be measured against another to see which is greater. Most people have mercifully never in their lives had to encounter such moments.  I think that is something for which they should be endlessly thankful and I do not begrudge them that lack of experience; indeed I’m a little jealous.  Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss.  But it can also be incredibly dangerous.   However,  that safety and blessed innocence does not give rise to their standing to criticize those who have.  And when gut wrenching decisions are placed in the hands of political partisans of either side, only one thing is certain… the real truth is unlikely to be revealed.

Bottom line for me – just for me – is, would I condone us ever chopping off body parts or doing real damage to someone to gain information?  I would like to think not…  but if that person knew where my buried alive child was and did not want to tell me though time and oxygen were running out, I might have a different reaction.  I would not pretend to know how I would respond to a situation where extracted information from one person who saw no problem committing atrocities on their enemies might save hundreds of innocent people.  I’d like to think I would hew to the high road but sometimes it is not that easy or clear; sometimes there is a balancing act between good and greater good, between bad and greater bad that cannot be avoided except through willful blindness and terminal ignorance.  And before you are willing to cast your stone at one side or another in that discussion, I suggest you keep that stone in your pocket until you too have had to face such a moment.  I’m not talking about facing it vicariously through voting or lobbying for someone ELSE to have to decide or do the “wet work” for you, I mean you personally faced with the most horrid of choices based on the most compelling but competing of needs.

Then and then only, however, are you qualified to judge others who, facing precisely that, have made a decision in either direction.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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When “Unfriending” Becomes an Ethical Necessity

There was a time, back in the very early 2000s when I and my “friends” on Facebook could have issue-specific discussions of various topics without ever resorting to demonizing personalities or scurrilous labelling in order to cover up for a failure of insight or verifiable supporting data.  Those discussions were fascinating and educational and often led all parties into a reconsideration of initial positions, due in large part to the intelligence of the participants.

But that has changed.  Sycophantic partisans for whom thinking, as a personal behavioral, cognitive action, is heretical and for whom original thoughts are elusive, have taken over the social media discussions.   They hide their ignorance of history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and geopolitics by posting not discussion-generating opening discussion points but mostly cutesy, simplistic, often sleazy, frequently misleading, memes and posts designed to impress equally ignorant sycophants with the self-declared brilliance of the  one doing the posting and sharing of the thoughts of others and to stifle dissenting opinion.  And I assume it works with those other low-information “friends” based on their supportive comments.

But it has no traction with anyone of any measurable level of intelligence.

The only truth contained in those simplistic posts is what is revealed about the posting individuals.  And that is that anytime someone resorts to ad hominem, mean spirited, class-less, and accuracy challenged cartoons, re-quoted photos, and smarmy innuendo against those with whom they disagree, the material as far more revealing of the lack of class and intellect of the ones making or sharing the posts than it is of their targets.  If they actually had something of value to contribute then they could provide us with their original thinking that identified the issues and shared their views of the solutions to them.  But as pawns, parrots, and puppets of their political masters they have nothing to contribute on their own but the regurgitation of their party’s talking points and bumper-sticker level clever quotes to support those talking points.

I not only am not impressed, I am finally, belatedly, but thoroughly disgusted with it and, more importantly, with ME that I would allow the term “friend,” even in the meaningless Facebook Universe, to associate them and me.   They apparently cannot help or solve their ignorance… but I can, and I can remove it from my world.

I would welcome and love debate and discussion with intelligent people of different philosophical persuasions than myself.  I am blessed that in my life I have a number of such people.  Because we are open to it, all of us have, at one time or another, come to see and accept the conflicting opinion of the other.  We respect each other and so take another’s conflicting opinion as something we have to consider and see how it fits with our own knowledge, history, associations, etc. and why someone we respect would hold that which, to us to begin with, is an erroneous view.  It can be enormously uncomfortable as is any paradigm threatening thought.  But it is the only method to work through the intellectual dross to some measure of truth.

But that is not the world of Facebook as it has become.  It could have been.  It could have been a forum for serious and important discussion.  Instead it has facilitated the sort of irrational blind screed posting that is directly indicative of, and responsible for, the dangerous gridlock in which our government is now mired.  I do not know why the internet has so generated and coddled the rapid descent, even from an intellectually valid start, into one flame war of idiocy after another.  But it seems as if that descent from intellect to stupidity occurs over and over and not just on Facebook but on forums all over the topical spectrum.

I can’t change that.  Trying to argue with a bull-headed idiot is like spitting into a tornado and redefines pointlessness.  And anyone of their “friends” stupid enough to think those memes speak to the truth is equally beyond intellectual redemption through enforced critical thinking; so it is equally pointless to try to post responses from which OTHERS may profit.

But there IS something I can do to try to keep my own ethics in tact; I can leave that moronic discourse to those whose intellect it matches and devote my time, energies, and efforts to discussions with those who are honestly seeking answers, solutions, and the truth of the issues facing our country and our society.

So instead of continuing to engage those stupid posts and posters, from now on I’ll simply and instantly “unfriend” anyone who posts or shares them no matter what side of the issues they are on.  We need honest, comprehensive discussions… but we do not need another sleazy, misleading, demonizing Facebook post whose main goal is not to engender debate but to shut it down.  I’ll keep on seeking and enjoying legitimate and serious discussion forums; but Facebook and many of my “friends” are clearly incapable of it so I am done with it.

My action will certainly not stop them or even slow them much.  But it will take an unacceptable level of continuously published nonsense out of my life.  And hopefully it will slow or stop the serious erosion of respect I once had for many of the “friends” by protecting them from my awareness of their lapses of intellect and insights.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

THE DANGERS OF A CONFLICT BETWEEN IDEOLOGY & FAITH

In our progressively more dumbed down world, where tolerance has been honed to the point of cowardice, and the perfectly good word, “discrimination” has been appropriated to mean only bigotry instead of its proper meaning of being able to tell right from wrong at least for us personally, two other words are more commonly used interchangeably and I think it is leading to some dangerous thinking.

For those who, for whatever reason, follow geopolitical issues broadly and as they apply in the Middle East more specifically, the necessary historical background required to understand the events of today would force an awareness of the impact and general details of the rise of Islam, its denominational schisms, and its stated aspirations for both its followers and the world and non-believers.  Muslims do not have to guess or try to interpret such things; Mohammed’s book is crystal clear as to what Allah wishes for the believers: a worldwide theological caliphate devoted totally to Allah, the words of his prophet, of his pronounced laws, and consequently (and expressly) how any true believer is to view and interface with the unbelievers and their world.

Our modern “anything goes and there should be no consequences for anything” world view has come to see the term “fundamentalist” as some sort of fringe group but all it takes to be a fundamentalist is to believe the word of one’s sacred text.  Within any given theology, believing the text is not the stance of a fringe group, those on the fringe are those who want to expand the teachings to include activities either nor mentioned or specifically forbidden in the text.  In the Christian world that can be an issue since sometimes the “instructions” and rules are couched in parable and metaphor requiring interpretation, and sometimes, as anyone who can read Hebrew or Greek knows, mistranslations have occurred, and sometimes there is still an argument over which writings claiming to be “Gospels” are the ones to be included in the Canon.  At its very inception there were major rifts of understanding between James, a disciple and brother of Jeshua, and Paul, a convert.  Each went on to found their own churches but James was killed in the Jewish revolt so Paul’s view won by default and went on to be the theology of the Roman church which other claimants of the label, “Christian” see as practicing precisely what Yeshua was trying to overthrow among the Jewish priestly class.  As applied to Christians, claims of fundamentalism is truly a relative term.

“Fundamentalists” believe they have the only true interpretation of the scriptures and anything outside of that is not to be sanctioned.  To them those other people calling themselves Christians are following false prophets or, worse, the Devil himself.  Fringe members, on the other hand, know what it says but believe it should be reinterpreted in light of a changing world.  The result is a “religion” that even Yeshua/Jesus would be hard pressed to recognize.

But the Muslim world has no such complexities.  The book is still read properly in its original language.  Mohammed was a warrior writing with little or no metaphorical view and fighting for his and his new religion’s life.  He was pragmatic.  In the early writing he argued for a live and let live attitude to hopefully convince the authorities opposed to him to “chill out” as we would say.

But when he and his army succeeded in taking over the writing changed quickly and drastically to a vengeful position aimed at eliminating any and all that could later play the same game and rise up against him.  However, even with that, Islam has not escaped some factionalization. In the midst of a rift between Muslims starting with the succession of Mohammed’s leadership, Sunni and Shi’a have declared each other apostates and subject to even worse treatment by the “true” believers of your denomination than the infidel non-believer.  Each seeks to gain total control of the Muslim world for their own sect and thereby bring all followers under the same banner and with that now gain the world as promised by Mohammed speaking for Allah.  Anyone on the other side resisting conversion to the “true” side is an enemy of Allah and needs to be killed.  Period.  Islam IS the religion of peace if you happen to be a Muslim of the same sect.  For others, there have been, at times, practical reasons for governments to allow them to exist but they have never been treated well. And even then, the true believers felt the authorities were bordering on blasphemy for not simply smiting them as mandated in the book.

What is important to understand however, both sides agree that once that schism is mended (by one side annihilating the other…), the next step ordained by Allah, is to take control of the world in his name.  And they further agree that the approach is to convert or kill all current non-believers.  Only one thing can stand in the way of that future:  that is the Devil and his followers.  And there is only one thing to do with them… they must be rooted out and utterly destroyed.

Christians and Jews are mentioned by name and called out for special attention and for the faithful to “…smite their necks” in the name of Allah.  We are children of the book, spiritual descendants of Abraham and as such, in their view, ought to have been able to see the divine revelations of Mohammed and accepted them.  That we did not can only be the work of the devil and we now are his minions.  OK class, guess what that means should happen to us?

Into this world view steps the group that is now calling itself the Islamic State.  We call them radical fundamentalists but they are just doing what the book says.  By contrast we talk of “good” Muslims that we call “mainstream” (since they don’t seem to openly want to kill us all) but in truth they are really the fringe because they are NOT adhering to the clear orders contained in the book.

So how does this apply to our discussion?  We in our secularized world are running away from all concepts involving religious beliefs as fast as we can and so are increasingly seeing the various parties’ positions as following an ideology. In doing so, we are using terms that expressly limit our ability to recognize the realities we are facing.  The beliefs and positions of the followers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda are not simply ideologies as we would dearly love to use the word.

Being liberal or conservative, libertarian or socialist are ideologies: ideologies are ideas about governance arrived at from more fundamental beliefs about economics, ethics, sociology, anthropology, etc.  They address ways to govern such as aristocracies and democracies and their connection to economic systems such as feudalism and capitalism.  They are matters of the head, intellectual conclusions based on our own experiences and how those have created belief filters of history and human nature.  What is important about ideologies is that to the true intellectual and open minded thinker (a type of individual becoming rarer by the day), they can change with new data and experiences.  We base our ideologies on what we perceive as how a country (or other political entity) should be run.

But FAITH, is something far different.  Faith is visceral, emotional, by definition it requires no corroboration or hard evidence.  It tells how the world IS as a deep, usually theologically based paradigm.  Faith, in this context, is about one’s deep and profound conviction about what is, to them, the REALLY important issue of the world, that being one’s relationship with God.  Faith requires none of the hard factual evidence or even experiential reality demanded of an ideology by any reflective thinker and is therefore less vulnerable to debate.   Faith is what we BELIEVE to be true lacking the sort of inescapable evidence from observation or experimentation.  (We could argue that much of what passes for scientific “fact” is no less based on faith than a belief in a supreme creator-being or indeed that atheism is no less faith-based than any theology but that would be material for a different post.)

The important distinction is this: it is not ideology that gets people to walk into the lion’s den, to become martyrs, to risk terrifyingly ghastly ends to avoid renunciation… it is faith.  People, facing death, will publically renounce ideologies with little difficulty, but it is far harder for a true believer to renounce their faith.

But here in our progressive culture where many long ago lost all vestiges of faith in anything other than in the government to save them there is also a decreasing inability to understand the power of real faith, especially when it forms a serious, open, and expressed threat to us.  We look for reasons underlying such (to us) irrational positions in ideology based causes.  “They are jealous of what we have!” or variations on that theme.  We fail utterly to understand they DO NOT WANT what have most of which is, to them decadent at best and blasphemous at worse.  They simply want us gone and wiped from the face of the earth so they can proceed to establish their medieval idea of a worldwide Caliphate in service to Allah.

We cannot understand or accept the existential nature of the threat they present because we cannot get our liberal minds around the differences between ideology and faith; indeed we do not understand faiths associated with theologies AT ALL though we practice faiths in non-theological topics all the time though avoiding the term.  We refuse to take them at their word when they swear to exterminate us because we do not even remotely understand the power of the underlying faith.  We expect geopolitical positions to be driven by the same logic that we see as rational and have become incapable of even understanding, much less accepting, that what is irrational to us is perfectly rational to someone whose faith demands that action as a precursor to the “forever” of heavenly delights awaiting the faithful.

So long as we continue to insist on dealing with them like some opposing ideology and assuming we can win that game as capitalism did with communism, we will be blind to a very patient, very dedicated, very deadly threat.  Our cultural need for instant gratification for temporary pleasures and the technologies that supply them will be, in the end, no match for a devoted, intractable, faith-based enemy with a very, very long view because time is on their side.

We can try to marginalize the warriors on that side all we wish but they are just believing their book.  We wonder why the “good” Muslims we tell ourselves are mainstream don’t rise up to overthrow these bad actors and have no understanding that it is often because they have the same book.    Some claim that if we try to fight them we will just make them angrier at us and more likely to want to foment mischief upon us.  I’m here to tell you the only way to believe that is to be ignorant of Muslim history and, perhaps more importantly, their sacred text.  Here, I’ll help get you started.

Surah II, 216 states clearly, “Warfare is ordained for you though it is hateful to you. It may happen that you hate something that is good for you or love a thing that is bad for you.  Allah knoweth, you know not.”

And it worked.  Under Turkish leadership Islam expanded enormously.  The Moors claimed southern Europe and Sulleiman The Magnificent expanded Muslim rule will into middle Europe.  The Ottoman Turks brought Islam to a major portion of the world from Europe to India.  It had embraced the knowledge of the world in science and most arts (though icons and portraits were forbidden as idolatrous).

Islam made a bold promise to the believers, for example:

Surah XXIV, 55.  “Allah has promised such of you as believe in him and do good works that He will sure make them to succeed in the earth  even as he caused those who were before them to succeed. (XXXIX, 10) O, my bondsmen who believe! Observe your  duty to your Lord.  For those who do good in the world there is good, and Allah’s world is spacious.  Truly the steadfast will be paid their wages without stint.”

Allah would give them the world, the Imams and Mullahs told them, if they were just willing to live a righteous life and fight in his name to achieve it.   And until the growth of scientific knowledge began to bump into theological tenets of the Prophet, it seemed to be working extremely well and providing a reinforcement of the rightness of the beliefs.

At that point the western world began its slow climb into the modern era and the Muslim world sat on the plateau it had reached.   As the western world continued to grow, expand, and progress, the world of Islam began to shrink and fall away because economically, scientifically, industrially it could not longer keep up.  Mired in an obsolete world view that essentially let fundamentalists ignore half the population’s brain power and potential contributions and who rewarded dissent with grim death, it had no chance.  Islam had, in some senses, failed to learn the lessons of its fellow theologies in that when scripture that, in context, referred to man’s cosmic, heavenly goal was interpreted to daily life, all manner of aberrations could be done in the name of the scriptures and of God.

But when you believe, as the followers of Muhammad were told, that if you obeyed the Prophet’s words that you were destined to greatness,  only heresy (which was a danger that made the Spanish Inquisition seem like child’s play) could make one even think that perhaps the problem lay internally in the system.  Therefore, by definition and by faith it absolutely had to come from outside.  From those people.  From those people who were somehow getting ahead and had to be doing it by the work of Satan since it was the only workable explanation.   In other words, from us.  We are the ones seen as persecuting the believers and waging an insidious covert war specifically keeping them from their promised glory.  Their sacred text allows for no other conclusion.  No fundamentalist interpretation need be applied here, only a simple reading of the words and an acceptance that they mean what they say just as the followers of Islam believe them to.

Well, happily for them, the Qur’an has a solution for the problem.  And it is a simple and incredibly effective one.  Kill the infidel who is holding back the Faithful.  Don’t forget, that’s us.  And it’s a very difficult position to face since there is no room for negotiation.

You don’t believe it?  Would you believe the Qur’an itself?  Let’s see what, in addition to the section above, it says with a few examples…

Surah III, 196-197.  “Let not the vicissitude of the success of those who disbelieve deceive thee.  It is but a brief comfort.  And afterward their habitation will be hell, an ill abode.”

Surah V, 10.  “They who disbelieve and deny our revelations, such are the rightful owners of hell. .. (14) And with those who say, “Lo, we are Christians,” we made a covenant but they forgot a part of that whereof they were admonished.  Therefore we have stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the day of resurrection.  (51.) Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for friends.  They are friends to one another.  He among you who takes them for friends is one of them.  Allah does not guide wrongdoing folk. “

Surah VIII, 12-13.  … “So make those who believe stand firm.  I (Allah) will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve.  Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger. That is because they oppose Allah and his messenger.  Lo!  Allah is severe in punishment.  (38-39) Tell those who disbelieve that if they cease from persecution of the believers that which is past shall be forgiven them.  But if they return thereto, then the example of the men of old hath already gone before them for a warning.  Fight them until the persecution is no more and religion is all for Allah.  (65) O Prophet, exhort the believers to fight.  If there be of you (believers) twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred and if there be one thousand steadfast they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah.  Allah is with the steadfast.  It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land.”

Surah IX, 36. “… Wage war on all the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you.  And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him. (123) O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness in you and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him.”

There are 114 Surahs in the Qur’an.  And from X to CXIV they continue with this same hatred and encouragement of violence against the disbelievers and those who, in their view, persecute them.  Don’t be fooled by people trying to put a polite spin on this.  Islam is a VERY peaceful religion if you are also Muslim AND of the correct sect.  But if you are not; if you are, by their definition, a disbeliever, then it has no patience, no room, and no quarter for you.  if Sunni and Shia are anxious to kill each other over subtle disagreements in dogma, why would you not think they would delight in killing complete disbelievers?

I’m not exactly sure how you get angrier than that.  Nor am I sure how to make them LESS angry except by throwing away our intellects, our industry, and reverting to a feudal society so they can get ahead again.  The war between believers and nonbelievers was happening when the text was being written and it formed the framework of its core thoughts and ideas.  They were, in their minds, fighting for their lives and beliefs and there could be no quarter in such a conflict with such high cosmic stakes.

And for them, they still are.  For the brief period when Muhammad was gathering forces in Mecca he preached, as noted above, tolerance to keep a low profile.  But by the time he arrived at Medina with his Muslim armies, all pretense was thrown away and the merciless brutality of actions against the non-believers was unrelenting.

One current argument is that they are just mad because we are in their territory and if we just went away and left them alone all would be well and they would happily play in their own sandbox and be satisfied.  Given the history of the Moors in Spain or the Ottoman Empire out of Turkey, we would believe that… why???

Another current argument is that fundamentalism is fundamentalism regardless of source,  And God knows there are sad, depraved offshoots claiming adherence to Christianity  such as the Westboro crowd, that would even give Satanism a bad name.  But going directly to the source texts to which they claim loyalty, you have read the clearly commands to the Muslim faithful.  But in the claimed teachings of Yeshua/Jesus there is not a single line that is even roughly equivalent.  To the contrary his followers are admonished to love their enemies as themselves and to turn the other cheek.  REAL Christian fundamentalists take those lines to heart.  REAL Muslim fundamentalists would happily cut out the hearts of those Christians.

Only the historical and theological realities form an essential understanding if we are to make any sense at all of the actions of the Muslim world about both this and other actions.  Al Qaeda and now ISIS/ISIL/IS or whatever it is calling itself today are NOT simply fringe fundamentalists, they are devoted followers of Mohammed and his writing, different from others only in their willingness to put their lives on the line for their faith.  We in the secular west are wont to give short shrift to theology ourselves and therefore, in our hubris, to other cultures and their beliefs as well.  It is and will continue to be a huge, potentially catastrophic error.  We are increasingly unwilling to put our lives on the line for ANYthing, probably because we have allowed our ideologies to kill our faith.

Sadly, in our case, there was no fight between them, there was instead a complete capitulation by those for whom instant gratification was nowhere near fast enough, who, increasingly, saw themselves as worthy and entitled to the efforts of others, and who insisted on lives for which there were no consequences for choices or behaviors.  There was no fight, there was not even a skirmish.

Now we are facing a faith that is quite willing to fight.  You cannot fight faith with ideology.  The Romans tried and failed, the Bolsheviks tried and failed.  We are trying and failing.  Perhaps in the end THEY are right and ideology will fall.  But, as they say in basketball, you miss 100% of the shots you do not take.  And so long as we insist on seeing their position as simply an opposing ideology we have no chance.  It is as if someone handed you a flashlight to help navigate a treacherous path… and then put a blindfold on you.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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GET A GRIP!!!

Oh Please….get a GRIP!!!

The Supreme Court just ruled on the Hobby Lobby case where the company sued to be excluded from the necessity of paying for certain types of contraception, to be precise, 4 kinds out of 20 that it considered abortive rather than preventive.  The court backed their claim and people went ballistic. I was naively startled by the response from some quarters.  The hyperbolic reaction would make you think that the decision made contraception per se illegal.  Of course it did no such thing.  What the case was all about legally and what the court tried to to was to juggle the internal conflict between two very poorly written laws passed by congress (an earlier protection for freedom of religion law signed by President Clinton and the Affordable Care Act rammed through by the disciples of Barrack) and the unintended consequences of their inevitable collision.  One reaffirmed their support for a citizen’s freedom to worship and practice their religion as their conscience dictates, and the other was the Affordable Care Act that imposed on employers the need to pay for the various types of “medical” care as defined by the politicians and lobbyists, not by doctors.

What was NOT at stake was a Constitutional issue, merely the conflict of two laws.  Even Allan Dershowitz, hardly a bastion of Conservative thought, called the ruling “Monumentally insignificant.”  In an interview the day of the decision he had this to say,

“Why is it insignificant? First of all, it was not a constitutional decision. Second, the effect will be that not a single woman will be denied contraceptive care or birth control care,” he said.

“The opinion made it clear that there are alternatives by which the women can get adequate contraceptive care and won’t be burdened in any way.

“It was a decision that tried hard to balance freedom of religion against the needs of the government. If the majority doesn’t like it, they can change it tomorrow because it’s not a constitutional decision.”

“[It] won’t, though, because Congress does support freedom of religion. I met the people from Hobby Lobby, they’re very decent people. I disagree with their views, but who am I to tell them that they’re wrong about their religious view?” Dershowitz said.

“They regard these four or five methods of contraception as abortion and as murder, and they just don’t want to be part of it. I don’t blame them for that, especially since there are alternatives.

“The Supreme Court made it clear: this is not as if they would refuse to vaccinate their employees, because vaccination protects all of us. This is something that can easily be balanced . . . It’s a win, win . . . Ten years from now or five years from now. no one will remember this decision.”

Nor was the issue of contraception itself questioned… merely who has to pay for it.  Let me be perfectly clear here… personally I believe that a woman has an absolute right to do with her own body anything she wishes.  Period.  But… if what she does with it is a result of a choice by her to engage in specific behavior, then I think the burden to deal with any potential consequences of that choice belongs to her as well.  If two people are involved, as in sexual relations, I do think that burden should be shared by BOTH parties and would favor legislation that made any man shown by DNA testing to be the father of a child liable for at least half of the costs of raising and parenting that child EVEN IF the woman subsequently got married to someone else.  But if the behavior was a matter of choice, and it was consensual in every way, then I do not feel the slightest imperative to have to contribute to paying for the consequences either as a taxpayer or as a consumer via higher prices.

Let me be equally clear here; if the behavior was NOT a matter of choice by the woman, i.e. if she was raped or in NO WAY consented to it – to include simply saying, “No!” then it is a completely different story.  The man involved, the direct and proximate cause of any result, should bear the burden for ALL costs whether that is for an abortion or for the raising of that child and I would support legislation to make that the law of the land.

I believe in Freedom.  But there is a price for Freedom, writ large and writ small.  The price for our nation’s freedom has been and will continue to be paid in blood by those willing to fight for it, even to provide those freedoms to others too craven to fight for it themselves.  But there is also a price for the application of those freedoms, and those should be paid by the citizens specifically enjoying those freedoms.

For Example, another current hot topic is the 2nd Amendment and Gun Rights.  Let’s compare that with contraception “rights” from a Constitutional perspective.  If you have followed this blog at all you know I come down hard on those irresponsible gun owners that abuse their rights vis-à-vis guns and believe they should be hammered into the ground and perhaps be considered even treasonous since their actions bring about a real threat to the continuation of that (to me) fundamental right. At a very minimum, the individual cost of exercising a right is personal responsibility and personal accountability when that right is abused.  But apart from the granting of the right to engage in certain freedoms, there is no further entitlement granted by the Constitution or common sense.

For example,even though the right to bear arms is specifically spelled out in the Constitution, there is no place where it mandates that the government must supply the citizenry with guns.  They have a right to own them but must bear the cost of purchase and maintenance on their own if they choose to own one.  I think that is fair.  I would not be opposed if with the right to own a weapon came a duty to train and gain skill and discipline so long as the government did not have to pay for it.  But the Constitution does not mandate that all citizens acquire weapons, they are also perfectly free to NOT do so.  Therefore it has taken on itself no duty to provide the weaponry, it is a matter of choice whether to exercise that right or not.

But nowhere in the entire constitution is there a single word about any “right” to contraception or even abortion.  Those rights are modernly implied but not specifically spelled out.  So if there is no mandate for the government to purchase the weapons for which they specifically grant the rights of ownership, by what sophistry of reasoning do we think there is a mandate for them to purchase or cause to be purchased contraception for a behavioral choice?  I support making the costs applicable to the parties making the choices and engaging in the behaviors, but not in making uninvolved third parties liable for them.

This is hardly an isolated issue.  We are also, for example, granted freedom of the press but not the Right to receive free newspapers; we are granted freedom to assemble but not the Right to escape any costs of the assembly; we have the freedom to travel between jurisdictions but not the Right to a government-provided free means of transportation.  Those are freedoms spelled out carefully in the Bill of Rights, freedoms we often take for granted, but the costs of enjoying them is borne by the people engaging in them.  In many states including my home, Colorado, you have the absolute freedom to head off into the wilds but you must supply your own gear and if you get in trouble you will be liable for the cost of your rescue.

So even though this specific decision was not in any way tied to our freedom to have sex, to use contraceptives, to have abortions, it is being reviewed as if it somehow prohibited all of those things and was an attack on the Rights of women.  I do not believe it did any such thing.  One author stated that by not paying for it we were denying women the use of them.  What?  We would be denying the use if we made them illegal and said NO ONE can buy them.  Where did this new entitlement get spelled out?

Those who know me know I have a limp that comes from a service-connected injury.  Before that I could run, climb, do all manner of activities that required leg strength.  But no more.  Now I would dearly love to be able to climb to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, but it is, for all practical purposes, impossible for me.  But wait, that is a public federal park.  Wheel chair access is mandated so why not an elevator or chair lift up the back of Half Dome?  Because it is stupid.  I would vote against it even though it might allow me to do something I would like.  Even though I was injured in service to the country I do not feel I am somehow entitled to that level of accommodation.  Sometimes live just deals you a bad hand.  Boo Hoo.  But that does not mean, in my mind, that the government owes me the cost and effort of making the limitations I sometimes face all go away. It may owe me a basic level of care and thus far it has provided that through the V.A. and I have to tell you I have no complaints about the care I have received in Colorado or California.  But it does not owe me the eradication of all inconveniences my injuries have created.

I do not philosophically oppose broad aid in health care even though I think the specifics of of AHCA are galactically ill conceived and will ultimately be economically ruinous for far more people than it will help.  For catastrophic illnesses that sometimes blindside us the potential was there to create a policy that could have been incredibly valuable. But I do not believe the government should bew paying for voluntary behavior even if it is not illegal behavior.  And no, by the way, I do NOT believe it ought to be paying for ED medicine such as Viagra for the exact same reasons.  But doing one stupid thing does not mandate doing another stupid thing… it means the first stupid thing should be stopped not used as an excuse for more.

So, again, get a grip here.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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