My Top Five Reads of 2015

 

Twenty-five books a year – roughly two a month – isn’t a lot of reading compared to some. I am part of a family of speed readers. My father devoured books. My brother turns the pages fast enough to burn his fingers. My wife reads faster than I can talk and my children appear to be following suit. I love to read, but it takes me a while to carve through the text. I usually put out a top ten list of my reading journey for the year, but in 2015 writing took as much of my attention (if not more) than reading. With two book projects, two blogs, weekly sermons, and reviewing some of my children’s writing I only managed to finish reading through seventeen books in 2015. I felt that the data set wasn’t large enough to warrant a top ten list and opted for a top five instead. Though I could easily list ten very good books, you deserve a true cream of the crop listing. So, without further ado, following are my top five reads of 2015 listed in the order I read them.

  1. hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice by Randy Alcorn. If you’ve never read any of Alcorn’s work, do yourself a favor and grab one – any one. Alcorn is a deep thinker who delves into the implications of the plain text of Scripture with a boldness I’ve seldom read elsewhere.[1] This book is his contribution to the Calvinism (God’s will saves and man has no choice in the matter) vs. Arminianism (God’s will saves and man has a choice in the matter) debate. Regardless of which theological camp you find yourself currently in, this book will challenge your presuppositions and give you some appreciation for the other side. Alcorn spent his first ten years in the faith as an Armenian and then slowly moved over to four-point Calvinism (which, to be fair, some would say is no Calvinism at all!). I found that much of my angst toward Calvinism was really a reaction to what could be more aptly termed hyper-Calvinism (which to me is nothing more than pagan fatalism wrapped in Christian terminology). After reading this book, I am still closer to Arminius than I am comfortable with Calvin. But the book helped me temper some of my hyper-Arminian assertions (which at times could be nothing more than secular humanism wrapped in Christian terminology). Alcorn’s book is a fine apologetic for two contrary views that remain orthodox. Not only is the text engaging and provocative, the book also includes great tables and informative diagrams. What’s not to like?
  1. The American House of Saud by Steven Emerson. Published in 1985, I consider this book a classic and a must read for anyone who really wants to understand our government’s response to 9/11, how we’ve prosecuted the War on Terror, and the real power of the petrodollar. My greatest regret in reading this book was that I hadn’t read it sooner – thirty years sooner! The influence of Saudi money in the US reaches beyond government to the business decisions that impact many middle class Americans living blissfully in fly-over country. If you’ve ever wondered why America went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq after 19 Saudi Arabian nationals killed nearly 3,000 US civilians, this book is for you.
  1. The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp by Marin Katusa. I ran into this book while researching the petrodollar undergirding of our financial system. What I found was a treasure: a venture capitalist and energy expert whose telling of the stranger-than-fiction tale of the rise of Vladimir Putin puts Tom Clancy to shame. Great books have great beginnings and I wish I had come up with this one: “I’m going to tell you a story you’ll wish weren’t true.” And he delivers. Katusa is a specialist in his field – he’s made millions at it – but he makes the subject matter accessible to the layman. Making the complex concise and comprehendible is a great talent; which Katusa displays in spades. He doesn’t allow the text to get bogged down in jargon and the statistics are given in great infographics. Though he has skin in the game in the sense that he advises educated speculation in the energy market as a hedge against the impending implosion of the petrodollar[2], he doesn’t say “invest with me and I’ll make you rich” as other authors on this subject do. Katusa’s sense of humor is salted throughout the text in numerous insightful and funny quips. Here is his observation on the succession of the Saudi throne: “Whenever a throne room is crowded with would-be successors, it’s easy for a brawl to break out, which favors the most ruthless over the best qualified. The chance that Prince Right will emerge the winner is remote.”[3]
  1. A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili. When I was a young teenager, I had a mentor who was a missionary living in Iran when the Islamic Revolution took place. She was a courageous woman and her eye-witness accounts of how demonstrations and riots broke out did much to help me see through what I was watching on the evening news. Some years after the American hostages were released from Iran, I read Ken Follett’s On Wings of Eagles, the story of the two EDS employees that Ross Perot made sure got home. Kahlili’s book rivals Follett’s on multiple fronts. While both are non-fiction, Kahlili lived his. As a member of the Revolutionary Guard from the early days of the revolution, he was a spy for the United States. In America, we incarcerate spies. In Iran, they arrest them and their families, friends, and loved ones. The captured endure untold torture while their wives and daughters are raped before them and their loved ones are executed. Only after extracting its ten pounds of flesh does the regime decide to execute the traitor. Kahlili knew this before he became an agent for the US in the hopes of saving the Iran that once was. True spycraft is the ultimate confidence game. Kahlili walked that tight rope for years while providing vital intelligence to our government. As I read it, I wondered how many hundreds – if not thousands – of foreign agents our government has been able to recruit because the assets really believed in the American ideals of truth, liberty, and justice for all. Kahlili’s belief and honesty are palpable throughout the text. The manner of his handling by the US in light of American foreign policy would certainly justify a fair level of cynicism on his part. But his narrative never falls into it. His hope for his people and his pain in their suffering shines above it all. Any who agree with the Iran Nuclear Deal should be made to read this book.
  1. Agnes Sanford and Her Companions by William L. De Arteaga. This is a complimentary and updating work to Quenching the Spirit by the same author and contains great perspectives on the Charismatic Renewal from the Catholic and Anglican perspectives. They laid the groundwork in many ways for the growth of modern Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. His explanation of experimentation and his understanding of the graces in sacraments and the energies of God are enlightening and refreshing. I’ve been a fan of De Arteaga’s since reading Quenching the Spirit over a decade ago. Through a series of divine appointments, we wound up being Facebook buddies and I recently attended a healing workshop he held in an Anglican church in North Carolina. De Arteaga is the real deal. He doesn’t just study, write, and teach. He walks the walk and preaches a full Gospel, ministering not only the revelation of the Scriptures but the grace of healing through the power of the Holy Spirit. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

All these titles can be found on Amazon and would make a worthy addition to any library. I certainly enjoyed them and found them enlightening. I trust you will too.

[1] In his book Heaven, he makes 21 brief jaw-dropping observations on the nature of existence in the intermediate Heaven from just three verses (Rev 6:9-11).
[2] The short story: The Saudi’s only sell oil in US dollars. This arrangement causes a demand on US currency that keeps it valued beyond its real worth. For this hedge, we provide the Saudi’s with just about anything they ask for. Russian energy development threatens to upset this paradigm. Should the Saudi’s abandon the dollar, the US economy would suffer greatly.
[3] Marin Katusa, The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp, (Hoboken: Wiley, Stowe: Casey Research, LLC 2015), 189. Since the publishing of the book, King Abdullah died and was succeeded by his half-brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. One of his first reforms was to reduce cabinet level positions, consolidating power in fewer hands. Portents of things to come?

Pearl Harbor: Lessons in Global Aggression

I am saddened for my children’s sake. Their world lacks the focus of the one I grew up in. The enemies were clear, the dangers real. Safe spaces were those marked with yellow-and-black fallout shelter signs, political correctness not required. Ours was a warrior nation that had rolled from one conflict to the next with a firm sense of what mattered: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I come from the final bloom of the baby boom. Some of those who categorize such things would place me at the very start of Generation X, but I wasn’t lost in the middle. My parents grew up in the Depression, uncles served in World War II and Korea. My older brothers went to Vietnam. Though America was the only nation that had used nuclear weapons in war, the Soviet threat was real. Communism was evil and our loved ones ventured deep into harm’s way to staunch its flow. The U.S. of A., for all her faults, was a force to be reckoned with and her righteous anger was fearsome to behold.

For seven years now I have consoled myself with the thought that things really aren’t that bad; after all, we survived Roosevelt. How much harm could Obama do in only half the time? Sadly, this mantra doesn’t comfort me the way it used to. I am far from being a fan of FDR. But regardless my feelings about the disastrous “progressive” agenda he foisted upon our nation, I must admit that his performance on the world stage on his worst day highlights the incompetence of our current president and the smallness of the front runners of the opposition.

On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attached Pearl Harbor even while it was still in diplomatic talks with the United States. Two thousand, three hundred and forty military personnel and forty-eight civilians were killed.[1] The following day, President Roosevelt addressed the Congress. His speech is a classic, an icon of American History. No doubt, you have heard it with Roosevelt’s distinctive denouncement of the date as one “which will live in infamy.”[2] Roosevelt proceeded with a brief summary of the attack and logical proofs of its premeditated nature. He then enumerated the other assaults that Japan had made in the Pacific theater. What followed was clear leadership.

“As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.[3]

Note that as Commander in Chief, he directed that all measures be taken for our defense. FDR is the patron saint of liberalism. But this clear commitment to national defense led him to incarcerate in American concentration camps United States citizens of Japanese descent whose only crime was their ancestors’ nation of origin. It is easy to dismiss this act as shameful in retrospect. But to do so fails to take into account not only the absolute sense it made then, but also the number of people who peacefully complied to relocation in the interest of national unity.[4] Today our leaders pale at the thought of racial profiling. Let me ask you, were you in the least bit surprised that the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre were Muslims with Arabic surnames?[5]

Let me ask you, were you in the least bit surprised that the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre were Muslims with Arabic surnames?

“I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”[6]

I was tempted to splash some bolding across the text of the quote for emphasis, but thought better of it as I would have bolded the entire thing! I never thought I would see the day when I would say, “Lord, I wish we had a leader like Roosevelt today!” He had no doubt that he was clear on the national heartbeat. He asserted not only vigorous defense but also a total commitment to making sure that Japan would never be threat to the United States again. This promise has held true for the seventy years since their defeat, a defeat that was ensured by the release of the most fearsome weapon of war then known to man and responsible for over two hundred thousand killed. Today we incarcerate military personnel who lose the rules of engagement in the heat of battle!

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.”[7]

It is a simple statement, but one which our current leaders seem unable to make. In 1993, a bomb planted by Muslim extremists blew up in the World Trade center, killing five and injuring hundreds. In 1995, a car bomb parked by Muslim extremists in Saudi Arabia killed five Americans and injured thirty others. In 1998, Muslim extremists bombed the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2000, the USS Cole was attacked by Muslim extremists. When Muslim extremists attacked us on September 11, 2001, did President Bush declare that we had been attacked and were at war with Muslim extremists?

“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.”[8]

Anyone who has read history objectively knows that the teachings of Mohammad are not peaceful and their goodness is highly suspect. The Crusaders who murdered in the name of Christ were traitors to their religion. Muslims who practice jihad are faithful to theirs. “Muslim radical” is truly no different than “Islamic fundamentalist” – a person who believes the Koran and follows the teachings of Mohammad. But 21st Century American political leaders – be they Democrat or Republican – don’t have the courage to say so. And because they won’t say it, they can’t declare war against it.

“Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”[9]

George Bush declared war on terror. We were attacked by people who believe in the edicts of their prophet, by a culture and system of faith that honors force above all else. And after thousands of innocent civilian lives are lost in a single day’s work of ruthless execution, we respond with a diffused call to war against “terror” as if holdouts of the ETA or the IRA held anything in common with Al Qaeda and ISIL besides methods. Let us return to Roosevelt for an example of how it is done.

“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”[10]

Congress’s response to this call for declaration of war was swift and decisive.

“Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.[11]

Our nation has seen much conflict since WWII, but it hasn’t gone to war with such clarity since. I am no fan of George W. Bush. But despite the fact that his speech before Congress after the 9/11 attacks left much to be desired, it stands head-and-shoulders above the drivel we hear from the White House these days. In the face of the reestablishment of an Islamic Caliphate and the wake of multiple attacks by Islamic fundamentalists on Americans both at home and abroad, what does the Obama administration focus on as the enemy? Your carbon footprint.

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel unveiled several initiatives and a need for the Defense Department to make climate change a consideration in strategic planning, calling climate change as a “threat multiplier”.[12] Considering the numerous armies that have succumbed to disaster due to unforeseeable weather conditions, the hubris of planning for climate change contentions is laughable.[13]

Secretary of State John Kerry feels that climate change should be addressed with as much immediacy as the Islamic State (which could lead astute observers to believe the administration is going to do next to nothing about climate change).[14]

Addressing college students in Iowa, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Global warming is the greatest threat to your generation of anything at all, across the board.”[15] One would think he could be a bit more realistic with college students and warn them of the real danger to themselves of unemployment if they didn’t get a marketable degree in business administration or one of the hard sciences! People are being brutally beheaded for all the world to see by those who vehemently declare us and our way of life to be their sworn enemy and destined for destruction and global warming is the greatest threat? Oh, Joe, say it isn’t so!

And what of our fearless leader? He gets situation briefs every day. Surely he must be aware of the dangers posed to America by those committed to a fundamentalist practice of Islam? Sadly, when he isn’t pushing nuclear treaties with nations that enshrine us as their enemy in their national constitution, he’s spouting drivel like this:

“As the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter, as a country with unsurpassed ability to drive innovation and scientific breakthroughs, as the country that people around the world continue to look to in times of crisis, we’ve got a vital role to play. We can’t stand on the sidelines. We’ve got a unique responsibility.”[16]

Allow me to run that through a translator for you: America is the reason for global warming and her economy must be made to pay!

When asked whether he believed that climate change was a greater threat than terrorism, his response included this gem:

“What we know is that as human beings are placed under strain, then bad things happen. Whenever people are desperate, when people start lacking food, when people are not able to make a living or take care of their families, that’s when ideologies arise that are dangerous.”[17]

No, Mr. President, dangerous ideologies arise because there is true evil in this world. And the men and women like Syed Farook and Tshfeen Malik go out in a blaze of infamous glory after slaughtering the infidels, they don’t do it as a response to rising temperatures in San Bernardino. They do so in accordance with the ideologies preached and practiced by Abu al-Qasim Muhammad. I understand that in the modern age American leaders have lacked the spine to officially declare war since WWII. In this day, I would settle for leaders who were willing to admit who is at war with us: Islamic fundamentalists.

[1] http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/18arizona/18charts1.htm, accessed 12/5/2015.
[2] http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/franklin-delano-roosevelt/pearl-harbor-speech-december-8-1941.php, accessed 12/5/15. The URL will take the reader to the full text of the speech. In my opinion, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
[3] Ibid., emphasis added.
[4] Go to http://resisters.com/learn-more/jacl/mike-masaokas-rebuttal-to-critics/ to read some of the complexity of the situation from the eyes of an American-Japanese leader who lived through the experience.
[5] Ironically enough, Farook means “the one who distinguishes between right and wrong.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farooq, accessed 12/5/15.
[6] http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/franklin-delano-roosevelt/pearl-harbor-speech-december-8-1941.php, accessed 12/5/2015.
[7] Ibid.
[8] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bushaddress_092001.html, accessed 12/5.2015.
[9] Ibid.
[10] http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/franklin-delano-roosevelt/pearl-harbor-speech-december-8-1941.php, accessed 12/5/15.
[11] https://www.law.ou.edu/ushistory/japwar.shtml, accessed 12/5/15.
[12] http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/603440, accessed 12/5/15.
[13] Joshua 10:11 is one ancient and extreme example, but there are modern ones as well.
[14] http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/218480-kerry-climate-change-as-urgent-at-isil-ebola, accessed 12/6/15.
[15] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/02/12/joe-biden-to-college-students-global-warming-is-greatest-threat-to-your-generation/, accessed 12/6/15.
[16] http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/obama-global-warming-climate-change-quotes/2014/11/02/id/604276/ accessed 12/6/10.
[17] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/12/04/response-trump-obama-defends-saying-climate-change-bigger-threat-terrorism/, accessed 12/6/15. Emphasis added.

Dealing with the Devil: U.S. Foreign Policy and Iranian Nuclear Power

Mohammad Mossadegh is seldom mentioned in connection with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. But his memory was alive in the minds of the young revolutionaries who sacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took over sixty Americans hostage.[1] Remembering one of the many interrogations he endured during his 444 harrowing days of captivity, John Lambert recounted “he asked me about the 1953 coup…that overthrew Mossadegh, organized by Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA. ‘What was your role in that?’ And I said, ‘Well, I was about ten years old at the time. I don’t think I had much of a role.’”[2]

Mr. Lambert may have only been about ten years old when the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran was pushed out of power through the machinations of the CIA, but the Ayatollah Khomeini was fifty-one and he would not forget the impacts American intervention made on his country and his people.

To fully appreciate the causes of Mossadegh’s downfall, one must go back to 1901 when Iran still called herself Persia. It was in that year that William D’Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated a 60-year concession with Persia’s then Shah, Mozzafar-al-Din of the Dajar dynasty.[3] The concession gave D’Arcy the exclusive right to prospect for, extract, and sell Persia’s petroleum. Discovery of large oil deposits at Masjid-i-Saleiman led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the grandfather enterprise of the oil giant we now call BP.[4]

The British government purchased the controlling interest of the company in 1913. Shortly thereafter, Winston Churchill – then an official in the British Admiralty – convinced the navy to switch from Welsh coal to Iranian oil.[5] The world hasn’t been the same since.

WWI saw Persia overrun by British and Russian forces as they slugged it out with the Ottoman Turks. The war’s conclusion found Persia impoverished, broken, and ripe for plucking. Reza Khan, commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, staged a coup d’état in 1921 with British complicity. He had himself crowned the first Shah of the new Pahlavi Dynasty in 1925 and began an intensive program of modernization. Though he had benefited from British patronage, he was never keen on their entrenchment in his country.

Faced with an aggressive political entity to his north in the form of the nascent Soviet Union and the overt power plays of the British Empire within his own borders, the Shah continually played one side against the other in order to retain as much of his sovereignty as possible. Changing the nation’s name to Iran in 1935 is perhaps indicative of who he believed would wind up king of the hill in European and global affairs. Iran is a cognate of Aryan and refers to “the Land of the Aryans.”[6]

By 1941 Germany was Iran’s greatest trade partner. Over 2,000 German nationals were living in Iran working on various industrial projects. Their presence on the main vein of Britain’s oil was certainly cause for concern to the Crown. On August 21, 1941, Great Britain and the Soviet Union made a joint demand that Iran expel all German nationals. The Shah refused. The Brits and Russians invaded four days later. Aryan or not, Reza Shah read the handwriting on the wall and abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[7] The Pahlavi Dynasty’s second and last Shah would be a tool in the hands of the West his entire reign.

Enter Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. A distinguished public servant of Iran whose career began long before Reza Khan’s coup, he was in 1950 the parliamentary chairman of the committee responsible for negotiating Iran’s oil contracts and concessions. The committee turned their attention fully on the now named Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) to garner a more equitable deal than the D’Arcy concession had bequeathed them. Iran’s share of the profits from AIOC was less than the taxes the company paid to the British Crown. Mossadegh pressed AIOC for a 50-50 deal. They countered with a proposal which increased the payments to Iran but fell short of the requested share. Mossadegh’s committee rejected their offer.[8]

AIOC returned the following year with a 50-50 proposal, but it was too late. Mossadegh’s patience had run out. He rejected the deal and pushed for the full nationalization of AIOC’s properties. Having begun his opposition to the Pahlavi Dynasty in 1923, he was a force to be reckoned with in 1951. When he was elected as Prime Minister, the Shah didn’t have the political or popular clout to keep him from the post.[9] As Prime Minister, Mossadegh pushed forward to nationalize AIOC. The British government would have none of it and they easily convinced the Americans to help them intervene.

Known to the Britain’s MI6 as Operation Boot and to the CIA as TPAJAX, the covert operation to remove Mossadegh from power was led by the Americans under the guise of needing a win against the Soviets in the early years of the Cold War. The “TP” in TPAJAX stood for “Tudah Party,” a Communist political party in Iran. But an official CIA internal history of the operation written in 1954 by Dr. Donald N. Wilber reveals the true cause and aims of the coup d’état against Mossadegh:

“By the end of 1952, it had become clear that the Mossadeq government in Iran was incapable of reaching an oil settlement with interested Western countries…It was the aim of the TPAJAX project to cause the fall of the Mossadeq government; to reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah; and to replace the Mossadeq government with one which would govern Iran according to constructive policies. Specifically, the aim was to bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement…”[10]

To reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah, the CIA chose as their puppet a Major General in the Iranian Army, Fazlollah Zahedi. Though General Zahedi led the charge and was installed as Prime Minister by the Shah upon the coup’s successful completion, the Americans were not going to leave its continued success to chance. The U.S. sent in Major-General Schwarzkopf – “Stormin” Norman’s father – to form and train security forces that were loyal to the Shah. These security agents, organized and trained by Americans with the assistance of Israeli Mossad officers, developed into what became the dreaded SAVAK; Iran’s secret police and the brutal enforcers of the Shah’s power. Though the Ayatollah Khomeini would repurpose the Shah’s torture chambers to a new class of victims, it was ostensibly against this oppression that he inspired his countrymen to revolt under the banner of Islam.

I remember my glee when after having been held captive, humiliated, and paraded under an incompetent Jimmy Carter for 444 days, the American hostages in Iran were released within minutes of Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office as President. My revelry would surely have been shorter had I known that once in the Oval Office, Reagan would authorize the sell of billions of dollars’ worth of American weapons to Iran through Israeli hands. Not content with this level of interloping, we later sold even more arms and provided intelligence to Saddam Hussein in order to bolster him in his war effort against Iran. [11] The Iran-Iraq war would claim by some estimates nearly a million Iranian casualties in its eight year course.

Though much has changed in the thirty-five years since Saddam invaded Iran, ever so much remains the same. Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran Nuclear Agreement brings together frenemies old and new – the E3/EU+3: China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The plan is practical, measurable, and highly technical.[12] Considering the fact that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council took part in crafting the plan, it is irresponsible to characterize it as the foreign relations debacle of a single man regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama’s politics. And even though the JCPOA specifies the types of nuclear material and facility designs the Iranians may use down to level of their neutron fluxes, the Iran Nuclear Agreement isn’t really about nukes. It’s about oil.

Reminiscent of its reactions to Iranian politics in the 1950s, the West hasn’t allowed the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully function in the global economy since its violent birth in 1979. Her oil fields are still rich and their infrastructure is in dire need of investment and repair. And the world is thirsty for fuel. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iranian crude will once again flow freely into the world market. The E3/EU+3 will benefit from the sell of equipment and technology to Iran as well as extend and deepen the economic benefit of reduced oil prices.[13] Iran will regain her long-frozen assets and garner better prices per barrel than she was enjoying on the black market as well as increase her production through oil field upgrades. Though Putin’s Russia may lose some European petrol sells in the short term, it gains even greater hegemony in the uranium market as it is where Iran must sell its excesses and who it must turn to to down blend their current stores of enriched uranium. Everyone wins. Well, almost.

America would have been much better served had President Eisenhower and the CIA opted to support Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s. Though nationalizing an industry runs counter to the philosophy of property rights and free trade, it presents much less of an ideological affront than the toppling of a democratically elected leader in favor of a despotic monarch. It is quite possible that an Iran under Mossadegh might have developed into a more modern mindset than she finds herself in today. And if he had had the chance to lead his country through that dangerous decade, it is highly probable that we would have negotiated a nuclear agreement with men of his breadth and caliber: lawyers, financiers, musicians, and tirelessly courageous public servants.[14] As it stands, we are beholden to the Ayatollahs.

The problem with the JCPOA isn’t the wording of the nuclear agreement. The problem is with the wording of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CIRI). Much like our founding documents, the Iranian Constitution presents the reasons for the rise of the Islamic Republic. Its revolution was part of a “devastating protest of Imam Khumayni against the American conspiracy…which was intended to…reinforce…economic dependence of Iran on world imperialism.”[15] Having identified its primary enemy, the CIRI proceeds to declare its global intentions.

“With due attention to the Islamic content of the Iranian Revolution, the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad. In particular, in the development of international relations, the Constitution will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community (in accordance with the Koranic verse “This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” [21:92]), and to assure the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples in the world…”[16]

“In the formation and equipping of the country’s defense forces, due attention must be paid to faith and ideology as the basic criteria. Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse “Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them” [8:60]).”[17]

The White House estimated as late as July of this year that Iran could have enough weapons grade uranium to build a bomb as early as September and at the latest October.[18] Nuclear weapons notwithstanding, Iran has proven quite capable of exporting bloodshed, mayhem, and jihad abroad with purely conventional weapons and a severely restricted money supply. The JCPOA is definitely a deal with the devil. But who the devil is depends on which side of the table the parties are sitting.

[1] “The Iranian Hostage Crisis”, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/carter-hostage-crisis, (accessed September 6, 2015).
[2] “444 Days: Memoirs of an Iran Hostage”, http://adst.org/2013/10/444-days-memoirs-of-an-iranian-hostage, (accessed September 6, 2015).
[3] “Anglo-Persian Oil Company”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Persian_Oil_Company, (accessed September 25, 2015).
[4] “D’Arcy, William Knox (1849-1917)”, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/darcy-william-knox-5882, (accessed September 25, 2015).
[5] “How the world got addicted to oil, and where biofuels will take us” by Tom Philpott, http://grist.org/article/oped, (accessed September 24, 2015).
[6] David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2014), 57.
[7] Michael E. Haskew, The World War II Desk Reference, (Edison: Grand Central Press 2004), 89.
[8] “Mohamad Mossadeq, the Nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Attempted Overthrow of the Shah” by Thayer Watkins, http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/mossadeq.htm, (accessed September 20, 2015).
[9] Pahlavi was insecure enough in his position that he actually left the country.
[10] Dr. Donald N. Wilber, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953, (CIA, Clandestine Services History 1954), http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/summary.pdf, (accessed September 20, 2015), emphasis added.
[11] “U.S. Secretly Gave Aid to Iraq Early in Its War Against Iran” by Seymour M. Hersh, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/26/world/us-secretly-gave-aid-to-iraq-early-in-its-war-against-iran.html, (accessed September 21, 2015).
[12] The full text of the agreement is available at http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/full-text-iran-deal-120080, (accessed September 27, 2015).
[13] Crude oil prices dropped in mere anticipation of the agreement. It is estimated that Iran’s projected injection of one million barrels per day into the world market could reduce prices by $5-$10 per barrel. [“How Much Pressure Will Iran Put On Oil Prices?” by Ekaterina Pokrovskaya, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/How-Much-Pressure-Will-Iran-Put-On-Oil-Prices.html, (accessed September 6, 2015).]
[14] Mossadegh held his first post in government at the age of 15 as Chief of Finance of the Khorasan Province. He studied political science in Tehran and Paris and attended law school in Switzerland. He also played the Tar, a traditional Persian string instrument. See http://www.mohammadmossadegh.com/biography, (accessed September 20, 2015).
[15] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sec. The Dawn of the Movement. Emphasis added.
[16] Ibid., sec. The Form of Government in Islam. Emphasis added.
[17] Ibid., sec. The Religious Army. Emphasis added.
[18] “6 Things You Should Know About The Iran Nuclear Deal”, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/14/422920192/6-things-you-should-know-about-the-iran-nuclear-deal, (accessed September 20, 2015).

What the Shia Is Going On?

Anyone who seriously thinks Israel holds the key to peace in the Middle East either doesn’t know history or believes in prophecy. Imagine for a moment a tomorrow with no Israeli state and new apartments for all Palestinians who have lived for nearly three generations in semi self-imposed exile elsewhere. Does Iraq become a stable democracy? Does Assad relinquish complete control in Syria and make way for a transitional government based on mutual consent? Does Iran proclaim its love for the West, declare that it is content to rely on its oil fields for its energy needs and abandon the pursuit of highly enriched uranium? Does Saudi Arabia stop funding various terrorist groups and governments now that Jerusalem is completely out of the reach of the Jews? Do Yemenis lay down their arms and dance in the streets in an Islamic celebration of victory? I think not.

Muhammad’s Islam was never merely a personal religion, a question of conscience. It was also a mandate that Islam be the political authority over the Arab peoples first and ultimately the world. It is this fervor that spread Islam under the edge of the sword so effectively in its debut century. [1] Muhammad ruled as the prophet of his religion, the general of his armies, and the head of his state. In him was vested total authority over all aspects of life. This authority underwent successful transitions of power three times after his death in 632 AD. But the third caliph proved unpopular.

‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, the third rightly guided caliph (from the Arabic khalifah, successor), was assassinated 656 AD by Egyptians unhappy with his governance – in particular his lavish expenditures and rampant nepotism – and perhaps incensed at his compilation of an “official” Quran at the expense of alternate readings.[2] This set up a crisis of succession that sparked the First Fitnah, or Muslim civil war. Contending for the post of caliph were Muawiyya, the governor of Syria, and Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. Muawiyya was the ultimate victor in the conflict in 661 AD. The Muslims who acknowledged his leadership became what we know today as Sunnis, who make up roughly 85% of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Those who followed Ali were known as the shi’atu Ali, the party or partisans of Ali. We know them today as Shias.

Westerners have long been insensitive to the realities of this division in Islam. From Crusaders to Colonials to the current power brokers in the District of Columbia, all have been blinded in part by a conception of the nation state, wherein a territorial base and a relatively homogenous ethnicity define identity and political affiliation. For centuries, this was not so for Muslims in the Middle East and surrounding areas. Their prime identity was in Islam and its subsequent divisions into its Sunni and Shia factions. For most of that history, the Sunnis have held the upper hand and the Shias have lived in subjugation. The primary exception of this rule has been Persia, home of the Safavid dynasty from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries and roughly what we refer to as Iran today.

Persian history is ancient, but modern Iran – like the rest of the region – was shaped in the forges of the two great World Wars. Through various machinations, Britain and the United States placed the Pahlavi family in power over Persia from 1925 until 1979. After a coup carried out with the help of the CIA placed him securely back on the throne, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi ruled his country even more harshly and pulled them ever so strongly toward Westernization. This exacerbated and inflamed the Islamic passions of the Shia majority, who deposed him in the Islamic Revolution under the guidance of the Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. One doesn’t need American Embassy hostages to know that Iran is no fan of the United States.

For the first time in centuries, Shias had their own country where they were clearly in charge. And they were committed to changing the fortunes of their coreligionists in the region. This set the stage for the carnage that persists in the Middle East today. Iran was a major oil producing country. That it now was in the hands of Shias allied with Soviet Union was frightening to both Saudi Arabia and the United States. What to do? What else but fund the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein in an eight-year war that killed nearly a million combatants, Iran suffering the greater losses.

Iraq is a majority Shia country. But Saddam and his regime were Sunnis. He kept the Shias in line, as well as anyone else who opposed him, by any means necessary.  After the First Gulf War and the return of sovereignty to Kuwait, a mostly Shia country, Shias in Iraq rose up to defy Saddam sure that the United States would support their efforts. We did not. They were suppressed, brutally. When we ultimately removed Saddam from power and helped institute a “democratic” government, the vote flowed toward majority rule. Shias came to power. One doesn’t need a burning Bagdad to know that Iraqi Shias are no fans of the United States.

Saudi Arabia shares a border with Iraq and Iran is just a narrow gulf away. It is the second highest producer of crude oil on the planet, topped only by Russia. Yes, that’s right, Russia. The United States chugs behind in third place, but burns more than it can pump. Russia’s position at the top of the heap in production can be attributed to the vision and commitment of one man, Vladimir Putin. But before he came on the stage, Saudi Arabia was king and nearly brought the US to its knees during the Arab oil embargo of 1973. But oil isn’t its only claim to fame. It is also the most influential power base of Sunni Islam; in particular Wahhabi Suniism. To Arabia and the Saudi family belong Medina and Mecca, undoubtedly the holiest sites in all of Islam – an Islam that Shias see themselves as the rightful leaders of.

Despite the Arab-Israeli conflict in the early seventies and Saudi Arabia’s desire to see Israel lose, the Saudis were acutely aware of their own vulnerabilities to their more populous and Shia neighbors, Iran and Iraq. Causing further discomfort was the knowledge that their oil fields were in the region where their Shia minority was the majority. Their need for security outweighed their religious reservations and made them open to Nixon’s petrodollar deal sent in the hands of Henry Kissinger.  In 1974, Kissinger brokered the deal that would keep the Saud family in power and the American dollar the dominant world currency to the present day.

The US commitment was fourfold: we would provide military protection for Saudi Arabia and its oil fields, we would sell the Saudis any weapons they needed (and ultimately, any they wanted), we would guarantee them protection from any other Middle Eastern country, and we would make sure the House of Saud remained in power. In return, the Saudis would sell oil in US dollars only and they would invest their surplus profits in US Treasuries. Regardless of any other sentiments in the region, this alliance more than any other has determined our foreign policy in the Middle East until now.[3]

If you were a prince in the house of Saud looking at how the US has fared in the region in the past fifteen years, you would have to be scratching your head and watching your back. After punishing Iran and holding her at bay for years with our attack dog Saddam, we removed him from power and allowed the Shias to rise to power. And then we mostly vacated the premises and left a vacuum that Iran is gleefully filling. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels – who are a politically fractured group but primarily Sunni – receive encouragement from the US in their attempted oust of Assad, whose Alawite Shia family has been ruling the country with an iron fist for decades, but no intervention serious enough to definitely remove him from power. ISIS is brutal and thuggish, you might think to yourself, but at least they are committed Sunnis killing Shias with as much vigor as they cut off Christian heads. Staring at the long barrel of Iran, where would you put your money?

Yemen may be proof that Saudi Arabia is done with paying to watch us bleed. The successful Shia uprising on their southern flank has them amassing their own troops on the border and flying sorties with their own aircraft. The US is supplying support in the form of refueling planes and signal intelligence; but thus far, no precious American blood. How far will Saudi Arabia go to secure their Sunni hegemony in Dar al Islam against the ascendancy of the Shia Ayatollahs of Iran? Should they decide that rubles may spend just as well as dollars, particularly if Russia should back off of their patronage of Iran, the move would mark the end of the United States reign as a superpower.

[1] A simple note, dear reader, to inform you that there won’t be many more in this post. The subject is vast and I’ve opted for a wide-angle overview. The facts are there for the confirming should one desire to delve deeper.
[2] The original writings of the Quran, sometimes scribbled on palm bark or hastily painted on rocks as Muhammad declared another prophecy, is a story in its own right and worthy of investigation by the curious.
[3] Marin Katusa, The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp, (Hoboken: Wiley, Stowe: Casey Research, LLC 2015), 53.

Crusaders and Jihadis: The False Equivalence

President Obama touched off a firestorm of condemnation from the political right and Christian conservatives for remarks he made during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015. The offending comment? “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”[1]

One is free to take umbrage at the President’s admonition for humility in light of the excesses of the past. But to argue against the historicity of his statement simply betrays ignorance of the facts. Crusaders did push east and pillaged under the banner of the cross. Slavery and institutionalized racism were justified through the warped usage of Scripture. Historical facts aren’t the problem with the President’s rhetorical device. The problem is its perpetuation of the false equivalence of radical Islam with Crusading Christianity; be the crusaders Knights Templar or knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

This false equivalence is commonplace in secular appeals to tolerance, perhaps because true secular humanists believe that people of any faith are radicalized to some extent and are thus equally unreasonable. But as much as some might wish it so, all faiths do not fit into the same level playing field. In the maintenance of diplomatic relations (after all, Saudi Arabia is the current guarantor of the value of America’s monetary system) and a politically correct society, it makes sense that the President would trot out the societal sins of supposedly Christian nations as an appeal for understanding in the face of the brutality that is the Islamic State[2] and by extension Dar-al-Islam.[3]

Humanity is brutal. History – modern history in particular – teaches us this.[4] That people of faith commit brutalities should not be surprising to anyone. But for a true comparison of the faiths in question, Christianity and Islam, one should first examine the lives of their founders and only then take stock of their followers to determine which expressions of belief are aberrant and which are faithful. It is with this intent that I humbly present the following comparison of Jesus of Nazareth and Abu al-Qasim Muhammad.

Jesus of Nazareth was a monotheist his entire life. He was born into a Jewish family[5] and publically taught the Shema, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord.”[6] Muhammad was born into the family of the Banu Hashim, a branch of the powerful Quraysh, which was the ruling tribe of Mecca that was responsible for guarding Mecca’s most sacred shrine, the Ka’bah.[7] At this time, the shrine was a center of Arabian pagan worship and pilgrimage[8] and contained 360 idols, of which Allah was one.[9] This part of Muhammad’s background is critical to understanding his development of Islam later in life.

According to the Gospel records, Jesus had an encounter with the devil in the early days of his ministry. The recorded response he had to the devil’s various temptations was “It is written.” Thus, by continual appeals to the Jewish holy writ, Jesus triumphed over the devil’s temptations.[10] Muhammad’s interaction with the devil had a different outcome. In order to conciliate the Quraysh who were hesitant to embrace his newly proclaimed monotheism, Muhammad spoke what have become known as the “Satanic verses” in which he allowed for the Arabian gods al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat to be intercessory spirits with Allah. He later recanted this declaration with verses that implied that Satan had cast the words into his previous recitation.[11]

In one of the many encounters that Jesus had with the religious establishment of his day, a woman who had been captured in the act of adultery was brought before him for judgment. The Law of Moses commanded stoning as the punishment for adultery and they wanted to know what Jesus would do. In a response worthy of Solomon, Jesus declared “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, all the accusers left. “Did no one condemn you?” Jesus asked the woman. “No one, Lord,” she said. “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[12] Muhammad’s encounters with adulterous women went a bit differently. In one of them, a woman from Ghamid came to him, confessed to adultery, and asked for purification. When Muhammad learned that she was pregnant, he mercifully allowed her to give birth and raise the child until it was weaned. Thereupon, he ordered the woman buried alive up to her chest and then stoned to death.[13]

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”[14] Jesus backed up these words with dramatic actions as we shall see later. Muhammad ordered the assassination of Ka’b ibn Al-Ashraf because Al-Ashraf had “hurt Allah and His Apostle.”[15] The nature of the hurt? Ka’b had written poetic verses which were critical of Muhammad and decried the outcomes of the Battle of Badr.[16]

Jesus counseled against divorce, declaring that its cause was unforgiveness in the human heart.[17] Muhammad arranged the marriage of Zaynab bint Jahsh to his adopted son. After they divorced, Muhammad took her as his wife.[18] His action was sanctified through revelations in the Qur’an.[19]

All conical records portray Jesus as celibate throughout his life and a bachelor at the time of his execution.[20] Additionally, his concern for and estimation of children are well documented.[21] Muhammad became betrothed to his third wife, Aisha, when she was six years old. The marriage was consummated, in Aisha’s words, when she was nine.[22]

On the night of his arrest, Jesus made it clear that he went willingly. When he asked the mob that invaded the garden who they were looking for, they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I am he,” he said and they all lurched backward and fell to the ground.[23] Jesus then offered himself up for arrest and requested that his disciples be let go. But Peter would have none of it. He drew his sword and cut the right ear off Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away and then healed Malchus’s ear.[24] Muhammad had no reservations with regard to the use of the sword. He commanded the beheading of unbelievers met in battle.[25] He also killed prisoners of war. One such instance occurred after the Battle of the Trench in Medina. Muhammad ordered the slaughter of all the males of the Jewish tribe known as the Banu Qurayza who had confronted his forces in battle.[26] All the males, estimates range from 600 to 900, were led to the city square and beheaded. Their women and children were sold into slavery. [27] One he kept for himself as a concubine.[28]

In his testimony before Pontius Pilate, Jesus made it clear that he had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. In answer to Pilate’s question if Jesus was King of the Jews, he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”[29] A quote from a former professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University, Mark A. Gabriel, offers a good contrast:

“With Allah by their side, Muhammad and his army set their sights on conquering the world. This is the Muhammad that the Islamic radical is emulating. Muhammad personally led his army into twenty-six battles, and they were very successful. The motley group that began in a desolate city in the desert subdued the cities of Arabia one by one until, right before his death, Muhammad had total control of the entire Arabian Peninsula.”[30]

Most Muslims are not Jihadis and most Christians are not Crusaders or cross burners. But in light of the teachings and histories of Muhammad and Jesus, which adherents of these faiths exhibit faithfulness to the example of their founders?

[1] President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast”,  hereafter cited as RPNPB, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast, (accessed February 6, 2015).
[2] It has been the policy of the White House to refer to the group as ISIL and the President maintained this preference in his comments. Using ISIL instead of ISIS or some other designation is more diplomatic nuance which the author believes is ill advised whatever its motivation.
[3] Dar-al-Islam, “the house of Islam”; i.e., the Islamic world.
[4] Even as I write this, it is reported that ISIS has beheaded 20 Coptic Christians as a warning to “crusaders.” Updated to 21 the next day. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/02/15/video-purports-to-show-isis-militants-beheading-christian-hostages/, (accessed February 15, 2015). I cannot but help to wonder if they are somehow trying to resonate with the President’s recent remarks.
[5] Matt 1:18-25; Luke 2:4-7. All Biblical references are to the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[6] Mark 12:28-30; Deut 6:4-5
[7] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Muhammad”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/396226/Muhammad, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[8] “Ka’bah”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/309173/Kabah, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[9] Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History, © 2000, 2002 by Karen Armstrong, p.11, https://archive.org/stream/IslamAShortHistoryKarenArmstrong/Islam-A-Short-History-Karen-Armstrong#page/n49/mode/2up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[10] Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
[11] Silas, “Muhammad and the Satanic Verses”, http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/sverses.htm, (accessed February 8, 2015). I have endeavored to restrict citations regarding Muhammad to accepted authoritative sources and Islamic sources. Answering Islam is not an Islamic site. But the author of the article did such a fantastic job documenting the evidence for the Satanic verses that I felt no need to replicate them.
[12] John 8:2-11 New American Standard Bible
[13] From the Hadith Shaih Muslim, Book 17, Number 4206, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/muslim/017-smt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015).
[14] Matt 5:44
[15] From the Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 59, Number 369, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/059-sbt.php, (accessed February 15, 2015). In sending the assassins, Muhammad authorized lying and deception to get the job done.
[16] W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, p. 18, https://archive.org/stream/muhammadatmedina029655mbp#page/n39/mode/1up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[17] Matt 5:31-32; 19:1-9
[18] Muslims cast this incestuous story in their version of a liberating light, i.e. that blood and legal relations shouldn’t be equated. See “Zaynab bint Jahsh”, http://www.islamswomen.com/articles/zaynab_bint_jahsh.php, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[19] Qur’an 33:36-37
[20] The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Old Testament prophetic literature also depicts the Messiah as such.
[21] Matt 19:13-15
[22] From Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 58, Number 234-235, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/058-sbt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015). It is estimated that Muhammad was in his fifties at the time of their marriage. Imagine this scene in most modern Western countries: a middle-aged man dreams of a little girl and falls in love with her picture, marries and has intercourse with her while she is prepubescent. This is the scene that is romanticized in the cited Hadith.
[23] John 18:1-6
[24] John 18:7-11; Luke 22:50-51
[25] Qur’an 47:4
[26] “Muhammad and the Jews of Medina”, http://www.pbs.org/muhammad/ma_jews.shtml, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[27] Richard A. Gabriel, “Muhammad: The Warrior Prophet”, http://www.historynet.com/muhammad-the-warrior-prophet.htm, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[28] “List of Muhammad’s Wives and Concubines”, No. 8, http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Muhammads_Wives_and_Concubines, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[29] John 18:36 New International Version. Scripturally, Christianity is only a political movement in its eschatology. The King is shown as returning to set up His Kingdom on earth, not his servants taking up the sword to make it so.
[30] Mark A. Gabriel, PhD, Journey Into the Mind of an Islamic Terrorist, (Lake Mary: Frontline 2006), 131.

I Want a Name: Olympic Perfection and Nationalist Pride

“Why would I know the name of the jackass that supplied a 30 kopeck insulator to do a 50 kopeck job?” This is what came to mind as I watched the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the final snowflake refused to undergo its transformation. The quote comes from the film K-19: The Widow Maker. It appears in the first part of the movie when Liam Neeson is asked to provide the names of those responsible for his submarine’s electronic failures during a drill and is filled with all the implications of the pitfalls of the Soviet system.

I found myself a bit nostalgic as the pageantry continued; no doubt brought on as a consequence of the games being hosted in Russia and my being a child of the Cold War. As the unfinished Olympic ring quintet floated by, I am sure that there were many like me who instinctively felt someone was going to be sent to Siberia over it. I’m not so sure that my children fully appreciated my comments to that effect. Lost on them was the drama and anticipation regarding which athlete would defect to the West next. The somber presence of steroidal East Germans and stoic Soviets in red warm-up suits with the ever present CCCP stamped on them has been replaced by colors, lights, and fanfare.

I realize that any ten-minute review of a nation’s thousand-year history is bound to be reductionist. But the white-washing of the Red Period was palpable. A short clip from Doctor Zhivago would have served the truth better. The Olympics are no longer about West versus East, Democracy versus Communism, freedom versus state slavery. But they are still about extraordinary personal achievement and nationalist pride, albeit sandwiched between super-sized Broadway productions.

Our proclivity to project on our athletes never ceases to amaze me. The human condition hasn’t changed much in the nearly three thousand years since the Greeks first began celebrating their Olympiads. The city-states would certainly celebrate their heroes, but pride of place trumped individual achievement then as it does now. It seems somewhat surprising that a culture that prized excellence in all things centered its penultimate expression on physical prowess. Amid Homer’s poetry, Plato’s perfect forms, Salanion’s sculptures, and Sophocles’s stage stood the Olympians crowned in their laurel leaves: humankind’s epitome of excellence and representatives of the superior city-state.

And thus we sat, Americans pitted against Soviets, somehow sure that gold meant our system was better, our cause more noble, our people more skilled. If it happened that it was the sickle and hammer that flew high at the end of the contest and not the stars and bars, it was only because they didn’t play by the rules. Their athletes were state sponsored, professionals under another name. We could all acknowledge in the games that it was a contest of ideologies played out on the stage of athletic achievement. And for a time, the world would pretend that we weren’t actually firing live ammunition at each other through proxies in jungles far from home.

What enemy are we being distracted from now? I remember thinking that we were on the verge of WWIII when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. We nobly entered the fray, introducing our shadow warriors to train the freedom fighters bravely defending their homeland from the Communist threat. Did anyone notice when the mujahideen turned into the Taliban? Did anyone realize that they were committed to their cause (mujahideen comes from the Arabic mujāhidūn, “those who engage in jihad”[1]) and not ours?

While the nations compete, the Russians close rank with a security ring of nearly sixty thousand personnel. Gone is the simple fear of a Munich-style assault by a want-to-be rogue state. Whether we call them Georgians, Chechens, or Saudi Arabians, the real enemy is jihad.

But don’t worry. I doubt you will hear any updates on the Russian’s anti-jihad security measures. Neither will there be breaking news in the middle of the competition regarding America’s progress in the War on Jihad. Such straightforward speech does not belong in the political PR arena. The religious implications of anybody’s crusade cannot be openly acknowledged. Let us call it terrorism and remove its face and cause. And let us all relax as we enjoy our bread and games.