Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Hatfields and the McCoys

Those who claim that the world would be less violent without the US and Israel challenging the Islamic world have to contend with stories like this one, fresh off the presses: Suicide Car Bomb Kills 39 at Pakistan Religious Rally (edited):
MULTAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - At least 39 people were killed and more than 80 wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded at a rally for an assassinated militant religious leader in central Pakistan early Thursday, police said.

The car exploded after being driven into a crowd of mourners at the overnight rally in the city of Multan to mark the first anniversary of the shooting of extremist Sunni religious leader Azam Tariq.

At least 39 people were killed and 84 wounded, said Arif Sial, medical superintendent at Multan's main Nishat Hospital.

The blast appeared to be the latest in a spate of sectarian violence that has racked Pakistan in recent years and came after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a Shi'ite mosque in the eastern city of Sialkot on Oct. 2, killing 30 people.

Residents said most at the rally were members of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (Soldiers of Mohammad's Companions), an outlawed Sunni Muslim group that Tariq headed and which has been blamed for many attacks on minority Shi'ite Muslims, who make up about 15 percent of Pakistan's mainly Sunni population of 150 million. The blast came after hundreds of people gathered at a village about 80 miles northeast of Multan for the funeral of Amjad Hussain Farooqi, a militant described as a key link between al Qaeda and local extremist groups who was killed by security forces on Sept. 26.
If Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine could be retooled to be a Wayforward Machine, we could try and imagine the world where the United States and Israel---and all Jews for that matter---are cleanly removed from the Earth, post haste. What then? Sectarian violence between those who remain. The 'New Jews' would probably be the Shi’ites, the minority among Muslims---Hatfields and McCoys with nukes. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the Shi'ites were described by one western visitor as the 'niggers of the peninsula.' Or perhaps more accurately, 'the Jews of the peninsula', if you prefer a more vituperative four letter appellation from the Sunni attitude.

Bernard Lewis made the point that it is absurd to refer to 'fundamentalists' in Islam. "Fundamentalist," says Lewis, "is an American expression denoting belief in the literal divine origin of scripture---something that all Muslims, militant or otherwise, believe about the Koran." With the Muslim religion, it is difficult to envisage that sectarianism can result in anything other than obliteration in a world of nuclear proliferation. Possibly, the monopoly of violence held by Americans and Israelis is the only thing keeping Muslims from initiating their own self-induced genocide. The fundamentalism of it all goes without saying.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Winking at the Apocalypse

In the Richmond District of San Francisco, there is a seemingly impossible commingling of disparate immigrant cultures, particularly Russian and Chinese---along with Vietnamese, Korean, Irish and a smattering of Italian. Among these groups, the Russians have taken a dominant hold of much of the area known as 'The Avenues'---a fog-shrouded grid of long, treeless streets that stretch out towards The Great Highway, and the pounding surf of the Pacific. This blogger spent the better part of his adult life a mile or so from the surf, tucked beneath the restless fog, blaring the furnace twelve months of the year, lulled to sleep at night by omnipresent foghorns.

A curious acceptance of the flagitious Soviet past can be found in The Richmond District.

Many friendships made in The Richmond are Russian. There's a wonderfully displaced, quiet distress among them; the kind of people who sit by ponds in Golden Gate Park, playing chess and smoking noxious tobacco tanned in the center of the old country, pontificating about life. Even the most rudimentary Russian language skills will draw one into the badinage of a displaced people, glad to be in a new, free country, but yearning for the comforts of old haunts.

Novelty stores sell everything that is imaginable, including a multitude of products that wink and smirk at the Soviet past that echo throughout the Russian expatriate community. It is curious---there are many products made in the C.I.S. that have Lenin or Brezhnev's likeness on them, and plenty more with the omnipresent hammer and sickle. It is possible to buy cooking oil deliberately branded to look like it was the product of a state factory run by Stalinists. Packaged sets of miniature vodka bottles branded with Brezhnev can be had for the drinking. Communist posters are for sale, hanging mutely as reminders of an inglorious past, somehow revered. Surely, there is a sense of loss among these people who resurrect the symbols of a potent past, gone to ash.

This blogger received a gag gift from a Ukrainian friend. It was a Lenin shirt, blazed with large Cyrillic letters proclaiming: 'Work. Drink. Die---Drink.' The back of the shirt had a giant hammer and sickle surrounded by vodka bottles, and could be worn in complete safety in the Russian expatriate community of The Richmond. It is hard to call this shirt reverent towards Lenin. But neither is it irreverent.

But why? Imagine slipping on a t-shirt with Hitler's likeness on the front, and perhaps adding some German saying 'arbeit macht frei' with a big swastika on the back. One would reasonably expect to be shot within five minutes of publicly donning of such a garment. But not Stalin or Lenin shirts. Or Mao.

An interesting website that can take days to absorb is Matthew White's Homepage. The site contains visual historical-geographic and statistical information. It's a marvel to study. One page is entitled Who was the Bloodiest Tyrant of the 20th Century?'and compares raw numbers of murdered millions at the hands of various tyrants. The top three are Hilter, Stalin and Mao---not necessarily in that order. Depending on how you sift the numbers, each of the three takes homicidal first place.

The most general accounting ranks the three as follows:

Mao: 40M deaths
Hitler: 34M deaths
Stalin: 20M deaths

Go there for yourself and see how the numbers can be interpreted. (Also, some fascinating maps)

This essay was inspired by Mr. Katzman's linking to Lamech, the blogger who questions the flying of confederate flags, seeing them as an insult to the true message of Christianity, and of course to the victims of Dixie. It is truly strange how culture can assign varied levels of reprehension onto historical monsters. Why is it that Stalin is 'OK' (even though we all know he wasn't), but Hitler is absolutely heinous (which we all know he was).

For that matter, there seems to be in our culture a softness exhibited towards the Communists in general---as though they meant well but had the wrong system in place. Why is this? Is it because the Communists won World War II along with the Allies? Is it because some of the central tenets of Communism found fertile ground as Socialism in Europe and in the Left on the American continent? Is it because there are enough rough parallels between FDR's New Deal and a communist system to elicit a few nods of appreciation?

Consider all the Holocaust movies and books that have been made. Certainly there is no equivalent profusion of media about the gulags or Stalin's purges. The Ukrainian famine of the 1930s created by Stalin is news to a lot of people---including Russians. Whereas the Nazis were proud of their murderous deeds, the Soviets were quite secretive about their death mills. They continued grinding bone and flesh for decades, silently. Hilter's death machine went out with a bang, with liberators opening the gates of Dachau and Treblinka. The Soviet system just faded away, quietly. The liberators were the jailers themselves.

Perhaps our softness on Communist evil is a lesson about the importance of winning decisively. The softness and conditional outrage towards the Soviet death machine is a product of a war that didn't entirely end in defeat. 1991 saw the end of the Soviet system, but there was no admission of guilt---no Nuremburg trials, no hanging of the gulag commanders. Reading Lamech's essay on the Stars and Bars reveals a similar phenomenon: although the Confederacy signed a truce, many of the ideals and culture of the racist slave-holding South went without repent, reabsorbing into the Union. Racism would remain in place for decades after 1865.

All of this takes us back to the present war. Winning must be decisive. The symbols of oppression must be revealed---and reviled. Who are we blinking at today? Who do we tacitly nod at while feigning disapproval? Can wars be won when the symbols of oppression are debatable and not obvious?

Sunday, October 03, 2004


During this very informative and enlightening election sprint, the pink elephant in the room has something to say: Iranian leader wants nuke in 4 months
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged his country's weapons developers to step up work on making a nuclear bomb, a U.S. official said, according to Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service.

According to the official, an authoritative source in the Iranian exile community has stated that Khamenei met recently with senior government and military leaders on the nuclear weapons program. Khamenei told the gathering, "We must have two bombs ready to go in January or you are not Muslims," the official said.

Jafari-Jalali, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Majles, stated in an Iranian press interview last week that the recent International Atomic Energy Agency resolution calling on Iran to halt uranium enrichment could lead to Tehran withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Iran's military announced earlier this month that it would test-fire a "strategic" missile during the Ashura 5 military exercises of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Meanwhile, British intelligence, working with Iraqi security, has uncovered a cell within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that is working to destabilize Iraq.

The Iranians had paid insurgents to conduct attacks in southern Iraq.

"I don't think there's any doubt that the Iranians are involved and are providing support" to the Iraqi insurgents, Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week.
Our democratic process must consummate in a few weeks. Hopefully it will provide the free world with someone who has an answer to the Iranian riddle. And soon, too---just in time for the inauguration.

Iran also voiced its disapprobation to Europe and Kerry's elysian fantasy of providing nuclear fuel to the mullahs for peaceful purposes. Therefore, Kerry and his allies have no strategy whatsoever with respect to Iran's imminent nuclear arsenal.

It would be telling if each presidential candidate spent 90 minutes debating a puissant policy towards Iran since they have drawn extreme distinctions with respect to Iraq. Iran appears to be moving at least a few pawns around in the south of Iraq, stirring trouble for the Great Satan; testing long-range missiles; and burning the midnight oil at its nuclear facilities. Even the Democrats' rising star of progressive realism spoke of dire consequences per Iran's intransigence:
U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama suggested Friday that the United States one day might have to launch surgical missile strikes into Iran and Pakistan to keep extremists from getting control of nuclear bombs...

"The big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures, including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?" Obama asked.

Given the continuing war in Iraq, the United States is not in a position to invade Iran, but missile strikes might be a viable option, he said. Obama conceded that such strikes might further strain relations between the U.S. and the Arab world.

"In light of the fact that we're now in Iraq, with all the problems in terms of perceptions about America that have been created, us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in," he said.

"On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran... And I hope it doesn't get to that point. But realistically, as I watch how this thing has evolved, I'd be surprised if Iran blinked at this point."
For some on the fence this election, a clarified position from Mr. Kerry on the Iranian matter would be most illuminating. Would someone with Barack's view wind up on President Kerry's staff? Is Iran yet another soft power play? Would Kerry (or Bush, for that matter) be willing to fan the flames of the democratic opposition in Iran? Some reports indicate that the regime is in an internal race for time---thus their nuclear lurch to retain control over the country.

Ditto the President. He's proven that he can unsheathe and thrust the saber, and not just rattle it. Fair enough. Can he swing two sabers at once? Three?

The sand in the Iranian hourglass is running out. What topic could be more pressing than Iran, except perhaps North Korea? It's hard to imagine our cozy little political and social systems humming along in a world where Iranian mullahs roll nuclear Trojan horses into the West using proxies like Hamas or Hezbollah. Let's hope our two presidential debaters 'go there' before we really do go there.