Archive for February, 2007

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:32

The promise in this quote from Jesus is also the challenge – what is the truth?

Freedom in this context may be a little easier to understand. It is freedom from all that isn’t true. So if we know the truth of our existence as a perfect child of God, made in His image and likeness, we are free from any claim that we are weak, flawed, or vulnerable. This growth in knowledge of what is true about us is how we learn more about our Creator. The freedom is correcting misconceptions about any limits of our capability.

This exercise of seeking to understand the truth works for just about anything. Evidence of success should be a degree of freedom from the limitations imposed by previous incorrect ideas.

Let’s try it on Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently announced a massive withdrawal of troops from southern Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News that this is good news and a sign that the current plan is working. What Mr. Cheney didn’t explain, however, is why the British are redeploying their troops to Afghanistan rather than other parts of Iraq where the US is increasing troop levels.

Many Iraq experts view the British exit very differently. In a comment entitled “The British Defeat in Iraq” the well-known American analyst on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, asserts that British forces lost control of the situation in and around Basra by the second half of 2005.

Mr Cordesman says that while the British won some tactical clashes in Basra and Maysan province in 2004, that “did not stop Islamists from taking more local political power and controlling security at the neighborhood level when British troops were not present”. As a result, southern Iraq has, in effect, long been under the control of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the so-called “Sadrist” factions.” The implications of strong regional and weak national control of this area are significant because this is where the oil is. As a result, rather than sectarian fighting the leaders here are fighting each other for control of the oil and perhaps, ultimately, control of the country.

The truth may actually be in the carefully worded statement from Prime Minister Blair. “What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be, but it does mean that the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by Iraqis,”

In other words, the British recognized that the original mission in Iraq of establishing a strong national democratic government friendly to the west that could fund its own rebuilding from oil revenue was not achievable. Instead the British found themselves in the middle of a conflict between Iraqi factions that they couldn’t suppress or control. So they decided to leave and let those factions fight it out among themselves.

The truth in the British withdrawal from Iraq is the admission that the conflict with radical Islamism is not going to be won (or lost) on the battlefield.

The freedom that comes from that truth is that we may be finally entering the next phase of our understanding of what is required to overcome the evil philosophy of bin Ladist Islam.

Much like the cold war, this is a conflict for hearts, minds, and history. It is a conflict that will be won by the moral, cultural, and economic influence western democracies can develop in Muslim leadership (both religious and political). We gain this influence by setting a higher standard for ourselves as a leader in the world.

We are not fighting people. We are engaged in a conflict of images and ideas. Those images portray the west as corrupt, weak, decadent, self-interested, and untrustworthy. Those ideas say that we are taking advantage of our ill-gotten economic and military might by attempting to impose our will on Muslim countries through our proxy state of Israel and our invasion of Iraq. But our weakness is also obvious. We are perceived as the infidel army propping up the Saudi’s to satisfy our self-indulgent addiction to oil. We are seen as arrogant bullies, barbarians, rapists, and torturers. Muslims are not alone in this perception, by the way.

The good news is that we have an opportunity to change that perception. We can change it through leadership at home that understands that our common values have the power to overcome individual differences. We have the power to elect leaders who renew our commitment both here and abroad to the American goal of promoting the general welfare. We can achieve that by rejecting the politics of fear and endorsing the politics of hope.

The process of overcoming small-mindedness, anti-intellectualism, sectarianism, and religious radicalism in the world begins by rejecting those policies in our own house. Our current poor international standing is a reaction to that current hypocrisy.

The west failed to defeat communism on the battlefield in Korea and Viet Nam. It finally defeated communism because the people under communist control lost faith in their government’s ability to deliver the same freedoms, goods, and services that they saw those in the west enjoying.

The same opportunity exists in this ideological conflict. We have to deliver on the truths that this country was founded on. As we begin to deliver on that promise worldwide, perceptions will change. We will learn to embrace those that we thought were enemies. Those that feared us will be freed from their false beliefs and the fear of radical Islam will eventually become the same memory for our children as the fear of “godless” communism is for us.

“Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.” Isa 41:11-12

Gratitude

Monday, February 12th, 2007

My wife Terry teases me that the Evening News let me put up this blog because they got tired editing the letters that I wrote to the Editor.

Well tonight the tables were turned. Our lovely hosts who put up this blog server for our enjoyment, actually published a couple of excerpts from some of the blogs in the paper, including one of mine. Dave from the LunaPier Cook was another, as was Ashley of So Alive.

Dave was nice enough to post a link in his blog to my site, so I’m happy to return the favor because there are a lot more people interested in food than politics or religion. Maslow figured that out about fifty years ago.

I’m grateful to the paper for the publicity as well as the opportunity share my thoughts with those interested in reading them.

I’m grateful for Father Cunningham, my African American Jesuit religion teacher Junior year at Creighton Prep HS in Omaha, Nebraska. Other than the couple of older Jesuits who drank too much, Father Cunningham was the only person of color in the faculty and only one of a handful of African Americans at the whole school. There were no African Americans in my tidy middle class part of town. Father Cunningham was the first adult Black man I had ever had a substantive conversation with.

Father Cunningham had the longest fingers of any man I’ve ever met. They would reach out across the room and end a few inches from your nose. It was one of the most challenging classes I have ever been in. It was completely unpredictable. There were no rules other than the fact that he was in charge and he didn’t even pretend to care about fairness. It was almost daily hand-to-hand verbal combat. There were no easy answers to anything, and if one side of a particular argument appeared to be winning (often my side), he would arbitrarily intervene to skew the outcome to those that were losing. I spent most of that year in seething rage at how biased it all was. It probably took me ten years to realize that his willingness to aggressively confront our whole white suburban prep school sense of entitlement was done out of love rather than spite. By that time he has left the priesthood, married, had some children, and passed on.

I’m sad that I never had the opportunity to thank him in person for helping me learn how to think and have the courage of conviction. I’m also sad that he didn’t live long enough to see Barak Obama run for President. Instead I thank him every day by expressing my opinions.

I am also most grateful for my wife who gets to hear a lot of my opinions. We will be celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary this Saturday, but we’ve known each other since we first fell in love as seventeen year-olds. She was a smart cutie from a Toledo Catholic girl’s school. I was a skinny debater from an all-boys Prep School in Omaha. I’ll tell the whole story of our almost forty year romance some other time, but it is the stuff of novels. I’m just grateful that she is still as much in love with me after all these years as I am with her.

I am blessed way beyond my deserving, so much so that heartfelt gratitude seems hardly sufficient.

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:18

Excess of Evil

Friday, February 9th, 2007

“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:” Hab 1:13

When we talk about people like bin Laden and the al-Qaeda movement that he has created, we aren’t really talking about a man. Clearly our efforts since 9/11 have marginalized this one man’s tactical ability to train, organize, and direct a force of people.

The reason why bin Laden still seems to have power in the world is because he is the prophet for a particular philosophy. It is his fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran and that it resonates with other people that gives him the appearance of power. The fact that this philosophy appears to inspire people to kill themselves isn’t the issue, nor is it particularly new. The history of religious, political, and philosophical movements are filled with accounts of individual sacrifice for the higher goal. What’s disturbing here is that these “martyrs” are turning themselves into weapons, targeting innocent civilians, and seeking to extract the maximum disruptive value from their terrorist acts. It’s this particular terrorist twist on martyrdom that ends up defining this philosophy as evil.

So, at least in my mind, the issue isn’t so much what we do about bin Laden because he could die tomorrow and his philosophy would continue. The question is how we deal with evil in the world.

BTW, I don’t intend to suggest with this characterization of bin Ladist Islam that he or his followers bear all of the blame. Our government’s middle east policies and our appetite for oil clearly help create the set of circumstances which allow this evil idea to take root. This is no different than the set of feudal conditions in Russia and China which allowed the idea of communism to take root, or Europe’s insistence for German WWI reparations which plowed the ground for Nazi fascism.

WWII defeated fascism. The Internet and global consumerism defeated communism (both in Russia and China). What is going to defeat bin Ladist Islam? I don’t know what the history books will attribute it to, but I do know what we can do now. That’s to combat one malevolent idea with another even more powerful idea. That idea is that God is the only power.

Evil is frightening only when we allow it to appear to be more powerful than good. Christians, however, already affirm that there is only one infinite all-powerful God. Because God created everything and is all-knowing and all-good, evil must be something outside the scope of God/good. So at it’s most basic spiritual sense, evil can only be our fear that there can be anything other than good in the world. It is only our unwillingness to admit that God is the only power that can give the illusion of power or substance to something that God is not.

Jesus understood this clearly in his frequent use of the metaphor of light and darkness. We have a choice between the two. The light, like the sun, never stops shining. It’s our choice whether we embrace the light that is always there and the only power, or embrace the darkness of our fears that there has to be something other than light.

So the history books will have a material explanation of how the bin Ladists were ultimately defeated, but the reality will be that their evil idea was defeated by all those who prayed to know that only good has power or place in God’s creation.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” John 3:20-21