Obama: The New Eisenhower

Obama Doctrine, the articulation of a new mode of “smart power” that seeks to manipulate the existing propensities of power politics in the region without overcommitting US military force on the ground, with the full assurance that the threat of power is far more effective that the delivery of power. – Hamid Dabashi

Dabashi criticizes the Iran deal from an opposite angle to the war hawkish version of the US Republicans. For the latter, anything short of hard-core sanctions and total abandonment of any nuclear capability – peaceful or otherwise – is opening a door for terrorists to do bad things and drop a bomb on the US. Despite no evidence that Iran would even have the military capability to do this, the trope continues among candidates for the GOP nomination.

An outcome that it opens that various summaries fail to report is that opening economic relations with Iran allows the US to manipulate Shia militias in order to combat ISIS on their turf. This alone shows why the GOP opposition is wrong-headed and near-sighted. Those criticisms dumb down a very complex deal into fear-laden talking points to appeal to a specific type of voter that buys the proposal that the devil is at the US door step and all of us must arm ourselves against it.

Reading that last line, the Obama Doctrine sounds far more like the Eisenhower doctrine especially with respect to Korea and China. He avoided war with China there – barely – and opened up avenues for diplomatic and economic relations. Eisenhower used the threat of overwhelming power to avoid military conflict and American casualties under his watch. He had seen enough.

This is Obama doing the same in Iran – a place where, ironically, Eisenhower made his greatest failure which set the stage for the crisis in 1979 and today. This began with the joint MI6 and CIA operations to instigate the overthrow Mosaddeq in 1953 and arguably continued with the Atoms for Peace idea in 1957. The former event was largely over oil given that Mosaddeq was planning a nationalization of the Iranian oil market which would have driven out British corporate interests in the religion.

These events set the stage for continued conflict and instability leading up to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the current nuclear capabilities of Iran. It also shows us, again, that oil is at the center of everything the US has to do with the Middle East. Both of these political and economic structures are in play with Obama’s deal – a deal that seeks to mitigate their effects not by further isolating Iran from Western intervention, but by opening it up.

As it sits, the deal gives the Security Council 15 years to work on continued negotiations. That is a lot of time. Obama plays a long game which the GOP takes a “score on this play or else” approach. That approach, as recent history suggests, leads US interests directly into the teeth of war. Perhaps that is the intent. But that outcome is bad for US policy overall, does nothing to help combat ISIS, and would further strengthen the current tension the US has with Russia. The long game is to open a diplomatic path to work out all of the issues at once. This deal does that and since 1979 opens a path to work out the instability Eisenhower’s miscalculation created 62 years ago.

It might be a new form of imperialism. But in 20 years Iranians might also be trading in their Saiba Tibas for Ford Fusions running on American petroleum.

Religion Needs the Poor

A new study by the Pew Research Center predicts that the global percentage of those who are religiously unaffiliated will decline in the next coming decades. It is a prediction that seems on face value to go against trends of an increase in those who are ostensibly less religious than in previous decades – especially in Western nations.

One theory is that existential security is inversely proportional to religious commitment. Put simply, “existential security” is the level at which I feel my life is at risk. It’s a good measure of happiness as well.

So if I live in a society where healthcare is universal, for example, and quality of life is stronger and more secure, my religious commitment will likely decline. I will also have more access to birth control and engage in less risky behaviors. These are the pockets where religion has less a hold on the community. When we take away those social securities, behaviors are more risky, people are less healthy, poorer, and more desperate. Existential crises are petri dishes for religious experimentation, for religion to be a social carrier, and the psychological desire or assumed need for a God or salvation. A less economically advantaged nation will naturally have a higher probability of existential insecurity.

(S)ocial vulnerability and lack of human development drive both religiosity and population growth. This means that the total number of religious people continues to expand around the globe, even while secularization is also taking place in the more affluent nations (Norris & Inglehart, 2006, p. 64).

The happiest nations are by far not the most religious. These trends are deep in the sociology of religion literature. However, one variable to bear in mind is the way that different religions carry societies. In previous centuries, Christianity carried both wealth and social mobility in the West. It is not an effective carrier in these societies as it once was. Islam and its network of banks and other social mechanisms designed to institute and maintain existential security are creating different patterns of religious behavior and may actually aid in its expansion.

Some social theorists have suggested that as countries develop economically, more of their residents will move away from religious affiliation, as has been seen in Europe. But there is little evidence of such a phenomenon in Muslim-majority countries. Moreover, in Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation is still nearly universal despite rapid economic and social change.

It will be interesting to see if Islam follows a similar pattern. As it carries people into a more existentially secure state of mind, will it continue to have the same sway over belief?

Even with this variable accounted for, the relationship between having one’s life at risk and becoming more religious seems to be continually supported in what we are finding out about patterns in religion worldwide.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, indeed.

It’s About Personhood Not Sexuality, Indiana

The fundamental problem behind the “religious freedom” laws of Indiana and Arkansas isn’t sex. The problem is that non-heteronormative people are simply not full persons. They are not given the same rights and are not afforded the same protections as other classes of human beings under the law.

The root is buried deep in the theologically informed notion that non-heteronormative people are defective. They are impure and unclean. Allowing something that is unclean or impure in your presence is something that puts your own purity in danger. This is old school Jewish purity law which the Christian right just loves to cite ad nauseum (and likely incorrectly). As being gay is fundamentally a defect in what constitutes a full human being, it is not in the state’s interest to protect that part of the person. And so, this “religious freedom” law is not actually discrimination, but civil rights for those persons who do not accept any behaviors that are “defective.”

This reasoning includes a specific reading of the bible that colors what “America” means and who its citizens are. America has rather high, although often arbitrary purity codes about what makes someone a full person.

This is where the state needs to step in and protect all classes of citizens. Right now the state has no compelling interest in any non-heteronormative person. None. Equality in marriage fixes a symptom but not does not get at the root of the problem: the religious force of these laws from the religious mission of these lawmakers is telling them that a homosexual is not a full person. It is a religious mission as such a discriminating set of criteria of what makes someone a full person otherwise would not fall under the umbrella of a specific kind of religious protection.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not give any direct help to a non-heteronormative person, “Title VII doesn’t forbid discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation.” It explicitly protects religious affiliation and belief. The current action is to protect a group that is already a protected class under federal law making it even easier to discriminate against a non-protected group under that same law. That sounds really messed up.

Indiana is now trying to clarify the law by saying that the law is not discriminatory. However the fundamental nature of the law is to protect people in their discriminatory behaviors if those behaviors are motivated by religious need. It is a law that opens the door to other sorts of religiously based discrimination just as long as the state does not have a compelling interest in those that the law discriminates against. It will devolve into absurd proportions and it should. When lawmakers are this near-nearsighted, the laws need to be tested by those who carefully walk on its very edge so we can all see where it goes. Case-in-point: The First Church of Cannabis, Inc.

The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last Thursday. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

Where they will test the law is if they light up a joint or get baked in church. On face value, this would get them arrested under the ruling of Employment Division v. Smith where it was ruled smoking peyote for sacramental purposes was not protected and Smith was not entitled to his unemployment. Indiana has not legalized pot for medicinal or recreational purposes. So we’ll wait and see.

We need to question our values. Is it right, under any circumstances, or under any set of observable behaviors, to classify any human being as less than a full person and so not recognized as such by the state?We did this with women by denying them the vote as well as to African-Americans by denying them any basic civil rights which for a long time was legal because they had no personhood. We also do this with criminals.

Discrimination is the actual force of the law for non-heteronormative people, as a minority group of citizens that is not a protected legal class. The politicians can talk about “intent” all day long, but when they back-pedal on the actual effect of the law as written, they not only must think we are stupid; but they are lying to us.

Jindal’s Chronic Islamophobia and Christian Hypocricy

“In other words, we shouldn’t tolerate those who wanna come and try to impose some variant or some version of Sharia law.”

via Megyn Presses Jindal on Suggestion to Ban Radical Islamists from U.S..

The sheer ignorance and myopia of Jindal in this clip is nearly baffling. His message is basically that there are Islamist immigrants who want to treat women as second class citizens, undermine the freedoms of others, and who will weaken American by not believing in American exceptionalism.

“There are Muslims that wanna treat women as second class citizens.”

“There are those who wanna use our freedoms to undermine the freedoms of others.”

“We believe in religious liberty but that doesn’t mean that you can use your freedoms to undermine the freedoms of other people.”

Jindal like so many in the GOP ranks will make statements like these without calling out Christians who do exactly the same thing on a much wider scale than American Muslims. Jindal delivered the commencement speech at Liberty University in May of 2014 where he spoke about his conversion experience, the current “war on religion” perpetrated by the “left,” and his support for Phil Robertson and those who defend “traditional marriage.”

The question is not about what freedoms are limited, but whose freedoms are limited and by what religious beliefs. Christianity gets a free pass on every issue – even if the kind of Christianity he endorses to speak freely is very clear in its understanding of the subordinate role of women to men and consciously and intentionally limits the ability of some Americans to exercise the same rights and freedoms as others. This is no more clear in the case of same gender marriage. It is justified to limit these freedoms as a Christian. Apparently it is not justified to do the same action in the name of Islam – even if Islam generally supports the same views regarding human freedom with respect to women and homosexuality.

This is before we even take on the fact that the way the term Shari’ah Law is casually tossed around in GOP and conservative Christian circles completely misuses and misunderstands what it actually is. It is not a process to compel the infidel to submit to Allah. Shari’ah Law is fundamentally,

“concerned with a set of values that are essential to Islam and the best manner of their protection…Faith in God, the manner of worshipping Him and observance of the five pillars of Islam thus constitute the essential concerns of Shari’ah” (Kamali, 2008, p. 2).

That its application has become overly legalistic in some Muslim communities is known and it has been an area of disagreement in Muslim communities for how Shari’ah is interpreted and applied. This is true in Sufist philosophy which has a more inward focus on one’s mystical communion with Allah as opposed to outward or legalistic displays of legal submission. It is an emphasis on Islam in which one seeks foremost, “sublime feeling of divine presence.” External legality is secondary to this aim.

The overarching Islamic principle of divine unity (tawḥīd) which requires an integrated approach to values should not simply be subsumed under the rubric of legality that focuses on the externalities of conduct often at the expense of the inner development of the human person (Kamali, 2008, p. 4).

Shari’ah is far more complex and nuanced in both its interpretation and application than perhaps Jindal and its staunchest opponents will ever acknowledge. That is beyond a shame. It is the kind of rhetoric that continues to adrenalize intolerance to the degree that even conservative pundits like Megyn Kelly are unable to it bring down to earth. Lest we think that this is limited to conservative media, liberal sources are bleeding with Islamophobia.

An exchange that we need to watch carefully and often is between CNN’s Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota who are factually incorrect and continue to adhere to their beliefs even when confronted head-on by Reza Aslan. This is precisely why we need stronger departments of religious education as the media shows us time and again that with religion, Americans are chronically and pathetically ignorant. This, not letting those who oppose American exceptionalism become citizens, is the source of American weakness.

Source: Kamali, M. H. (2008) Shari’ah law: An introduction. OneWorld: Oxford.

Jets for Jesus! (Or How Not to Help the Poor)

I have to hand it to Creflo Dollar. There are cases upon cases of preachers and televangelists who have manipulated desperate people by promised physical healing, debt relief, safety from the devil, and so on only to pocket the money for big houses and prostitutes. But Creflo Dollar is an honest preacher.

He just flat-out asked for $60 million for a new jet. Plus his name is Dollar.

He calls it “our” jet so that he can spread his gospel of wealth to unfortunate and desperate people all over the world only as a representative of Jesus and his own flock of the deluded. But I’ll give him that pronoun because his audacity is just awesome.

His current plane is 30 years old. Some flights were not as smooth as planned.

Dollar said that after those incidents, he “knew that it was time to begin to believe God for a new airplane.”

Hallelujah! The Lord spake thusly indeed. Glad you landed safely, minister Dollar.

I want to know when he hits that $60 million dollar mark. He could do a lot with that money instead of the G650. $60 million could:

That’s right, Creflo could literally transform huge segments of the population with that money in ways his preaching will never even come close to doing.

All he has to do is fly coach.

So rather than give your $300 to this guy, why not click on a link and give it to one of those groups. I’m sure they would be grateful for your contribution.

Then we can just let Floyd Mayweather keep the private jet.

Isis Isn’t Real

Perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same Imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. – Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1983)

a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross
When ISIS burned Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh alive for all of the world to see it was a simulated event. Many wondered why burn rather than behead as they have become very skilled at doing. By burning him in a cage and dumping tons of concrete and steel on him, they created a punishment that corresponded directly with an aircraft bombing a building filled with people.

Where ISIS differs from their terrorist predecessors is both their media sophistication and their cheesy Western bravado. They are like the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. He is a terrorist who turns out to be an actor masking the reality of the person who is behind the violence.

ISIS operates like a Hollywood studio with production values high enough that it is difficult to discern their violence from green screens, makeup, and set production. Our experience of violence is flattened. From Ferguson, 9/11, O.J., and the “shock and awe” of Operation Iraqi Freedom; and from Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, and Welcome to Sarajevo the line between a simulated war and war itself is erased. We no longer see the difference.

ISIS, The Killing of David Haines
Your evil alliance with America, which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction, and playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinnable war.

The Mandarin, Iron Man 3
My disciples just destroyed another cheap American knockoff: the Chinese Theatre. Mr. President, I know this must be getting frustrating, but this season of terror is drawing to a close. And don’t worry. The ‘Big One’ is coming: your graduation.

Our emotional responses are an attempt at feeling disgust and horror when the referent of what actually happens is simply not there. While we raise our fists and prayers at the terror of ISIS, we have been inoculated from the bloodbath of retaliation. We do not see the beheadings and disembowling of the enemy both before and after an ISIS film production.

ISIS delivers us films, previews, and advertising of their violence while our violence comes in identical packages from Hollywood. The brilliance of ISIS is not in their killing. Their brilliance is in understanding that the West can decode meaning only through advertising and fantasy. If we do not understand the real, we will understand its simulation.

We are a society that can no longer feel anything real. We have created simulated affect to mirror a simulated reality.

There is nothing of “shock and awe” to the privileged.

There is only apathy and cynicism.

There is only resentment.

There is only “contempt prior to examination.”

Torture is Never Justified

Abu Ghraib interrogation

Abu Ghraib

I lived in a place close to “the pile” and saw hundreds of pictures posted all over of missing people. I was angry and wanted to bomb the entire Middle East. But that was raw emotion.

There comes a time when law is necessary even in war. How we handled alleged terrorists in this situation follows the legacy of Truman’s internment camps which are a stain on our country that we just don’t talk about enough. So the law:

The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) 6 Article 17, paragraph 4 provides the general rule for interrogation of prisoners of war:

No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

These were not isolated incidents as we once thought, just covertly handled. It was mismanaged and the information extracted is highly suspect as to its utility.

Unless it’s acceptable for our troops to short-chained to the floor in awkward positions, forced to mimic sexual acts, have food shoved up their asses, stuffed into hot boxes, and water-boarded, then we just can’t justify the same treatment of our prisoners.