Wednesday, January 28, 2015
A Teachable Moment For Japan (And The World)
Before I begin, I want to stress that what follows are my thoughts on a national level, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the sympathy that any individual victim of terror (and their family/ loved ones) deserves.
Picture what would happen if a typical school district were to dispense with individual division of classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. All subjects - maths, history, sciences, physical education, etc., as well as all meals, breaks and social activities - would include all students, regardless of age/grade.
Obviously the elementary students' behavior and inability to adapt to the norms and standards of the high school age students would create chaos, and would ultimately negatively impact the ability of the older students to move forward, learn and behave at an age-appropriate level.
Without the usual segregation by age/grade, the school would be doomed to endless squabbling and stagnation. Simply put, instead of each grade learning, moving forward and being held to / related to on an age-appropriate pace / level, the older kids would be held back by the limitations of the younger kids.
The world is no different, and we are suffering the results of our refusal to implement a hierarchy of expectations and privileges based on demonstrated level of development.
What we have today is a collection of mature nations being forced to conduct their day-to-day business in the company of 'younguns' consisting of dysfunctional, immature new arrivals, proto-states and non-state actors.
We all pretend that anyone who can wrangle a seat at the negotiating table can be held to the same standards and equipped with the same ability to act rationally... simply by virtue of their ability to show up in a suit and tie.
But in truth, the less-evolved players on the modern international stage are setting the glacial pace for the rest of us, and are creating a situation where nothing can move forward.
I have asked you to slog through this labored analogy because we are seeing the result that this low/no expectation approach can have on international relations.
Japan, by all meaningful measurements, is a full-fledged, mature nation. Although culturally ancient, its modern history consisted of a dark childish (some would go so far as to say 'primitive') stage of development, filled with greed, savagery and all kinds of 'not playing well with others'.
At the end of WWII, Japan was occupied and 'schooled' on how to behave if they aspired to join the family of nations... and they ultimately 'graduated' to take their place with the 'grown-ups.
Sadly, in the rush to push them through a fast-track curriculum, Japan was allowed to bypass an important part of their education. In essence, they were allowed to skip a few grades without having to have had to acknowledge much of their past behavior/misdeeds (Turkey being another such country that fits into this category).
Which brings me to the current conundrum:
Recent images of Japanese hostages held by ISIS being threatened with beheading, and the subsequent follow through on the threat in the case of at least one of the hostages, was/is indeed ghastly. But given Japan's unacknowledged past, it is difficult to muster the full measure of outrage that they are demanding of the world.
What irks me more than a bit is that the Japanese government' unabashedly calls these threats (and their ultimate realization) "outrageous" without the slightest sense of irony regarding their own past deeds.
This is actually a teachable moment for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not to mention many other world leaders.
Given Japan's wartime record of unspeakable atrocities (Google the phrases 'Rape of Nanking', 'Laha massacre', 'Banka Island massacre', 'Palawan Massacre', 'Tinta Massacre', 'Bataan Death March', 'Sulug Island massacre', and ''Comfort Women', if you want to scratch the surface of modern Japan's formative years), it would be an unparalleled opportunity for Japan to take ownership of its past and to explain to the world that nations (and would-be nations) that it is possible - necessary, even -to learn from the past and evolve to conform with modern norms of civilized behavior before being taken seriously.
By remaining silent about its past in face of such reminiscent present threats, Japan is signaling that each group, proto-nation and modern state should be allowed to mature and evolve at its own rate alongside the more developed geopolitical players; dooming the world to an eternity of unlearned lessons and repeated mistakes.
And Japan is far from alone in its silence.
The former colonial powers of Europe created much of the modern chaos in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, yet act as though the solution is to now give the unruly offspring of their foreign dalliances a seat at the grown-ups table without requiring them to demonstrate any mastery of the prerequisite coursework.
It isn't enough to dress 'the kids' up in a suit and tie and pretend that everyone is equal. The 'upper-class-men' among the modern nations must impose a rigorous syllabus of coursework and exams for the unruly 'younguns' specifically based on their own checkered past.
It isn't enough to call the beheading of an innocent civilian 'outrageous'. That pronouncement must be accompanied by a detailed admission of what Japan did when it was 'younger' and less evolved.
Only then can the established nations set believable criteria for matriculation to a seat in the upper-class where expectations, privileges and responsibility are inextricably intertwined.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
A Sobering Mathematical Reality
[A guest post by Zahava]
Like most people I know, in the wake of the recent terrorism in Paris I have been following the news and the op-eds with great sadness and concern.
As is always the case following a terror attack, the internet is brimming with articles covering every angle of the incident. And while I certainly can't read everything, I do try to read from a wide selection of opposing perspectives in order to gain a broad, semi-balanced understanding of how current events are being perceived and acted upon.
This morning, I read Mayim Bialik’s reaction to the Paris super-market shooting over at Kveller.com, and was struck numb by one of her commenters. The following is excerpted from the comment that so grabbed my attention:
“But as Bridgette Gabriel points out, there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and 10%-25% are considered radical. That's 120 million to 300 million people who want to see me dead because I had a bar mitzvah. No matter how you look at it, that's a bloody big group of people. And for some reason Liberal minded people seem to think that those taking action are just a splinter group - a very vocal and active minority.”
(note: emphasis mine)
Now this is hardly a novel sentiment. However, it wasn’t the sentiment itself per se, but rather the timing and the context to the situation. As a result of not one, but two terrorist attacks which specifically targeted civilians in a western country, there have been numerous articles focusing on the current and projected demographic statistics for not only western Europe, but the entire world.
My ‘aha’ moment – the one which sent me on my own-little fact-finding mission, was the result of seeing the above comment juxtapositioned alongside the following excerpt from Mayim’s piece:
“I always felt like there were a lot of Jews in the US and the world based on my childhood experience. I was wrong. We are less than 2% of the US population, and 0.2% of the world population.“
(again, emphasis mine)
What struck me, you see, was that in the greater context of global demographics, it isn’t just the radicalized segment of the Muslim population that is commonly (and I would submit, falsely) referred to as ‘minority’, but rather the Muslim population in general.
[click to embiggen]
According to these charts from Wikipedia’s List of Religious Populations, while from a technical standpoint, Islam can be perceived as a minority when compared to Christianity, it is really intellectually dishonest to claim that Muslims are a minority component of the global community.
It is true that historically, Muslims have been minority populations within western countries — the Americas, Australia, Europe, large segments of Asia, and isolated segments of Africa, and it is equally true that the majority demographic in each of these places is Christian.
It is also true that some of these Muslim minorities suffer from discrimination within these societies – which are often referred to 'Judeo-Christian' societies. It should be noted that the ‘Judeo-Christian’ nomenclature, however, refers to commonalities in theological approaches, and is most definitely not intended to suggest that Jews have equal demographic standing. In the Modern Age, Jews have never been anything more than a microscopic portion of the global demographic composite. In 1899, Mark Twain suggested that Jews comprised only 1% of the global population — the 2012 Pew Report shows that percentage has shrunk to 0.2%.
If we, for a moment, put aside our political and emotional affiliations and look dispassionately at the numbers, the statistics are staggering.
These tables indicate a census of approximately 7.64 billion people:
- 2.2 = Christianity
- 1.8 = Islam
- ~1.1 = Secular/Non-affiliated
- 1 = Hinduism
- 1.54 = Composite of 17 ‘other’ religious groupings
If we accept the contention that only 10-25% of the Muslim population is radicalized, this means that there are 180-450 million Muslims who support jihad. But even if we assume these estimates are grossly inflated... for the sake of argument let's say that only 5% of Muslims worldwide are supporters of Jihad; that still leaves us to contend with a staggering 90 million people who consider it a holy obligation to conquer the world and subjugate its population in the name of Islam!
Now, 90, 180 or 450 million may be a quantifiable minority when compared to the entire global Christian community – but it significantly exceeds not only the global Jewish population in its entirety – as well as the combined totals of Jews and a number of other religious minorities.
As violent incidents rise sharply in areas not historically associated with terror, if we dare to impose the intellectual honesty demanded by this rise, we should be asking and seeking answers to the following questions:
- The four global dominant religions are Christianity, Islam, Secular/Atheist/Agnostic and Hinduism. Of the 3 non-Muslim theologies, what percentage of each religion is engaged in terror-related activity or at least actively supporting it?
- How do the three percentages compare to 90, 180 or 450 million?
- Do the non-radicalized majorities of these non-Muslim religions condemn terror-related activity or are they a silent majority (and thus defato supporting it, albeit passively)?
- In countries where Islam is either not a clear minority or is the state religion, what civil status/conditions exist for the non-Muslim minorities?
The fact that these questions are largely absent from public debate is shocking.
Terrorism is on the rise – this is indisputable. Left unchecked,is there any reason to expect that it will abate?
Also, blaming the political situation between Israel and the Palestinians for terror enacted outside Middle Eastern borders may be an expedient tool for political means, but it will not protect non-Muslim citizens, even if they are non-Jews, within Western countries for long.
Insufficient numbers of moderate and non-radicalized Muslims are stepping forward to stop the spread of fundamentalism from within Islam. This is also indisputable. Terror enacted by radical Muslims has spread from areas such as the Middle East, Asia, the Balkans, and large swaths of Africa, and into Europe, the Americas, and former Soviet-bloc countries. Since 9/11, isolated instances have morphed into a trickle of frightening events.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I am very alarmed that the questions aren't even being asked!
I would posit that blaming Israel and Zionism for creating the conditions that “drive these radicalized Muslims to attack cartoonists and other non-party-to-the-conflict individuals for daring to insult the Prophet” hasn't really inhibited such behavior. If anything, each denouncement of Israel and each commiseration over the ‘evils of Zionism’ seem to have emboldened fundamentalists – demonstrated by the increasing frequency of such attacks.
The underlying problem is not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is hatred and intolerance – and the symptoms are violence and mayhem. While certainly radicalized Islam isn't the sole proprietor of hatred and intolerance, it is currently their most populous employer.
There is no denying that extremists exist within every religion – I am not suggesting that Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism are not without their own intolerant zealots – but they are demonstrably more effective at self-regulation. Non-Muslim radicalized segments are not growing at such highly disproportionate rates, nor are they inflicting the kind of disproportionate damage on global society as their radicalized Muslim counterparts.
It isn't discrimination against Islam to insist that the peaceful majority reign in their radicalized minority. Neither is it discrimination to accomplish the task ourselves if the peaceful Muslim majority can’t, or won’t, accomplish that task.
Appeasement will not halt intolerant conquest – it will actually speed its development. In WWII, global warfare was fueled by the schism created between Communism and Fascism. Both doctrines employed extreme intolerances for anything deemed outside their defined agendas and value systems.
In the aftermath of WWII, Europe shrugged off the mantle of Colonialism and has – for the most part – reinvented itself as a democratic and humanistic society. Perhaps in spite of it’s imperial past – or maybe because of it – Europe has been slow to recognize that its retreat from colonization left power vacuums in places ill equipped to replace its governance with its own newly adopted democratic values.
Thus, while Europe rebuilt herself with an eye toward equality and tolerance, her castoffs rebuilt themselves with the ideologies of whichever indigenous clans wielded the greatest power. In some instances, India for example, the former colonies rebuilt themselves upon similar ideals and objectives as the ‘new’ Europe. Others, Syria for example, rebuilt themselves upon nepotistic theocracies whose objectives were more closely aligned to the radical authoritarian nationalism Europe strove so hard to shed (and which is, in fact, the definition of fascism).
Europe, with the assistance of the Allied forces, triumphed over Fascism once – and it can again successfully defeat this newer, but no less mendacious strain. This strain simply replaces ‘nationalism’ with ‘theocracy’. And this presents a challenge to western sensitivities: Telling someone their politics suck is perfectly okay, but telling them there is something wrong with their religion is taboo. But to move forward we need to be prepared to slaughter this sacred cow.
To do so, however, all democratic nations must recognize the advance of radical Islam for what it is and what it is not. First and foremost, it is not tolerant. It is not a religion of peace. It is aggressive, and it is growing exponentially. Democratic nations must also recognize Israel, Zionism, Jews for what they are and are not.
Israel, Zionism, and Jews, by contrast, are largely tolerant of others. And even if that were not the case, none of these three inter-related entities are engaged in global territorial advancement or exponential population growth. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a specific, hopefully temprorary condition. Though it remains unresolved, it is both relatively short-lived from an historical perspective, and physically limited to a microscopic geographic area. And the combined casualties in the Israeli Palestinian conflict don't add up to a fraction of the death toll in the past decade in Nigeria or Sudan. Most important, none of the Israeli, Zionist or Jewish entities are engaged in trying to colonize Europe, the Americas or any place else, for that matter. Okay, maybe Hollywood, Long Island and parts of South Florida. [I kid]
To triumph over this current insidious spread of fascism, the free world needs to recognize that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been hijacked by radical Islam as a convenient fig leaf with which to divert attention from the more far-sighted goals of eradicating everything which is seen as a threat to fundamentalist Islam.
While the world focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with laser-like intensity, radical Islam perpetrates genocide in Syria, NIgeria and the Sudan, and mounts assaults against democratic embassies in Iraq and throughout the Arabia Peninsula. Radical Islam attacks the very foundation of democratic society not with advancing uniformed armies, but rather through the incremental migration of communities of emissaries, whose inflicted physical destruction and carnage further splinter and divide those under attack.
WWII came with an exceptionally high cost of human life. Freedom, unfortunately, has a price. Idealistically, we want desperately to believe that freedom is an inalienable right, but historically, we know that freedom must be assiduously defended. Intellectually, we know that hundreds of millions do not enjoy the freedoms which most of you reading this commentary take for granted.
I am neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative’ – my political positions/perspectives are issue-based, as opposed to reflecting the platforms of a particular party or ideology.
While I do identify as a member of the national religious sector of Israeli society, and am personally observant, I don’t believe that Israel has yet arrived at an ideal solution regarding the regulation and management of religious matters. But I am proud that our society is actively pursuing a just resolution to problems stemming from the intersection of “church and state” and believe that a just solution can and will be found.
I mention this here, because it provides essential context to my world-view and will better frame my conclusions. I am not one the marginal, extremists people think of when they hear the word 'settler'. I don' condone ‘price tag’ or ‘hilltop youth’ philosophies/actions, and in fact actively condemn them. I am also not some paranoid Jew who blames anti-Semitism for all of Israel’s problems and issues, or even for all anti-Israel policies.
I don’t, for example, believe that all anti-Israel policies fall under the category of active anti-Semitism. I think that most, anti-Israel policies fall under the category of appeasement and/or weary and ill-informed attempts to finally and definitively solve that ‘pesky Middle East nonsense.’
With a claim to only .2% of global demographics, I think the world would do well to ignore us entirely. Jews are not committing acts of terror in France, or in Spain, or in England, or in the US. And while in Israel we have sadly experienced instances of vigilantism and zealotry, they are isolated, actively condemned by vocal, and vast majority, and prosecuted by an active democratically elected government that holds a monopoly on the use of force. Most, certainly Jews don’t behead journalists over insults and injuries to our faith or our leaders.
A mere 70 years following the conclusion of WWII, we find ourselves again on the brink of utter chaos. WWII achieved its objectives – at least temporarily -- freedom from tyranny and intolerance. The fact that today’s fascism is not ‘nationalistic’ but has been replaced by a theocratic radical authoritative body, doesn't make it any less dangerous or imperative. Hiding beneath the cloak of ‘political correctness’ won’t slow the advance of those who not only don’t believe in, or place value on, individual choice, but are methodically attempting to homogenize cultural diversity into a single culture -- theirs.
I’d tell you to go ask all the minority cultures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan or Syria how their civil rights have been protected under the governance of radical Islam, but I can’t. Over the past 66.5 years, those minorities have been largely systematically attacked and eradicated – they are dead or have emigrated -- and the ones who remain are unlikely to risk their lives over such luxurious folly.
And while 66.5 years coincides with Israel’s age, it wasn't the creation of the State of Israel that launched this destruction of minority societies in these regions, but rather it was the decolonization from these Muslim-majority lands. That’s right, the same withdrawal that enabled the restoration of Judea to the Jews is what enabled the nepotistic and theocratic clans in the Arab/Muslim lands to begin systematic purges of minority citizens and residents. How many Christians remain in Egypt? In Iraq? In Libya? In Turkey (the birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy)? No matter each country’s specific current demographic, they are significantly diminished from 66.5 years ago.
It is the right of every democratic society to self-determine. As such, dissenting and minority positions in such societies must occasionally live with choices superimposed upon them. However, when the society is democratic, those choices remain open to challenge and adjustment. The free world may determine that maintaining current freedoms and democratic policies are not worth the price being exacted by radical Islam. And if that is an actively selected majority choice, in the spirit of true democratic values, those of us in the minority position are obligated to collectively say “so be it.”
I don’t think the free world is ready to trade-in bikinis for burkas, nor do I think we have arrived at the place where bikini clad or [gasp!] nude beach go’ers are in imminent danger of being thrust into said burkas.
We have however, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us to admit it, arrived at the point where we can no longer afford to ignore the rising number of zealots who are willing to slaughter people whose only crimes are satire and disagreement, and whose only weapons are pens and keyboards. If the global community fails to recognize and curb this intolerant aggression, it will continue until the choice is no longer ours to make – it will have been made for us.
At the moment, the greatest dangers are psychological in nature and largely based in fear. Fear, when it shapes policy, is appeasement. As Churchill astutely posited in March 1938 – "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last". The problem with appeasing a crocodile is that eventually their hunger returns. Unless killed, the crocodile will continue to hunt and consume in order to sustain itself.
If radical Islam were capable of being sated, the territorial areas of conflict would not be expanding. It is a predatory ideological mechanism which if left unchecked will radically alter the composition of global society.
Back to the comment that instigated this lengthy commentary – yes, at the moment, radical strains of Islam remain, thankfully, a minority in terms of the current global demographic schematic in which 21 religious affiliations are represented. Non-radicalized Islam, however, is not a minority segment of the world’s population and any such reference is at best delusional and at worst deceptive.
In golf terms, non-radicalized Islam may be perceived as having a slight handicap to Christianity, but it is numerically dominant to every other individual religion – and in most cases simply dwarfs them by comparison. And radicalized Islam, while is a minority to all but Christianity, non-radicalized Islam, Securalism and Hindusim, flat out dwarfs 13 the remaining 17 religions/affiliations by comparison. In fact, radicalized Islam dwarfs the combined totals of the remaining 13.
So when we discuss issues that truly threaten world peace, lets be honest and refrain from referring to non-radicalized Islam as some globally persecuted entity. While I lack empirical data to support my theory, based on statistics alone, I think it is safe to assume that non-radicalized Muslims suffer no more or less discrimination than any one else. And if we are going to examine discrimination vis-à-vis radicalized Muslims, based on vast amounts of empirical data, it is most definitely safe to conclude that it is they who perpetrate discriminatory practices.
Monday, January 12, 2015
1.5 Million Marched in Paris... That Should Fix Things
While the show of solidarity in Paris yesterday was indeed heartening, perhaps some perspective and soul-searching are called for.
Over the course of a few days, 17 precious human lives were snuffed out in France (and a larger number were wounded); a series of events which captivated the news for a week and caused a groundswell of emotional outpouring that culminated in a rally of more than 1.5 million people on the streets of Paris.
But during the same week, Boko Haram (a Jihadist organization that is indistinguishable from ISIS or Al Qaeda in its methods and goals), killed more than 2000 people in Nigeria!!! And in one of the week's attacks in Nigeria, Boko Haram used a little girl to carry out a suicide attack!!!
Where is the outpouring of rage and anguish? Where are the rallies? Why is the deliberate taking of those lives placed in a separate category and relegated to the middle pages of newspapers that people barely read?
A rally in Paris, no matter how big or well-meaning, will not stem the tide of what is quite obviously a global problem.
Treating only the symptoms in a few posh locales will not eradicate an illness that respects no borders, boundaries or treaties. We are way past the point where kleenex and bandaids will help.
And with all due respect to the good intentions of the world leaders who cared enough to show up and march in Paris... unless they can somehow translate that momentum into an international policy of absolute intolerance for ALL acts of terror - without regard for the victim's skin color or the creed they hold dear - I fear we are headed for a new dark age from which we may never emerge.
Thursday, January 08, 2015
We Are All Charlie
There are already apologists across the web and in the media saying that the satirical cartoons and articles in the French publication, Charlie Hebdo, that was targeted this week in a Jihadist Massacre were needless provocations. One politician went so far as to call the magazine's edgy content "throwing oil on the fire".
I agree that many of the magazine's content was provocative. Heck, by any objective standard, a lot of it was even offensive. But the response to being offended is not violence. And an appropriate riposte shouldn't involve an actual sword!
I refuse to live in a world where people are allowed, and even expected, to murder those they feel have provoked them and/or offended their sensibilities.
And, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not, those who try to 'explain' or 'understand' such primitive, barbaric behavior are actually excusing and enabling it.
It's a simple choice people: Live standing up... or die on your knees. We are all Charlie!
[Click picture to see source]
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Game of Thrones Treppenwitz Moment
My lovely wife often makes fun of me regarding my tendency to binge-buy certain things when we are in the states (or request when someone is going there and causally asks if we need them to bring something back for us):
U.S. Brand over the counter cold meds.
I'm sure the Israeli stuff is fine, but I didn't grow up with it, don't recognize its packaging, taste or texture... and therefore don't have confidence that it will work.
Unpacking my suitcase after a trip to the U.S. looks like the aftermath of a CVS heist; Sudafed (in all its variants), Tylenol (cold, allergy and other types), and that the wonder drug of wonder drugs: Vick's NyQuil (also known as Mormon schnapps).
There's just something about knowing that our medicine cabinet is well stocked with these trusted items that makes getting sick almost tolerable. The taste, consistency and effect (which for all I know could be completely placebo), give me confidence that at some point soon after taking a dose, the aches, coughs, congestion and/or fever will subside enough to allow me to fully enjoy daytime TV and snacks (required components of any successful sick day).
But even though my wife and kids all benefit from our larder full of trusted American brand cold treatments when they fall ill, Zahava still teases me mercilessly about this tendency of mine to distrust anything but these tried and trusted remedies. And I always wish I had a suitable come-back to counter her scorn and teasing.
I recently realized that my wife is a bit of a Game of Thrones fan. I find the show a bit cartoonish (and more than a little, shall we say, bordering on soft-core pornish). She, on the other hand, has read most of the books and really seems to enjoy the way they are playing out on the small screen.
Well, in true treppenwitz form, The perfect retort just occurred to me to fend off my wife' jeers and teasing over my US pharmaceutical fanboyism: "Winter is coming".
[I'm writing this from our living room couch with a snack table of drinks and snacks in front of me. And the only reason I am able to be out of bed and coherent enough to be able to 'enjoy' this time off from work; NyQuil.]