Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Christianity and Islam (1)

It is not religion; it’s the “religious”

Islam has been under much focus in the world following the surge of fundamentalism… and of course 9/11! Many atrocious acts have been committed in the name of Islam. Regular Islam has been said to encourage such behavior by nature of the religion. Regular Muslims who are in contact with other cultures have been mainly on the defensive, defending or justifying their faith. Muslims immersed in their own communities have been on the offensive, defending their faith against what they see as an organized onslaught. Much literature has been written on the subject.

Islam and Christianity

Comparisons between the various religions are almost always futile unless one is considering selecting one or the other, convincing reluctant impartial onlooker… or gathering support in preparation for a war of confrontation. It certainly is not an objective of this essay. I will approach the subject from a much simpler view and try to avoid dreary techno-religious details.

1. When I look at my own aging mother, who is a devout Muslim, I frankly see nothing wrong in her faith. It gives her tranquility, peace of mind, a constant, universal standard of right and wrong, a sense in life, a unified vision of the universe, an attitude towards other human beings, an assurance of her compassion towards the needy, the unfortunate and the suffering, rituals that put order in her life, emotional and spiritual fulfillment… and so on and so forth.

But I am sure that this description fits your own mother, grandmother or some gentle old Christian soul that you know.

2. Compare this image to those people with fiery eyes and long, unkempt beards, wielding swords and beheading ‘infidels’, declaring jihad [religious struggle] against decadence… and seeking to ‘convince’ people to live in bygone times, in the name of Islam.

Across the Atlantic, I am sure that you can also see men with fiery eyes and loud voices dripping venom, vindictiveness and hatred claiming to be the followers of loving, forgiving Jesus Christ…. advocating wars, justifying wars and glorifying the murder of innocents.

3. I also hear and read many criticisms of Islam and its incompatibility with democracy, science, free-speech, liberalism of thought, equal rights and personal freedoms. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t… But my mind goes back to the time when Christianity held sway over people’s (even king’s) lives in Europe and elsewhere.

I remember wars, crusades, where atrocities were committed and blood shed to liberate the birthplace of Christ from the hands of infidels. I remember the Spanish inquisition. I remember burning people alive at the stake under charges of witchcraft. I remember ‘official’ religious views that the earth is flat or is the center of the Universe; or poor Galileo. I remember book burning. I remember slave ships run by God-fearing Christians… and numerous other such things unacceptable to modern thinking.

Has Christianity or the teachings of Jesus changed much over the centuries? Neither has Islam or Mohamed’s teachings.

I am certain that this is not what these religions were intended for. Had this been the case, they wouldn’t have had so many willing followers in so many nations throughout many past centuries.

Everybody is innocent and everybody is guilty.

Hooligans are the problem, not football.

It is not the religion. It is some of the “religious”.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Oh, Religion!

The question of religion is so volatile and riddled with emotions that I have been postponing my promise to start discussing it time and again. Now, with the elections in Iraq over and the arena undoubtedly dominated by sect and religion, it seems to be on everybody’s mind. Not just in Iraq but in America too. America is so occupied by its own question of religion, values as well as with Islam. The same is true for many other countries of the world.

World terror and both Muslim and Christian religious fundamentalism are likely to have a large, and an increasingly important, effect on all our lives for decades to come. They are certainly having an enormous effect on my life and the lives of all the people I know!

On top of that, I believe that these serious issues are being blurred, sometimes deliberately, by other undeclared motives and intentions that are almost totally unrelated to its essence. They are of course also being distorted by prejudices on most sides. We need to define and address the problem itself outside ‘power’ considerations, undeclared intentions and, above all, blind hatred that has been feeding on prejudices for more than a thousand years.

It is only fair to bring this question into the open. For a long time, I erroneously assumed that most people are uninformed on many of the important issues regarding Iraq and Islam. Now I believe that more have been misinformed! How that ‘misinformation’ came about is another intricate and complex issue.

The events of 9/11 naturally shook the people of the United States to an almost unprecedented degree. But they also seem to have generated an almost irrational wave of reflexive fear that was put to use to propagate other agenda. I find it sad that that momentous event did not spur most of the American public to do some serious soul searching or seriously attempt to understand. Most seem not to care. All they want is for their government to protect them from further attacks… at whatever cost. To many, it does not seem to matter much at the moment that the route followed may lead to higher risks in the future.

I have to make it clear though that I can only express my own personal point of view in this regard. I am in no way an authority on the subject but I am fortunate that I have mingled with people from all walks of life in Iraq, as well as people from the West, both devoutly religious and atheist as well as the wide spectrum in between.

Perhaps a re-statement of my own personal position on the question of religion may be in order:

I have said before that I am not a religious person in the normal sense of the word… but I have developed a deep respect for religion after realizing the enormous positive conceptual and practical effect it had on the morality of mankind.

In this regard, I frequently find myself enjoying Nietzsche’s insightful ravings about the corrupting effect of religion on mankind’s composition and spirit, its herd mentality influence and so forth… but I cannot agree with him.

I can also see some merit in Marx’s dim view of religion in general; I can understand some of the reasons that led him to his conclusions… but I cannot agree with him on the “opium” thesis either. We have ample evidence now that religious beliefs existed when man was living as a hunter-gatherer long before any exploiting classes existed.

All in all, I believe that the overall effect of religion on mankind was, and in many cases probably still is, beneficial. Most of mankind cannot venture out into the wilderness of uncharted and undefined intellectual moral woods (or deserts!) without a guiding hand, a ‘map’ or an external beacon. It may be even counterproductive to ask most people to do so. Many of the universally in-built values of justice, and sense of right-or-wrong that I sometimes feel are shared by the whole human race seem to be still too frail in most people; they can easily be over-run by more immediate concerns of survival, dominance, benefit… or even convenience.

This is why all those free spirits that have existed throughout mankind’s violent history and who have ventured into uncharted intellectual wilderness are so valuable… as scouts, even though many have erred and the conclusions of some of them have led to disasters. The quest is far from over. But I cannot hold some people’s belief that we are already there against them. For most people, life would be otherwise too chaotic and extremely painful.

Regarding religion, perhaps I can say in summary that my quarrel is not with religion per se, but with many of the “religious” and many of the “religious establishments” of the various religions.

I also sadly believe that most people need some prejudices and some sort of “collective” identity. Look at some of the football supporters! Trivial as this example may sound, I believe it exemplifies one of the major ailments of our societies, with very few exceptions.


This series is no longer directed mainly to America; America, by and large, does not seem to be ready to listen. Yet, America remains a most important player in this arena. The issues and the dangers involved are however of a global concern.

It is not intended as a guide to religion (whether Islam or Christianity). I am not qualified as an authority in either. Instead, they are musings of a concerned person and his journey in wrestling for some decades with the important question of religion in society… as well as a simple outline of the main conclusions reached through this quiet struggle and through observation of the society from the inside.

I will try to restrict myself to Islam and Christianity. The Islam-Jewish conflict is still too volatile for quiet debate and is riddled with politics, a long history of conflict and an enormous amount of injustice and mistrust. I know too little of the Buddhist faith.

This is not a propaganda campaign and I hope that it will not attract propagandists and ‘misinformers’ of any creed. I also know that my words will be read by a number of non-believers. All I ask them is not to dismiss very lightly beliefs held and cherished by several billion people.

Basically it’s a viewpoint.


Iraqi Letter to America

This blog is no longer directed mainly to America.

I have therefore changed the name to Iraqi Letters.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


End of the Opening Game

Today, the new elected national assembly in Iraq met for the first time. I hope that I have made my position clear in this blog regarding the design and the implementation of 'democracy' in Iraq under the guidance of the present US administration. I have outlined the shortcomings of the process and warned of future damage. Indeed a lot of damage to both Iraq and America has already been done.

And now, regardless of what political arrangements are made and who is chosen to lead the country during the next crucial months, the rules of the game have permanently changed. This is the end of a phase.

The opening game was characterized by a number of features that I believe will be studied and analyzed by students of politics and history for a long time to come. I further believe that the conclusions reached will not be kind to America.

Yes, America... and not just the American administration. America is a democracy. Many Americans are fond of saying that in a democracy the people get the government that they deserve. On top of that, the American people have decidedly re-elected the same administration after the features of this phase were clearly distinguishable. Further, I still believe that four out of every five Americans either do not care what their government has been doing or are actively supportive of its actions for a variety of motives and reasons. This makes these people partly responsible for those policies and actions. America is in a great need for some serious soul-searching.

This opening game had the following main features:

The pre-invasion phase and the administration's drive to build up support for its plans to invade Iraq largely succeeded in America but failed abroad. The fact that the campaign was based on mainly faulty assumptions does not seem to have mattered much.

The invasion itself went relatively smoothly as wars and invasions go.

The post invasion management can only be placed somewhere between "gross incompetence" and "ill-intentions". those post-invasion plans certainly desreve a closer look and a more in-depth assessment.

The successes claimed: Saddam ousted and democracy initiated. These achievements have to be weighed against the damage, destruction, devastation of infrastructure, lack of basic services, lawlessness, loss of innocent life, the introduction of violent terrorism into Iraq, suffering by millions of people living under almost impossible conditions for two years now, etc. The list is long. Whether those successes could have been achieved at less cost is an important consideration. To me, the answer is clear.

I have only outlined some of the aspects to this phase relating to Iraq. The wider questions of the credibility of America in the eyes of the rest of the world, the neocon pheomenon and its reign, the effect on the global effort against terrorism, the rift with other traditional allies and the long-term damage to the UN as an umbrella for international consensus... are naturally important, and should be critically assessed when America is ready to do that.

But in Iraq, that phase - the opening game - is over. The new phase will have its own charateristics and features. The visible players will have Iraqi faces. Sooner or later, the US army will leave. Excluding major new factors and unpreditable developments, there is no other option. The US administration will have to exert influence, pull strings and flex muscles mainly through by now familiar, and probably more professional, channels.

As a parting shot, let me leave you with the following thought:

Simple Test for Success

So many pro-administration advocates, rosy picture painters and American Saddamists never tire of assuring us all that the present course is leading to Freedom and Democracy, to an end to world terror, to stability in Iraq and security in the States.

So many of these people are well-informed; some of them hold positions of responsibility in the American administration. It would seem rather insolent to contradict them… never mind the facts on the ground.

Of course, there are many parameters that one can use to measure performance: a stable government, services, security, jobs, etc, etc. but, instead, I will propose a simple test to bring the matter closer home to those Americans.

I will be the first to concede the success of the present policy when a "normal" American can freely walk through the streets of Baghdad in broad day light and…

Not be afraid for his or her life and…
Not feel ashamed for all the things that the US administration has done to Iraq.

Brilliant success can be claimed if this American (with an average integrity) feels proud of what the administration has done.

Does this sound fair?

All we need now is some register for those willing to commit themselves to what they say to put their names down, together with a tentative date for their prospective visit.

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