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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 27 December 2006
Noted in Passing
Topic: Perspective

Noted in Passing

It's time for another assessment. Over Christmas weekend former president Gerald Ford passed away, at his home out here in Rancho Mirage, the wealthy golf course enclave next to Palm Springs. He was ninety-three and he did like golf. Those of us old enough to remember the day-to-day of his tenure in the White House recall the only appointed president - he replaced the crook Spiro Agnew, the man who pled no contest on some bribery matters and faded way to his place on the hill in Saint Croix in the Virgin Island overlooking Cane Bay. Ford became president when Nixon resigned, and lost the office to Jimmy Carter in the next election. So he was the only president in our history who was never elected at all. The obituaries are all over the media, many of them showing him puffing on his pipe - he had fine collection of more than fifty of them. Those of us who smoke pipes note such things. And there was his outspoken feminist wife, Betty, who was a real kick - and he obviously both liked and respected her tremendously. He had been an All-American football star at University of Michigan, a center (those of us who have played that position in high school know that's a solid no-glory spot), and decided not to sign with the Detroit Lions but go to law school instead. And the rest is history.

So the man is remembered for cleaning up after Richard Nixon, pardoning him of all possible crimes so, as he seemed to hope, the nation could move on and attend to more immediate matters at hand. On his watch the Vietnam War ended, with the images of the last helicopters lifting off from our embassy in Saigon and a few locals being kicked off the skids. The economy was a mess and some of us remember the lame little WIN buttons - Whip Inflation Now. The runaway inflation eased eventually in his tenure, but it probably wasn't the buttons that did it. But all in all, he seemed both earnest and possessed of a good sense of humor, and a bit dull - and that may have been what the country needed.

Of course seeds were sown - his chief-of staff at the White House was, initially, the young Donald Rumsfeld, an interesting choice at the time. Then he moved Rumsfeld over to become Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld's first try at the job. The new chief-of staff replacing Rumsfeld was a young congressman from Wyoming - Dick Cheney. He kept Henry Kissinger on as his foreign policy advisor. In his last years Ford may have wondered what he had started with all that. None of them retired to play golf in the desert.

But people are generally ignoring those three. Most obituaries treat his pardon of Richard Nixon as the defining moment of Ford's presidency, and most have been overwhelmingly kind about that.

Over at the ultra right site Hot Air "Allah Pundit" calls Ford the "best president of the 1970's" - and adds this - "By all accounts he was a decent and genuine man. He survived two assassination attempts and relentless mocking by Chevy Chase, who portrayed him as hopelessly clumsy (even though he was quite athletic and a college football star). … His was a thankless job, cleaning up after Nixon and then inevitably turning over the country to the tender mercies of Carter. He did it well, and we thank him for it. RIP."

Jonathan Singer on the left grudgingly agrees - "In hindsight, his decision to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon, appears to have been the right one, even if at the time it cost him politically. And although he was thoroughly a conservative, he seems to have been someone who treated his political adversaries with respect and genuinely fought to better America."

On the other hand, conservative Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters believes the Nixon pardon was a terrible mistake - "Ford had good and understandable reasons for his decision, but it did short-circuit the one quality about America that had always made us different from other nations: our leaders were not above the law. … [W]e lost that sense of ourselves as a nation bound by its dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law. At that time, we needed a way to bind ourselves back to that to restore a national identity in which all could share."

Yeah, but the "Trial of Nixon" might have torn apart the nation. It hardly matters now - Ford issued a blanket pardon and that was that.

Peter Howard, a professor at American University, remembers what might not be a minor thing - the Ford presidency notably "began the era of intelligence oversight by issuing Executive Order 11905. The order is perhaps most famous for its ban on assassination by US government agencies. Since their founding in the early years of the Cold War, the US intelligence agencies, notably the CIA and NSA, gave themselves a wide mandated to fight the Cold War." Ford put an end to that - the business in Chile on another September 11, in the seventies, was an embarrassment.

The standard obituary in the Washington Post is here, and the schlock gossip guy, Matt Drudge, made a big deal about the byline - the piece was written by J. Y. Smith, who died almost a year before Gerald Ford. How did Joe Smith do that? That's spooky.

But it's not - obituaries are on file in the media on every public figure, particularly on anyone older than fifty. It pays to be prepared. Some papers have writers who specialize in summing up a famous life in the format required - some newspaper guys start their career doing those, and some, the unlucky or offensive, end their careers doing those. But basically, you just keep a file, a directory of pre-written obituaries, and assign some otherwise useless copy editor to update them now and then. For somebody like Ronald Reagan, who didn't do anything at all for the last fifteen years of his life, for obvious reasons, newspapers had the luxury of producing elaborate ready-to-print "Special Section" tributes - with some digging you could find the inserts on public websites long before he died, if you were sufficiently morbid. Drudge is a pain. This was no big deal.

A friend, an attorney up in the Finger Lakes of New York, did notice what was really odd - "..but didn't Ronald Reagan die at the same time as Ray Charles. Now Jerry Ford and James Brown. What next George Bush (41) and Little Richard? Jimmy Carter and BB King? Hilary Clinton and Aretha Franklin? Barak Obama and Jerry Lee Lewis? When will it stop?"

Yep, the coincidences are odd, as noted in the hyper-sarcastic site Wonkette -
The Godfather of Soul and the Temp President did have a warm friendship that spanned generations, but there's no clear evidence that Brown's coke-crazed soul burst free from the ether for long enough to strangle Ford.

But there is circumstantial evidence that suggests the Sinister Aryan Cabal that actually runs the government had Ford "taken out" to cut short America's mourning for James Brown, who was best known for being a psychotic dope fiend and starring as "Apollo Creed" in one of the "Rocky" movies about 25 years ago.

The proof? The same thing sort of happened way back in June of 2004, when Ray Charles tragically died. America came to a standstill. Truly, we were a Nation Challenged.

But within 24 hours, an elaborate "state funeral" for Ronald Reagan was launched, and there was nothing else on the teevee for the week. By the time it was over, Americans had tragically forgotten all about soul/R&B/country legend Ray Charles.

Skeptics say this theory makes no sense, because Reagan actually expired on June 4 and Charles died six days later, on June 10. And we say, Duh, time machine!
Whatever. But on a more serious note, see the widely-read and highly-regarded Digby at Hullabaloo with this -
The first vote I ever cast was for Jerry Brown for governor. The first vote I ever cast for president was for Gerald Ford. (That was the last time I ever voted for a Republican, by the way.) I have become a little bit more coherent since then.

I was not, at the time, a fan of Jimmy Carter; I thought he was sanctimonious. I was twenty. (Little could I have imagined what was to come.) And I thought Ford had done the right thing by pardoning Nixon. Yes I really did.

I did not understand the zombie nature of Republicanism and had no way of knowing that unless you drive a metaphorical stake through the heart of GOP crooks and liars, they will be back, refreshed and ready to screw up the country in almost exactly the same way, within just a few years. In those days, I couldn't imagine that the Republicans would ever elect someone worse than Nixon. I thought we had gone back to "normal" where nice moderate guys like Jerry and Ike would keep the seat warm until the real leaders would return. Live and learn.

The thing I remember most about Ford, though, was his family. They were great - a bunch of handsome baby boomers frolicking on the lawn, rumored to have smoked pot in the white house, fresh and cool and so much less uptight than Nixon and the girls. As a young person of the same age, it was a powerful image that meant something to me.

And Betty remains my favorite first lady of all time. She was funny and human and normal. I'll never forget watching her hosting a Bolshoi ballet on television when she was obviously under the influence of something or other. I thought to myself, this is a real woman of her time. And of course, she went on to be one of the first famous women to announce that she was fighting breast cancer and founded the Betty Ford clinic not long after. She has done a world of good for the recovery movement.

Ford was an old school GOP moderate, the kind that isn't around anymore. But he bears some responsibility for what came after. After all, his administration spawned the two most twisted leaders of the Bush administration - Cheney and Rumsfeld. From what I know of Jerry Ford, he wouldn't have been proud of that particular accomplishment. He was not given to megalomania and grandiose schemes.

He bound the nation's wounds for a moment, but in doing so he created an infection that has festered for the last thirty years. His heart was in the right place, I think. But it was a mistake I hope this nation never makes again.

He was a decent man who had a good sense of humor. RIP.
And so he was, as Timothy Noah explains in The very discreet charms (and substantial drawbacks) of Richard Nixon's successor -
During the 25 years that I've lived in Washington, I have never once heard a negative word spoken here about former President Gerald Ford, who died at 93 on Dec. 26. Within the narrow confines of Permanent Washington - the journalists, lobbyists, and congressional lifers who are the city's avatars of centrism and continuity - Ford is considered the beau ideal of American leadership. "By the time he finished his short tenure, he had put together one of the most talented administrations, at least of those that I've covered in fifty years here," the Washington Post's David Broder recalled after Ford's death. "People who served in the Ford administration will tell you even now, the survivors of that administration, that it was the best experience they ever had in government."

Washington's Gerald Ford cult differs from, say, its John F. Kennedy cult or its Ronald Reagan cult in that no branches can be found outside the nation's capital. It is possible to say, "America loves JFK," or "America loves Reagan," but no one in his right mind would ever say, "America loves Ford." (If attempted, the statement would surely be mistaken for an advertising slogan touting the Dearborn, Mich.-based auto manufacturer.) America has not given Gerald Ford a lot of thought. To the extent it has, it's pegged Ford as a dimwitted klutz who, though certainly decent enough, extended unwarranted favoritism to his fellow Republican Richard Nixon by granting the former president a blanket pardon. The latter gesture probably cost Ford the 1976 election.

The American electorate got Ford more right than the Washington mandarins. Permanent Washington believes the Nixon pardon was an act of martyrdom, a necessary gesture allowing the country to move on - even Bob Woodward thinks so - but, in fact, the American system of government was sturdy enough to withstand any prosecution of Richard Nixon. (I have my doubts there would have been any.) Ford would have done far better, both politically and in serving justice, to leave well enough alone. The mandarins are right to say that Gerald Ford was certainly smarter than the caricature invented by Lyndon Johnson ("can't fart and chew at the same time," with "fart" subsequently softened to "chew") and later refined by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, but he was no genius, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Because of Ford's weakness in this area, the White House became a free-fire zone between the pro-détente Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the anti-détente tag team of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Ford's successive chiefs of staff. (Maybe veterans of the Ford administration think it "the best experience they ever had in government" because they experienced little supervision from the boss.) Rumsfeld/Cheney ultimately prevailed (as later they would under President George W. Bush), but the experience left Ford sufficiently addled that when, in a 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, he got asked about the 1975 Helsinki accords - which contained vague mollifying language recognizing Soviet domination of Eastern Europe - Ford babbled, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." Carter responded incredulously ("Did I understand you to say, sir … "), prompting a second nonsensical gusher from Ford: "I don't believe … the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Rumanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous: it has its own territorial integrity …"
Oops. But he meant well. Ford "meant to deny not the fact of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, but merely United States acquiescence in that domination." It just didn't come out that way. Noah says - "These comments about Eastern Europe remain, I believe, the single dumbest thing ever said by a sitting president during my lifetime, heavy competition from the present incumbent notwithstanding."

But Ford did some good - inflation dropped from double digits to below five percent. And Gerald Ford appointed John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court, who has since become a moderating influence on the madmen there.

The conclusion -
Ford was not an ideologue, and during his presidency the country was not ideological. We remember those years as tumultuous, and they were - it was the Watergate scandal that made Ford president in the first place, and it was during Ford's presidency that the Vietnam War came to its ignominious end. But Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman did some number-crunching a couple of years ago, and concluded that geographic self-segregation at the county level by party affiliation reached its nadir in 1975, when Gerald Ford was president. Conservatives and liberals lived in closer proximity than before or since, and that minimized partisan enmity in both the country and in Washington. As I wrote at the time: "The 1970s, which most of us remember as an era of high inflation, long gas lines, and malaise, were, in short, the Golden Age of Bipartisanship. Gerald Ford, the most boring man in modern memory to occupy the Oval Office, was its high priest."

That is why Washington loves Gerald Ford. Comity and bipartisanship are easy to overrate, and Permanent Washington can always be counted on to overrate them. At the moment, though, it does seem we could use a bit more.
Yeah, we could. But dull and pleasant leaders don't come along every day. And too, the man was appointed. You cannot win any office by claiming you're agreeable and mostly harmless. What kind of platform is that? And no one would vote for a smoker theses days, particularly a pipe smoker. The man was a wonder, without being wonderful, for which the nation is now grateful.

Posted by Alan at 20:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 December 2006 07:57 PST home

Tuesday, 26 December 2006
Late Christmas Presents
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Late Christmas Presents

The week between Christmas and New Years is supposed to be a slow news week. And the day after Christmas we got two conflicting milestones and a new war, or a new proxy war, as we are a bit short on war resources. Maybe people won't notice.

The first was the surprise news that Saddam Hussein will hang soon -
Iraq’s highest appeals court on Tuesday upheld Saddam Hussein’s death sentence and said he must be hanged within 30 days for the killing of 148 Shiites in the central city of Dujail.

The sentence "must be implemented within 30 days," chief judge Aref Shahin said. "From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation."
This appeal was, we were told, going to take some time. This is a surprise. It's a bit like the original death sentence, announced a day and a half before the midterm elections across America. These Iraqi judges are quite cooperative. The actually hanging, which will be televised locally (in Iraq of course), might just take place as the president announces his "new way forward," scheduled, tentatively, for sometime in January. Or it could take place during the president's State of the Union speech next month. Either would be fine, the hanging providing great visuals of the "see, I got the bad guy" sort - and we can watch Saddam Hussein's eyes bug out and his neck snap as the president - split screen - tells us all we're winning, and have really won, while the other man jerks about and chokes to death. The calculation would be that Americans would cheer and all the mess-ups - the chaos in Iraq, the unsaved New Orleans, the business with the vice president shooting his good friend in the face with a shotgun and all the rest - would be forgotten. The lifeless body swinging slowly from the rope would rally us all. It's an interesting ploy, a bookend to the "Mission Accomplished" address on the aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego - this time getting it right.

Of course the propitiously announced Saddam Hussein death sentence didn't save Republican control of the House and Senate. But that doesn't mean the concept isn't workable. It just wasn't dramatic enough. The president's political advisor, Karl "Bush's Brian" Rove, is said to be a genius on such matters. This sound like something he has arranged, judging what would sate the blood lust of the American people. He may be right, or he may be surprised that good numbers of people actually can and actually do differentiate between Saddam Hussein, who finally didn't have any weapons of mass destruction and both feared and hated al Qaeda (and the feeling was mutual), and Osama bin Laden, who we all saw on videotape saying he was glad his very own 9/11 plan worked. Early on the president said "you can't really differentiate between the two," but he was only saying you "shouldn't." It seems people did anyway, in spite of the effort to conflate the two. When Saddam Hussein swings, more than a few American's will wonder what's going on here - the major bad guy was never found and this looks like cheap theatrics regarding a secondary problem with a brutal thug, a secondary murdering fraud. He may deserve his punishment, but it's rather beside the point now, isn’t it? Rove may just have to hope folks don’t think this through too carefully.

And as for the blood lust of the American people, that is hard to gauge. We are one of the very few nations in this world who still eagerly practice capital punishment - and it's not just the western nations who have walked away from that. We're pretty much alone. But is the Rove calculation right, that we would all cheer and another man's painful death? That may depend on how much visual and auditory detail we get. It may be that we like the concept of capital punishment in the abstract, without the details, like the criminal's bowels suddenly discharging and that sort of thing. But who knows? It may also be that we have moved on, want to close the book on this war and deal with healthcare and jobs and education and who pays whatever is a fair share in taxes, and with what the government can actually do to fix things and make things fair for everyone. In short, a public execution might be of far less than secondary interest. Fine, hang the man, but what about what we all face in the day-to-day, in the here-and-now? Pointing to the lifeless body swinging at the end of the rope might be counterproductive, or even worse, just beside the point. The public death of Saddam Hussein is a PR gamble. We'll see how that goes.

Of course we'll be told is will be the real turning point in Iraq, bringing closure (a quite useless concept, but quite popular these days). Things will settle down, unless they don't. Sorry about all the other turning points that turned out not to be turning points at all - but this one is the real deal, as is obvious. And the Sunnis, feeling cut out of the current government and in open rebellion, in spite of not having particularly fond memories of Saddam and his sons leading them, will react with shrug and a big "whatever" - or go full out to mess everything up until they get at least a little power back, and the Saudis and Egyptians and Jordanians will fund and supply them. Which is more likely? Your answer depends on how optimistic you are. One should have a positive attitude. One should also prepare of alternative outcomes. Unfortunately preparing for alternative outcomes is considered a sign of weak will and insufficient manliness with the people who have run our country for the last six years. This could be a bumpy ride.

The other day after Christmas surprise was a bit artificial, a curious milestone -
At least 36 Iraqis died Tuesday in bombings, officials said, including a coordinated strike that killed 25 in western Baghdad. Separately, the deaths of six U.S. soldiers pushed the American toll beyond the number of victims in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
So the military deaths, rising steadily in the last three months, now officially exceed the number killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington. One would guess this is something some who think the Iraq war was a useless and almost criminal diversion from the real task at hand - dealing with fanatical terrorists who want to make their points with mass killings of our citizens - finds telling. We doubled the number of dead and what do we have to show for it all? And that doesn't even account for the nearly twenty-thousand of our troops maimed - limbless or brain-damaged. But the matching figures mean little in and of themselves. It's just a bit of statistical ammunition for those who ask what we think we're accomplishing. Within a week or so we will be at three thousand combat deaths. That too is just a number, and will be used to ask the same question. What are we accomplishing? It's a morbid cost-benefit thing.

That's exactly how Condoleezza Rice sees it -
This is a country that is worth the investment because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor, you'll have a very different kind of Middle East. And I know that from the point of view of not just monetary costs, but the sacrifice of American lives, a lot has been sacrificed for Iraq, a lot has been invested in Iraq.
That's from an Associated Press interview, December 21, 2006. And Merry Christmas to you too, Ms Rice.

Bill Montgomery comments -
I once made the analogy that in the imperialism business troops equal money, so perhaps I'm not in the best position to criticize. But I was trying to sound cruel and heartless for sarcastic effect, while Condi appears to have been utterly sincere - every bit as sincere as when she described Israel's air assault on Lebanon as the "birth pangs" of the new Middle East. (How's the baby doing, Condi?)

Maybe the simplest explanation is also the most accurate. Maybe Condi is just a cold, heartless bitch - as morally numb and sociopathic as her office husband. But these kinds of comments could also simply reflect the incredibly sheltered life Madame Supertanker appears to have led, especially since she entered the pampered, intersecting worlds of the academic, national security and corporate elites.

There's a story from her childhood of young Condi practicing the piano in her comfortable middle-class home in Birmingham's "black bourgeois" neighborhood as her father - himself no great friend of the civil rights movement - stood guard over the house with a shotgun while Bull Connors' men blasted the demonstrators with fire hoses downtown. I have no idea whether the story is true or not, but it certainly resonates with Condi's current public persona, which is - not to put too fine a point on it - detached to the point of catatonia.

Does Condi understand how many deaths, mutilations and wrecked lives lie behind her "investments" and "birth pangs"? Undoubtedly. Does she care? I don't know. But, from a public diplomacy point of view, it would behoove her to show some sign that she has an emotional connection to the rest of the human race - or, if she doesn't, to at least pretend that she does.
Well, she's not even pretending. And you might want to check out that noted Middle East scholar, Juan Cole on The Top Ten Myths About Iraq in 2006. It's not a pretty list.

Here are a few -
1. Myth number one is that the United States "can still win" in Iraq. Of course, the truth of this statement, frequently still made by William Kristol and other Neoconservatives, depends on what "winning" means. But if it means the establishment of a stable, pro-American, anti-Iranian government with an effective and even-handed army and police force in the near or even medium term, then the assertion is frankly ridiculous. The Iraqi "government" is barely functioning. The parliament was not able to meet in December because it could not attain a quorum. Many key Iraqi politicians live most of the time in London, and much of parliament is frequently abroad. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki does not control large swathes of the country, and could give few orders that had any chance of being obeyed. The US military cannot shore up this government, even with an extra division, because the government is divided against itself. Most of the major parties trying to craft legislation are also linked to militias on the streets who are killing one another. It is over with. Iraq is in for years of heavy political violence of a sort that no foreign military force can hope to stop.

The United States cannot "win" in the sense defined above. It cannot. And the blindly arrogant assumption that it can win is calculated to get more tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and more thousands of American soldiers and Marines badly wounded or killed. Moreover, since Iraq is coming apart at the seams under the impact of our presence there, there is a real danger that we will radically destabilize it and the whole oil-producing Gulf if we try to stay longer.

2. "US military sweeps of neighborhoods can drive the guerrillas out." The US put an extra 15,000 men into Baghdad this past summer, aiming to crush the guerrillas and stop the violence in the capital, and the number of attacks actually increased. This result comes about in part because the guerrillas are not outsiders who come in and then are forced out. The Sunni Arabs of Ghazaliya and Dora districts in the capital are the "insurgents." The US military cannot defeat the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement or "insurgency" with less than 500,000 troops, based on what we have seen in the Balkans and other such conflict situations. The US destroyed Falluja, and even it and other cities of al-Anbar province are not now safe! The US military leaders on the ground have spoken of the desirability of just withdrawing from al-Anbar to Baghdad and giving up on it. In 2003, 14 percent of Sunni Arabs thought it legitimate to attack US personnel and facilities. In August, 2006, over 70 percent did. How long before it is 100%? Winning guerrilla wars requires two victories, a military victory over the guerrillas and a winning of the hearts and minds of the general public, thus denying the guerrillas support. The US has not and is unlikely to be able to repress the guerrillas, and it is losing hearts and minds at an increasing and alarming rate. They hate us, folks. They don't want us there.

… 8. "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror." From the beginning of history until 2003 there had never been a suicide bombing in Iraq. There was no al-Qaeda in Baath-ruled Iraq. When Baath intelligence heard that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might have entered Iraq, they grew alarmed at such an "al-Qaeda" presence and put out an APB on him! Zarqawi's so-called "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" was never "central" in Iraq and was never responsible for more than a fraction of the violent attacks. This assertion is supported by the outcome of a US-Jordanian operation that killed Zarqawi this year. His death had no impact whatsoever on the level of violence. There are probably only about 1,000 foreign fighters even in Iraq, and most of them are first-time volunteers, not old-time terrorists. The 50 major guerrilla cells in Sunni Arab Iraq are mostly made up of Iraqis, and are mainly: 1) Baathist or neo-Baathist, 2) Sunni revivalist or Salafi, 3) tribally-based, or 4) based in city quarters. Al-Qaeda is mainly a boogey man, invoked in Iraq on all sides, but possessing little real power or presence there. This is not to deny that radical Sunni Arab volunteers come to Iraq to blow things (and often themselves) up. They just are not more than an auxiliary to the big movements, which are Iraqi.

9. "The Sunni Arab guerrillas in places like Ramadi will follow the US home to the American mainland and commit terrorism if we leave Iraq." This assertion is just a variation on the invalid domino theory. People in Ramadi only have one beef with the United States. Its troops are going through their wives' underwear in the course of house searches every day. They don't want the US troops in their town or their homes, dictating to them that they must live under a government of Shiite clerics and Kurdish warlords (as they think of them). If the US withdrew and let the Iraqis work out a way to live with one another, people in Ramadi will be happy. They are not going to start taking flight lessons and trying to get visas to the US. This argument about following us, if it were true, would have prevented us from ever withdrawing from anyplace once we entered a war there. We'd be forever stuck in the Philippines for fear that Filipino terrorists would follow us back home. Or Korea (we moved 15,000 US troops out of South Korea not so long ago. Was that unwise? Are the thereby liberated Koreans now gunning for us?) Or how about the Dominican Republic? Haiti? Grenada? France? The argument is a crock.
Click on the link for the other six. It won't make you happy.

But then, the third item from the news the day after Christmas was that, using our advisors, combat aircraft we provided, munitions we provided, the Ethiopian government suddenly bombed the crap out of Somalia in what looked like an all-out proxy war for us - just one more effort by our government to teach us the geography of obscure places. Was this a minor matter? Maybe.

Jeffrey Gettleman in the New York Times opens with this - "Islamist forces in Somalia beat a hasty retreat today to their stronghold in Mogadishu, Somalia's battle-scared capital, crumbling faster than anyone expected after a week of attacks by Ethiopian forces."

We are fighting Islamist forces everywhere, even when we're not. And the UN, again, isn't pleased -
The top U.N. envoy in Somalia urged the U.N. Security Council to call for an immediate cease-fire between Ethiopian forces backing Somalia's weak government and the powerful Islamic militia that controls most of the country, saying talks are the only way to solve the conflict.

Qatar, which holds the council presidency, circulated a draft presidential statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces, specifying Ethiopian troops.

But other council members - including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and African members Ghana and Tanzania - objected to singling out Ethiopia and calling for an immediate withdrawal, saying an urgent resumption of talks between the parties and a political agreement are essential to achieve stability before foreign forces withdraw.
In short, it's a mess. We used Ethiopia to clean out the bad guys, but the Ethiopians were only doing what they should do, or something like that. It's war, everywhere.

Via a good discussion of this by Matthew Yglesias, relying heavily on the Washington Post coverage of the new Somalia-Ethiopia war, much of this can be untangled. It has to do with the premises of our policy in the Horn of Africa -
… Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia "along with the United States, has accused the [Islamic Courts] movement of harboring terrorists" but this is "an allegation it has denied." Neither Ethiopia nor the United States is prepared to provide names of any terrorists who are being harbored. Meanwhile, "Opposition groups inside Ethiopia say that Meles, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has shrewdly played up the terrorism charges to win U.S. support." We're going along with this because "based in part on intelligence out of Ethiopia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer has asserted that the Islamic movement is now under the control of an al-Qaeda cell, a claim that regional analysts believe is exaggerated."

… In other words, we're backing Ethiopia's war against Somalia because intelligence provided by the Ethiopian government suggests we should back Ethiopia. But what else would the intelligence say? The US government's conflict with the Islamic Courts began because "the United States financed warlords in Somalia who described themselves as an 'anti-terrorism coalition' but who mostly terrorized local Somalis, who came to despise them." This "anti-terrorism coalition" was nothing other than the exact same warlords who ruined the country in the 1990s renaming themselves for the post-9/11 era.

… Can someone ask Tony Snow or George W. Bush or Condoleezza Rice or Steven Hadley to name the terrorists the Islamic Courts are harboring? To explain what we've tried to do to secure their custody short of backing a full-scale Ethiopian invasion of Somalia?
There's also the State Department's counterterrorism country report on Somalia, which doesn't make things sound "al Qaeda dire" all that -
Somalia’s lack of a functioning central government, protracted state of violent instability, long unguarded coastline, porous borders, and proximity to the Arabian Peninsula made it a potential location for international terrorists seeking a transit or launching point to conduct operations elsewhere.

Regional efforts to bring about national reconciliation and establish peace and stability in Somalia are ongoing. Although the ability of Somali local and regional authorities to carry out counterterrorism activities is constrained, some have taken limited actions in this direction.

While numerous Islamist groups engaged in a broad range of activities operate inside Somalia, few of these organizations have any known links to terrorist activities. Movements such as Harakat al-Islah (al-Islah), Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa (ASWJ), and Majma Ulimadda Islaamka ee Soomaaliya (Majma') sought power by political rather than violent means and pursued political action via missionary or charity work. Missionary Islamists, such as followers of the Tablighi sect and the "New Salafis" generally renounce explicit political activism. Other Islamist organizations became providers of basic health, education, and commercial services, and were perceived by some as pursuing a strategy to take political power.

In the 1990s, members of the Somalia-based al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) periodically committed terrorist acts, primarily in Ethiopia. AIAI rose to prominence following the collapse of Somalia’s central government in 1991, with the goal of creating a pan-Somali Islamic state in the Horn of Africa. In recent years the existence of a coherent entity operating as AIAI has become difficult to prove. At most, AIAI was highly factionalized and diffuse, and its membership difficult to define. Some elements associated with the former AIAI are sympathetic to al-Qaida and maintained ties with it, and may continue to pose a threat to U.S. and Western interests in the region.

Other shadowy groups that have appeared in Somalia are suspected of having committed terrorist acts against Western interests in the region, or considered capable of doing so. Very little is known about movements such as al-Takfir wal-Hijra (al-Takfir), but the extremist ideology and violent character of takfiri groups elsewhere suggest that the movement merits close monitoring.
These are local bad guys. We've decided they're in league with the top bad guys and must be taken out, but the wimpy State Department says they're really not that organized or even connected to anything much.

Yglesias -
So to be clear, unless I'm reading this wrong the number of individuals who've organized, planned, or committed terrorist attacks against the United States of America now being sheltered in Somalia is… zero.

There are Somali groups who've carried out attacks against Ethiopia. And "some elements associated with the former AIAI are sympathetic to al-Qaida and maintained ties with it, and may continue to pose a threat to U.S. and Western interests in the region."

Now ask yourself how many Somali Islamists are going to sympathize with al-Qaeda once US-backed Ethiopian forces have shattered the closest thing to an effective government that country has had since 1991.
We like to make enemies, don't we?

And there's Major Kelley Thibodeau, spokeswoman for the task force of American military personnel based in nearby in Djibouti protesting we didn't do anything, really - "Officially, we haven’t put anybody in Somalia. The Americans don’t go forward with the Ethiopians. They are training Ethiopians in Ethiopia."

One is reminded of Kennedy sending "advisors" into Vietnam. They were just advisors. The rest is history.

See Salim Lone, who was the spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq in 2003, now a columnist for The Daily Nation in Kenya, in the International Herald Tribune with In Somalia, A Reckless US Proxy War -
Undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With full U.S. backing and military training, at least 15,000 Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia in an illegal war of aggression against the Union of Islamic Courts, which controls almost the entire south of the country.

As with Iraq in 2003, the United States has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism, but its real goal is to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic region by establishing a client regime there. The Horn of Africa is newly oil-rich, and lies just miles from Saudi Arabia, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through the Red Sea. General John Abizaid, the current U.S. military chief of the Iraq war, was in Ethiopia this month, and President Hu Jintao of China visited Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this year to pursue oil and trade agreements.

The U.S. instigation of war between Ethiopia and Somalia, two of world's poorest countries already struggling with massive humanitarian disasters, is reckless in the extreme. Unlike in the run-up to Iraq, independent experts, including from the European Union, were united in warning that this war could destabilize the whole region even if America succeeds in its goal of toppling the Islamic Courts.

An insurgency by Somalis, millions of whom live in Kenya and Ethiopia, will surely ensue, and attract thousands of new anti-US militants and terrorists.
He goes on, unhappy, but we have our foreign policy - stir things up everywhere. And this may not even be good for the home team - "Ethiopia is at even greater risk, as a dictatorship with little popular support and beset also by two large internal revolts, by the Ogadenis and Oromos. It is also mired in a conflict with Eritrea, which has denied it secure access to seaports."

One wonders how much of the world we wish to throw into turmoil, with new raging regional wars. That cannot be the plan. But there you have it.

And it was to be a slow news week.

__

Readers here might note that Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the base of our new Ethiopian effort, has come up before in these pages - July 11, 2004, Djibouti and the July Surprise. It has come around again. See Stanley A. Weiss, the founder and chairman of Business Executives for National Security, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, with After Iraq, A New U.S. Military Model, 26 December 2006, in the International Herald Tribune. This is a discussion of how Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the brainchild of General John Abizaid, is the new model of "light footprint" US military operations - no massive bases to offend the locals, just "lily pads" for quick operations. Abizaid knows his stuff, and he knows how to work with local cultures. The item was written before Abizaid resigned, as he was one of those generals who opposed the upcoming big surge of tens of thousands of more troops into Iraq right now, as he thought, and said, that would make things worse. There was no longer room for him in the Army as the president saw its role - overwhelming force and swaggering intimidation to get folks to do what we want. Abizaid will be fine on the lecture circuit.

Posted by Alan at 21:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 26 December 2006 22:02 PST home

Sunday, 24 December 2006
Christmas Break
Topic: Announcements

Christmas Break

There will be no posting here until Tuesday - it's off down the coast for the big family Christmas. If one is to believe the folks who do the window displays at Neiman-Marcus on Wilshire in Beverly Hills, it's all about "finding the surprises."

Christmas window display, Neiman-Marcus, Beverly Hills


Posted by Alan at 00:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006 08:01 PST home

Saturday, 23 December 2006
Advice
Topic: Perspective

Advice

It's Christmas weekend. Be nice. Be kind.

"It's not true that nice guys finish last. Nice guys are winners before the game even starts." - Addison Walker

"If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me." - Alice Roosevelt Longworth

"We all like stories that make us cry. It's so nice to feel sad when you've nothing in particular to feel sad about." - Anne Sullivan

"One of the worst things about life is not how nasty the nasty people are. You know that already. It is how nasty the nice people can be." - Anthony Dymoke Powell

"The only nice thing about being imperfect is the joy it brings to others." - Doug Larson

"It's amazing how nice people are to you when they know you're going away." - Michael Arlen

"When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind." - Henry James

"In this world, there is nothing softer or thinner than water. But to compel the hard and unyielding, it has no equal. That the weak overcomes the strong, that the hard gives way to the gentle - this everyone knows. Yet no one asks accordingly." - Lao-Tse

"Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Be kind to unkind people - they need it the most." - Ashleigh Brilliant

"It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.'" - Aldous Huxley

"Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true." - Robert Brault

"I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble." - Rudyard Kipling

"Don't be yourself - be someone a little nicer." - Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not." - Samuel Johnson

"If we cannot be clever, we can always be kind." - Alfred Fripp

"If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl." - H.L. Mencken

"If you step on people in this life, you're going to come back as a cockroach." - Willie Davis

"I meant," said Ipslore bitterly, "what is there in this world that truly makes living worth while?" Death thought about it. "Cats," he said eventually, "Cats are nice." - Terry Pratchett, Sorcery

Posted by Alan at 10:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 22 December 2006
The Real Christmas - Getting the Story Straight
Topic: God and US

The Real Christmas - Getting the Story Straight

For the traditionalists at Christmas - not amused by films like Billy Bob Thornton as Bad Santa a few years ago, and the subsequent comedies with dissolute elves or feuding neighbors or magic trains - this year brought them their gift, the earnest and lavishly photographed The Nativity Story. It didn't do that well. Catherine Hardwicke is no Mel Gibson - no blood and guts and unremitting torture. How were you supposed to market this thing? Still, out here in Hollywood there's no end of talk about how to tap an overlooked goldmine - the folks who hate Hollywood, the evangelicals and the religious right, and all the folks who faithfully attend the many giant mega-churches with their soft-rock "Contemporary Christian" services. Look south - Orange and San Diego counties are full of them, and their professional congregations with heaps of disposable income. The parking lots are filled with the newest and largest SUV's, their kids look well-fed and have all the cool new toys and snazzy clothes, and that must mean something. That must mean a new, rich audience to be drained of some of their dollars.

But this year's attempt to tap that market didn't work out. The film in question did just okay for a week and the faded fast. Perhaps the target audience wasn't that large, or perhaps not all that dissatisfied with the secular junk Hollywood produces year in and year out. I could be that they separate entertainment from matters of faith and this is not what they expected from a movie. They may all think the separation of church and state is something that should, after two hundred thirty odd years, be revisited, but apparently they think you don't go to the movies for a God fix. The movies are to provide a secular fix. Or it may be something else entirely. New Line Cinema hasn't yet figured out what went wrong.

The film did generate some comment in the UK when it opened there in early December. Michael White in the Telegraph has an item where he seems to be saying the film may have been just too earnest - "Was there really a stable? Three kings? Any shepherds? Even the gospels can't agree, so maybe it doesn't matter if the kitsch angels and snow globes are all wrong too. It's the way we like it."

New Line Cinema seems to have got the Christmas thing all wrong. Everyone likes the muddled mess of secular and religious, and it was always so, from medieval art to now, especially regarding the nativity -
In the history of art it comes in every form, from intimate, stable scenes to teeming Busby Berkeley spectacles with squadrons of formation-flying angels. "There is a marked difference between Protestant introspection and Catholic display," says Charles Saumarez Smith, the National Gallery's director.

In less elevated terms, it comes conveniently packaged for the modern home, with winking lights and nodding donkeys: singing, dancing, ethnic, edible, inflatable, not to say theologically confused.

On the internet you can buy cribs at which Mary welcomes Father Christmas and a penguin to the manger; the Holy Family look worryingly like the Flintstones; or the baby Jesus is a sort of Eucharistic truffle, robed in chocolate with a vin santo filling.
The film went the other way, as it was "produced in consultation with learned theologians." It was supposed "to cut through centuries of fantasy, embellishment and kitsch, and tells the story as the Gospels do" Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, said it was "Biblically accurate" and the Catholic News Service rejoiced - "'Hollywood finally gets it right." But getting it right doesn't make for great box office. Getting it right is rather irrelevant in Hollywood - ask any author who has sold the rights to his book and doesn't even recognize the film version, passed through a series of screenwriters' changes and preproduction casting negotiations, then suggestions from the marketing people. Oxford becomes Malibu and the protagonist is not a don but now a woman who runs a catering firm - that sort of thing.

But Michael White is really concerned with something else. What if there is no "right" to be getting right in the case of the nativity? New Line Cinema may have had a bigger problem. Bethlehem may not have been as the Victorians imagined it, "some snowy hamlet in the deep and dreamless sleep of the Home Counties, more Reigate than Ramallah." They changed things for marketing purposes themselves, of course

But here are the problems -
To begin with, it's odd that just two of the four Gospels have anything to say about the Nativity. Mark and John offer no comment at all.

Only Matthew and Luke, both written 60-70 years after Jesus's death, give the story.

And, according to Geza Vermes, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford and author of a recently published study, The Nativity, it isn't even the same story.

"In our traditional understanding Matthew and Luke are nicely fitted together and their contradictions ignored," says Vermes. "But what they say is totally different. And what's more, it appears nowhere else in the New Testament. No repetition. No reference. From which I conclude that it's a secondary addition: a splendid prologue to the life of Jesus supplied by men who had a reason to supply it."
The whole things was a marketing effort, part of the multinational "Jesus was the son of God" PR campaign -
For Matthew, a Jew writing for Jews, the objective was to show how Jesus's birth fulfilled the prophesies of the Torah. For Luke, a gentile writing for gentiles, the objective was to explain Jesus in terms that a pagan audience reared on myths of gods impregnating mortals would understand.

… The Virgin Mary is actually called Miriam - she was Jewish, after all - and her virginal status is important to Luke because it fits the Classical image of maidens begetting divine children.

Whereas Matthew has the details of the birth revealed to Joseph in a dream, Luke has an Annunciation made to Mary by an angel. Western painters stress her detachment from the mess of birth by showing her in seated composure.

Painters of Eastern icons let her lie down. And nowhere does The Bible tell us she wears blue. Her wardrobe largely derives from medieval meditations and visionary experiences, such as those of St Bridget, who had a keen eye for detail.

Joseph is usually depicted as a bit-part actor in the drama and as old, although The Bible does not indicate his age. Some pictorial traditions make him a comic figure and certain cathedrals had a vested interest in adding homely details - notably Aachen, which became the proud possessor of St Joseph's stockings, which had been cut up to make clothes for the infant Jesus. Jesus In paintings, he is usually depicted naked with what would these days be thought an unseemly attention to his penis.

… The Three Kings - only Matthew mentions them. He doesn't call them kings. And he doesn't say how many there are. The earliest nativity scenes show just two, and their number and status were upgraded later, on the grounds that there were three gifts, one of which was frankincense, associated with royalty.

More practically, though, the upgrading of the kings was also connected with the church's desire to allot a role in Christian life to rich potentates (who would otherwise be struggling through the eyes of needles) and get their money.

The kings also symbolized the universal outreach of the Church, to Europe, Africa and Asia. And again, certain cathedrals had a special interest in them: Cologne claimed their bodies and declared them to have died at the respective ages of 109, 112 and 116.

The Ox and Ass There is no mention of them in the Gospels. But if Jesus was born in a stable it would be reasonable to assume their presence. And the first person to make a point of it was St Francis, who is said to have begun the tradition of cribs and nativity re-enactments in the 13th century.

The Shepherds are found only in Luke. Important as a statement of the access ordinary people have to Jesus.

The Star in Matthew but not Luke, and the subject of endless debate as to what, if anything, it might have been. There is no unchallengeable recorded evidence of starry phenomena around this time.
And so it goes. Click on the link for more. But you see the problem New Line Cinema faced. They did eighty percent Matthew, ten percent Luke, and ten percent what's been added on through the centuries. This is what passes for getting it right. Well, both Matthew and Luke agree that the birthplace is Bethlehem, but even that may have been marketing - "important as the fulfillment of prophesy: it establishes Jesus as successor to King David, who was also born there." On the other hand, "Luke has Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem as temporary residents, for the census - which is why they ended up in a stable when there was no room at the inn. Matthew says nothing about a census, stable or inn, and gives the impression that Mary and Joseph are permanent residents in that 'house'."

So what are clerics to do? White chats with them -
Few clerics I approached - including the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster - were prepared to risk a comment. Of those who were, the most forthright was the director of the Catholic Agency for the Support of Evangelism, Mgr Keith Barltrop, who agreed that "Matthew and Luke put their Gospels together in a certain way to make certain points, but a Catholic would believe them to be based on history and essentially true. At the end of the day, it's a matter of faith."

Almost as forthright was the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, who complains that 'our modern minds want photographic evidence: someone at the cribside with a Polaroid to show us what we see on Christmas cards … Well, nobody was there with a Polaroid, and the gospel narratives don't work like that. They don't inform us. They initiate us into an awareness, a way of seeing and being, and that's the way the early church would have understood them."
The film folks should have asked. Getting it right doesn't matter. The target audience my have implicitly realized that - they were bored with the carefulness.

People want the non-boring version, as Alastair Smart in the same issue of the Telegraph explains here -
The most apposite demonstration of our celebrity-obsessed times must surely be Madame Tussauds' Nativity scene of 2004.

The waxwork depicted Victoria and David Beckham as Mary and Joseph with Kylie Minogue as a pert-buttocked Angel of the Annunciation, and - contentiously - President Bush, the Duke of Edinburgh and Tony Blair as the Three Wise Men.

The scene was criticized as both a new low in the cult of celebrity worship and preposterous blasphemy. The display was open for only a few days before James Anstice, a religious protester, decapitated Posh and knocked over Becks on the grounds of 'waging a war against crap'.

Anstice appears to be fighting an unwinnable war. For instance, the Our Lady of the Snows church in Belleville, Illinois, last year displayed a life-size Nativity scene made from Lego.

Kitsch abounds even in Naples, the world capital of Nativity scenes since the 18th century, when the Bourbon king Charles III ordered them to be made there. Today, countless artisans in the city's Old District work all year to construct presepi. For every exquisite, hand-carved Madonna and Joseph, there's a 25-piece scene made entirely out of dried pasta.
Yeah, well, Alastair Smart says the we here on the other side of the pond have them all beat -
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which has played annually at New York's Rockefeller Center since 1933, is a fine example. More than a million visitors witness this gaudy extravaganza of high-kick dance numbers and skating routines, culminating in the 'Living Nativity' play, for which the vast stage becomes a desert that Mary and Joseph - with live camels, sheep and donkeys for company - cross in search of an inn.
But wait! There's more -
For instance, www.stpatricksguild.com offers a Nativity Bake Set, which allows you to recreate the manger scene out of gingerbread and cookies; an Outdoor Inflatable Nativity, a 9ft tall display with self-inflating, biblical figures; and, most interestingly of all, a Kneeling Santa, a wooden figurine of Father Christmas humbly, if incongruously, kneeling at Baby Jesus's crib.
And you thought Santa didn't visit Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, didn't you? Read your Bible - but not too carefully.

But surely someone respects Jesus and wants to get this all right? Karen Armstrong, Saturday, December 23, in the Guardian (UK), says that someone really does -
In 632, after five years of fearful warfare, the city of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz voluntarily opened its gates to the Muslim army. No blood was shed and nobody was forced to convert to Islam, but the Prophet Muhammad ordered the destruction of all idols and icons of the Divine. There were a number of frescoes painted on the inner walls of the Kabah, the ancient granite shrine in the centre of Mecca, and one of them, it is said, depicted Mary and the infant Jesus. Immediately Muhammad covered it reverently with his cloak, ordering all the other pictures to be destroyed except that one.

This story may surprise people in the west, who have regarded Islam as the implacable enemy of Christianity ever since the crusades, but it is salutary to recall it during the Christmas season when we are surrounded by similar images of the Virgin and Child. It reminds us that the so-called clash of civilizations was by no means inevitable. For centuries Muslims cherished the figure of Jesus, who is honored in the Qur'an as one of the greatest of the prophets and, in the formative years of Islam, became a constituent part of the emergent Muslim identity.

… The Qur'an is horrified by Christian claims that Jesus was the "son of God", and depicts Jesus ardently denying his divinity in an attempt to "cleanse" himself of these blasphemous projections. Time and again the Qur'an insists that, like Muhammad himself, Jesus was a perfectly ordinary human being and that the Christians have entirely misunderstood their own scriptures. But it concedes that the most learned and faithful Christians - especially monks and priests - did not believe that Jesus was divine; of all God's worshippers, they were closest to the Muslims (5:85-86).

… The Qur'an insists that all rightly guided religions come from God, and Muslims are required to believe in the revelations of every single one of God's messengers: "Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob ... and all the other prophets: we make no distinction between any of them" (3:84). But Jesus - also called the Messiah, the Word and the Spirit - had special status.

Jesus, it was felt, had an affinity with Muhammad, and had predicted his coming (61:6), just as the Hebrew prophets were believed by Christians to have foretold the coming of Christ. The Qur'an, possibly influenced by Docetic Christianity, denied that Jesus had been crucified, but saw his ascension into heaven as the triumphant affirmation of his prophethood. In a similar way, Muhammad had once mystically ascended to the Throne of God. Jesus would also play a prominent role beside Muhammad in the eschatological drama of the last days.
Someone call New Line Cinema - there's a film here if they want to "get it right." But then that hypothetical film wound have no audience. Who wants to watch ninety-four minutes of well-filmed mutual respect? There's no market for that now.

Posted by Alan at 21:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006 21:13 PST home

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