Friday, September 29, 2006

Terror and Terrorism

Everyone uses the word “Terrorism” nowadays, without defining it. Each brandishes the word. reasonable statements can trigger debates that become easily heated.

As each follows their own private Jihad or Crusade, there are calls for the United Nations to urgently work on establishing a precise and legally sound definition of terrorism. But little progress was made so far. Today, there is a different definition for each country or group of countries…

International Law: Where it stands:

International law is a bit confused; with more than 109 definitions of terrorism between 1936 and 1981. Essentially, they can be as simple as defining it as “the equivalent of a war crime during peacetime”, to more elaborate definitions. Internationally, the main ones are:

League of Nations Convention (1937):

"All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public".

UNGA - Res. 51/210 - Measures to eliminate international terrorism (1999):

“1. Strongly condemns all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and by whomsoever committed”

“2. Reiterates that criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them".

There is no formal international consensus on the matter; and the Europeans and Americans each have their own versions, which not necessarily the same.

Consensus on the Terrorist Act

There are some working definitions, to be sure.

There is some agreement that a terrorist act is distinguished by at least three specific qualities; "Violence, whether actual or threatened", "A 'political' objective", and "An intended 'audience'”.

A consensual definition is likely to be along those lines;

Terrorism" becomes "the threat or use of violence with the intent of causing fear in a target group, in order to achieve political objectives"

or

"The threat or actual use of violence to create extreme fear or anxiety in a target group in order to coerce it to meet certain political or quasi-political objectives."

Consensus of the Terrorist Actors

Some categorized terrorist actors by the strength of their association to states:
  1. Without state toleration,
  2. support or sponsorship;
  3. With state toleration, but without state support or sponsorship;
  4. With state support, but without immediate state sponsorship;
  5. With state sponsorship;
  6. States

Limits of the Consensus:

This does not address two important aspects: The actions of terrorists who hide within a civilian population, and the disproportionate responses of states to political or military challenges.

What of hiding within a civilian population? This happened to a large extent in Lebanon, with Hezb hiding within civilian areas. In some cases, they provoked Israeli responses that killed civilians. Which of the proximate or immediate cause matters here?

When a State attacks another: Israel also disproportionately targeted centers that had nothing to do with the attacks. While tactically stupid, this may have been because they that Hezb actions were “acts of war” from one nation against another.

It was a mistake of the Lebanese “majority” to try to placate Hezb and get them involved in government. Production targets such as Jiyeh, and logistics such as Manara and the bridges, would then be within this ugly framework, along the slippery slope.

When a State attacks it own people: here the mass muders at hama and Halabja were trumped by state sovereignty. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo created a precedent, but it was not followed up in Darfur.

The Price of Progress:

International law finds itself catching up to technology, and the spread of human deviant ideologies. We find ourselves in a tragic slippery slope, may be a legacy of the industrial age; ever since Sherman’s march to the sea, civilian centers, production facilities, and logistics are all targets with political or military value.

Maybe that is why there is so much debate about the meaning of Terror; humans can done more damage than in the past. Hassan El-Sabbah’s Assassins were fanatical terrorists, inspired by a dreadful ideology, but with the technology of the time, they were limited to targeting single individuals, and focused mostly on leaders who opposed them.

So who's a terrorist?:

Call it what you want; in the end, the blood will always be spilled in increased quantities; thanks to modern technology, damage can be done cheaply and on a wider scale.

We may have been smart enough to develop the most powerful weapons ever, but we are stupid enough to use them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Tale of Four Arabs

The Arab world is bleeding its best brains. Historically, this is caused by interactions among three types of Arabs:

Arab El-3ezz

عرب العزّ

Gone are the days of Antar bin Abs, Tarek Bin Ziad, Salah Al-Din El-Ayubi… Those truly great men did great deeds, much of it sung in great poetry and prose.

Today, we are left with great wannabes, those Arab El-3ezz whose words are far grander than their deeds. Thanks to the majesty of the Arab language, they can camouflage their shortcomings and the inequities visited upon their people.

They are wasting precious resources in their pursuit of their dreams of grandeur. Or in pursuing other's dreams...

As the defeats pile up, more resources are wasted. Yet the leaders remain and endure; “Thank God! We may have lost the war, and the territory, but we have kept the regime in place”.

To which Kamal Joumblat once replied; “I wish we lost the regime and kept the territory”… He did not live long.

Tahya

Arab El-Hezz

عرب الهِزّ

Ah, joie de vivre!

The French may have invented the word, but the Arabs invented the concept.

Thanks to oil, they are giving it new meaning. To give themselves a good conscience, they placate Arab El-3Ezz, and build grandiose mosques and stuff…

Of course, that leaves little money for the rest.

Arab El-Rezz

عرب الرزّ

Most of the “Arab Masses” basically worry little about their future. They have enough trouble getting over the day; The United Nations' "Arab Human Development Report 2004" points out that:

"The modern Arab state, in the political sense, runs close to this astronomical model, whereby the executive apparatus resembles a ‘black hole,’ which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes".

The people struggle to survive in the face of institutionalized corruption and pervasive “clannism”, which reinforce the black hole phenomenon.

The Palestinians are the most glaring example; the United Nation's report describes how the occupation "continues to violate the individual and collective freedoms of Palestinians". As they find themselves caught between Israeli maximalism and the corruption of own "leaders", many have little choice but to accept handouts from who ever has the dough.

Historically, Lebanon's Shiites find themselves in a similar position. They have moved on since; but the mentality apparently remains, and finds itself reinforced by current events.

In Iraq, the ranks of the poor are also growing; "After dismantling the old state, the US-led authorities made little progress in building a new one".

While Arab el-Hezz are too busy dancing the night away, Arab El-3Ezz are willing to feed and support the masses... And they ask so little in return. Only the odd suicide attack or human shield. Arab El-Rezz are no fools, but they have little choice...

Many of Arab El-Rezz got fed up with the failed dreams of grandeur, or became tired of watching others dance while they go hungry. The people are basically smart, and a little education did wonders. With little chance to use their brains, they had no other option but to leave.

As they escaped from misery, a new group has emerged from “Arab El-Rezz”, a Fourth Type of Arab...

Arab El-Toz

عرب الطُّزّ

Any “Arab El-RezzChildren that survived famines and wars learned and grew. They were mostly educated to start with, and over the years, many easily left the decrepit nest that would not welcome them anymore. They all left with a global sigh of “Toz”… When it comes to expressions of disdain, few languages are as eloquent as Arabic.

The latest census undercounts them. In the United States, the 2000 Census only shows 860,354 Arab Americans, with the largest contingent being Lebanese (394,180), Syrian (129,606), Egyptian (78,574), and Palestinian/Jordanian (68,688). This is a huge undercount, the Lebanese are estimated to be at least 1.5 Million.

Those immigrants form a complex group. Note that many of those who list themselves as “Syrian” actually emigrated from the Syrian Ottoman province of Mount Lebanon. There is a difference between Syria as a geographic name and Syria as a country; note a similar confusion between North America as a country (The United States), and North America as a Continent (The United States and Canada).

The Lebanese are the largest contingent within Arab immigrants and the most undercounted; Lebanon may have up to 15 Million outside the country who cold theoretically claim citizenship.

Most of this population earns a decent living from its hard work, without the need for stipends from either Arab el-Hezz or Arab El-3Ezz, and contributes much to its new home country. Thanks to their skills, many have risen to positions of power, and are key players in today's world.

Back to my point; all those people will be sorely missed, as the Arab world sinks deeper into morass...

Toz” on the "leaders, indeed, and move on...

Before the West changes its Visa policies.

A short Follow-up:

The anger behind some comments and emails is quite understandable. However, the basic facts that I see, and the saddness that I feel remain valid. In the middle of all the destruction, we talk AT one another via demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. Those of us who would rather we resolved the differences by talking TO one another from an EQUAL footing are fed up and are just leaving. The Arab world is loosing its best and brightest...

My tone in this post may seem "harsh" to some, and I made some adjustments to clarify the main message. However, I make no apologies; as Prof. Chibli Mallat put it, Freedom is never having to say 'sorry' for one's words; it is only deeds that count. I personally feel it is time the silent majority raised its voice; there is much need for reflection in our "logocratic" word. While it is true that "fewer words mean fewer Lawsuits", we can ill afford to be silent in this day and age, as the Arab soul withers.

Some may view a dignified/honourable peace as the only sustainable option for all, and that does not make them traitors. Some want war as the only honourable path. To both I point out the need for a plan, or some sort of focus, in either case.

In case of war, we are not equipped for it; Hafez El-Assad once stated that "strategic parity" with Israel in the fields of education, economy, and military; we are far from the count on all. The latest "victory", as it were, was a Phyrric one at best.

In case of peace, our fossilized state-run, ressource-centered economies are ill-equipped to compete with Israel and its diverse economic base. The recovery is made harder over time, as we are losing our best and brightest, who walk away from it all in search for a better future.

The Arab brain is withering away...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Imagine... Lebanon

Imagine there’s no Country

The root of Lebanon’s current problem appears to be that there is no one left to rule the country. In the internal mess the country is in, each man is on his own; within each ministry and security forces, there are separate lines of command and control.

The interior ministry is divided, and the Army left to direct traffic, as each officer tries to consolidate his base. There is even a low level war already brewing among the different factions; witness the recent assassination attempt against the guy in charge of coordinating all the different factions.

I think this is symptomatic of a larger, deeper issue in Lebanon; Lebanon has no government. And this one is the best we’ve ever had since the 1990’s.

I am not even sure that there is a Lebanon anymore.

Nothing to kill or die for?

For some, the problem is all the inconsequent actions of those who claim March 14, for others, it is their lack of spine, or direction, or both. The last hope remains the Diaspora.

It is not exceptional to rely on an outside pressure group. In our case, Syria was kicked out thanks to the tireless pressure of Diaspora lobby groups, coupled with the "softer", but unrelenting effect of all those Lebanese exiles that got Syria out.

But you need an "inside guy" to get Lebanon back in.

And no religion too…

As usual, each to his own; some call themselves March 14, but it is a long time that the people who made March 14 possible disavowed those incompetents. We’re back to the sectarian politics we so despise.

Nasrallah emerges from hiding, flush with his "victory", to herd the Shiites towards Iran, Saad tries to control the unruly Sunnis with Saudi blessing. The Druze are moving to circle the wagons around Walid Beyk. Only the Christians remain leaderless; while Aoun is discredited, Geagea remains a poor substitute.

In the absence of real ledership, the only hope remains the nebulous Diaspora. But it needs an “inside guy” to extert its power. Some thought that inside guy was Aoun; he has proven to be at least a disappointment, at best a betrayal. That guy is a lost cause, no more representative than Geagea; were the head of the LF no so hated, Aboul'Mich would be long gone...

As long as the Diaspora does not have an "inside guy" to give substance to its actions, there will be no Lebanon. And since abhors a vacuum, we have today this odd creature of a government in its stead.

Imagine all the people…

Unnatural beasts, however, cannot last; the country, already very small, is literally falling apart; faced with the prospect of continuing the status quo, or go on their own, many will prefer to go on their own.

This will take either of 2 forms; either they will go to their own "canton", or they will add to the Diaspora.

There could be many triggers, but I do not think too soon; the partners of such a macabre dance will need time to organize in the face of a Hezb on steroids. A tall order indeed; When it comes to number of people, the forces are equally matched, but on the military side, even if they wanted to, how would they train to match Hezb proficiency?

Depending on the logistics, the coming presidential election may either be a trigger, or it may delay matters a little. It would be ironic if those incompetents who rule us were to renew Lahouss’ mandate, unless they agree on some damp squid to replace him.

The current cold war with Hezb may then erupt into a full war.

Sharing All the… Oh, Heck

This new war could have a unique dimension; the other one was sectarian, this one will be even more so, Yugoslavia-style.

Who said humans would stop evolving?

Shiites increasingly identify with the supreme leader… When each “Volk” want their own “Reich” under their own “Führer”, it would turn to be an ugly, genocidal fight.

The UNIFIL, in that case, would only serve to keep the neighbours out while the children kill one another.

Or to keep the conflict from spilling over to the neighbours.

Or to serve as target practice for budding militias…


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The REAL Debate Starts

The Debate Moves Beyond the Ivory Tower

I fear the "real" debate has only started. Not the one the may have pope intended; this one will be far from the ivory towers of academia.

The pope's remarks form an excellent alibi to motivate the masses. I would suggest investing in plastic keys futures; they are making a comeback.

As Hussein Nasrallah gears up for his great Reichsparteitag, Ali Khamenei started laying the groundwork. The Vali F... blasted the pope, and revealed that his "remarks against Islam are a dictat that the Zionists and the Americans have written (for him) and have submitted to him".

This will help motivate the troops; it is not a war to protect a couple of nuclear reactors, but a Jihad to save Islam. Onward Moslem Soldiers...

On their side, the French are making signs that the UNIFIL is not so FINUL; this time around, it means business. They got the Chinese in, and some russians; this may ensure that Hezb cannot use its top weapons, supplied by Russia and China, against UNIFIL...

More importantly, Turkey will also be contributing troops; not that I relish a return of the Ottomans, but their corner of the Empire has already taugh Syria a lesson in power, and still holds the key to much of its resources. Iran would also want to play nice with them...

In Praise of Cojones...

Still, all this maneuvering will not enough; let us hope that they really understand what they are doing, and are really willing to pay the price.

If they think that they can "avoid clashes [...] by demonstrating" strength, they have another thing coming. Those who are not cowed by Merkavas will not be impressed by Leclerck. And remember; when you face a man who does not shy from sacrificing his own son, you better have some brass cojones.

As their own sons deply in the line of fire, the West's resolve will soon be put to the test.


Iraq or Munich?

Hezb may already be in trouble; Aoun is already moving away from his "partners", back to his initial position... Nasrallah should have known better; if the Aoun's own supporters cannot rely on him, how could he?

In the short term, much will be clarified in Hezb's Rally; Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, will set the tone for the rest of the campaign... They can either move for political gain, or put their advantage further.

In the long term, any durable quiet will depend on the Israeli-Palestinian glacier. Let us hope it starts to melt...

At best, we could be moving, much like Iraq, towards a Geo-Civil War; looking back at this war's onset, we can still see little difference in each player's relative position. I did not much like the last one, and even less what crawled out of it...


At worst, Munich. The Beni-OuiOui's who claim to rule Lebanon could easily knowtow and make a deal, raising the share of the Mullahs. Much depends on Brammertz' work.. In this case, Hezb's coup d'etat would really have succeeded.

This is not too farp-fetched; we do owe the current mess to their brilliant election strategy, back in '05, when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory...
ِ

يِلّي بيشريك بيرجع ببيعك

As far as Hezb is concerned, this may not be a "Lebanese" decision to make; much will depends on Iran's planning horizon. Bear in mind that The Vali Faqih has not been forking out more than USD 500 Million, each year, just for Metwalis' beautiful eyes...

And do not expect the Israelis to help; are they confused? or simply duplicitous?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Byzantines to the Rescue

Lebanon is all but destroyed, our economy ruined. As our army struggles in the face of renewed terror attacks, Hezb continues pulling us towards a renewed civil war

Yet many worthies have decided that we needed another Byzantine debate.

OK, Let's Have it

I note that all the worthies “pile it” on the pope, without really reading what he said.

It is true that logic is not their forte. Still, I expected a more learned response from Mr. Hussein Fadlallah, instead of his asking for excuses for self-perceived slights.

Of course, Hezb followers are justified in targeting civilians, or using them as shields. Amnesty International really supports Israel.

This entire mental gymnastics is beyond me...

What the pope Said (Mainly):

He essentially made the case that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”. Bold words indeed.

He based his argumentation on a marginal aspect of a “dialogue” written by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos during the siege of Constantinople, between 1394 and 1402. The dialogue dealt with “the relationship of the ‘three Laws’: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an”, and touched on “the issue of ‘faith and reason’.

The pope essentially focused on the “central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general”, and stated that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul” and that "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature”.

He also pointed out that, since “Faith is born of the soul, not the body […], to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

He then added that, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature”. This, for a person “shaped by Greek philosophy”, is a “self-evident” statement.

So far, so good. Unless you expect the two kidnapped Fox News journalists to start fasting on Ramadan.

The problem, for many, starts when the pope points out that, for “for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent”. This is true of many modern teachings, who follow the line of “Ibn Hazn [who] went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us”. Logically, it follows that, “were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”

What else is the cult of Khomeiny and his Velayati Faqih, Nasrallah and the resistance weapons, or Ben Laden and his Jihad?

To be sure, Lebanese Christians have Aoun, Bashir Gemayel… Many Americans have Jerry Falwel... Few can accept that you question their idols.

But even fewer blow up others.

Well, not Exactly All he Said; the "Side" issue...

A fellow blogger, EngineeringChange pointed to my attention a grievous omission that I made in this post; I did not "mention all of what he said and specifically the part that [was viewed as] insulting to Muslims". I stand corrected on the exact facts.

What the pope said, verbatim, is that Paleologos, during his dialogue turned "to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached'".

However, we should note that the pope was drawing a contrast here, and setting the stage for a debate; he does clearly acknowlege that the "The emperor [...] expressed himself so forcefully" as a rethoric move. In a university setting, all ideas are exposed as they are, with no self-censorship; the pope was using this to "serve as the starting-point for [his] reflections on this issue".

The main issue remains; the pope's main contention was the value of "Reason", or "logos" (the word comes up 46 times in his speech), and the elaborate reflection leads to the main issue that "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”.

Picking up a fight with the pope of the subject of quoting Paleologos is a side issue, in my modest opinion. They are attempting to change the topic, and the autodafes of old are not far away.

Voltaire had the best answer to censorship of any kind; "Vous proférez, Monsieur, des sottises énormes, Mais jusques à la mort, je me battrais pour qu'on Vous les laissât tenir".

An Inter-Faith Dialogue?

I agree with those who consider that “interfaith dialogue is a waste of time”. You choose to believe what you want, and you leave others out of it...

To be sure, proponents of such a dialogue make some good arguments, some based on the work of Tarik Ramadan. Here are the best arguments, posted by fellow bloggers, who outline Ramadan’s four essential rules for inter-faith dialogue;

1. Recognition of the legitimacy of each other's convictions and respect for them.

2. Listening to what people say about their own scriptural sources and not what we understand (or want to understand) from them.

3. The right, in the name of trust and respect, to ask all possible questions, sometimes even the most embarrassing.

4. The practice of self-criticism, which consists of knowing how to discern the difference between what the texts say and what our coreligionists make of them, and deciding clearly what our personal position is.

More Like an Intra-faith soul-searching

I feel that those "rules", though laudable, are essentially flawed, for three reasons;

First, a “true believer" cannot accept "Recognition of the legitimacy of each other's convictions". He cannot "respect" them, since he still has to proselytize.

A true believer can still respect the other's right to have beliefs, as long as they are open to attack; if I think I will be saved and not you, then I already have you pegged as an inferior...

This is especially the case for "Missionary Religions", such as Christianity, Islam, and to a far lesser extent, Buddhism... Buddhists have yet to carry out an inquisition and blow up buildings, they'd rather burn themselves. Hint to martyrdom candidates...

Second, "listening to what people say about their own scriptural sources" sounds like a worthy goal. But it is not necessarily objective. In a fact-based debate, such as science, hard evidence is necessary.

Otherwise, the debate remains a mere exercise in rhetoric, in the sense that it would be limited to using language effectively to please or subdue (mentally), not persuade, with high-flown style, excessive use of verbal ornamentation, "the grandiosity of his prose", and "an excessive ornateness of language"… All noticeably common in the Arabic media and public debates; we hide behind our beautiful Arabic language to avoid addressing real issues. Much like the Lebanese National "Dialogue"...

Facts and hard evidence, to be sure, are anathema to many a “true believer”.

Another problem is the concept of "reciprocity", a key element for missionary religions such as Christianity and Islam: Essentially, it means "acess" to one another's followers for attempts at conversions.

In this respect, the Pope and the Catholic church certainly have a point when they consider "that a meaningful dialogue with the Muslim world is not possible while Christians are denied religious freedom in Muslim states". And so is the case for Jews, Hindus, Baha'is, Zoroastrians who are not trying to "access" any one... Even Moslems such as Ahmadis are denied rights in "mainstream" Islamic countries.

Or even journalists for that matter.

Third, Inter-faith debate assumes that all religions are well established, monolithic schools of though.

This is not true; not only are there key differences in the sacred texts and in the way they view them, there are key interpretation and thus differences within them.

Each remains an evolving religion, with much Intra-faith debate.

Mainstream Christianity: Inspired Texts, not Revealed

To some extent, Christianity has overcome its early hang-ups, and was effectively able to deal with “revelations” such as the Essenes’ Dead Sea Srolls, or Gnostic challenges posed by the “Gospel of Judas”.

This was essentially done when mainstream Christians accepted the Bible and the Gospels as an "inspired" document, not a "reveled" authority.

Extreme Christianity: Revealed Texts. Period

On the other hand, there still are those who take the bible literally, along the Creationist spectrum; witness the creationist debates, and George Bush's support for that litteralist view which ignores scientific fact.

Evolution, as a theory, has not been completely demonstrated, but there is no other scientific theory so far. None. Intelligent Design is not a valid scientific theory. It is “not even wrong”; there is nothing intelligent about an appendix whose sole feature is to cause appendicitis.

Witness, more dangerously the "end of day" Chrisitians who are trying to read in real current events, the predictions of the Apocalypse. Some even hope to provoke them, thus giving God a helping hand.

In any case, that’s another holy war, for another day. It already took us too many innocent victims to get here; only now are protestants and catholics able to bury the hatchet, as in Ireland. Then again, maybe.

Modern Islam: A Revealed Text, not merely Inspired

Modern Islam gives the Qur'an "revelation" authority, not "inspired". This distinction seems to have been made after the passing of the prophet, Muhammad bin Abdel-Muttalib Ben-Abdallah, peace be upon him.

Some moslems may yet move to viewing the Qur’an as "inspired", by relying on historical facts. But the "mainstream" is too well funded.

The historical fact is that "Qira'a" was first memorized. In ancient Arabic and Hebrew, the word “Qira’a” did not mean reading from a text, but rather “reading” the “words” of God that were “inspired” to the prophet. It is a fact that modern Islamic scholars misinterpret the meaning of that word, and ignore its semantic origin. Literate people did not write back then; they memorized.

Can you imagine a bedouin lugging books along with him? They just remembered them. This is how Arabic poetry was transmitted through the ages. And this is how most of it got lost; the memorizers would get killed...

As too many of the “memorizers” got killed in the battles, it was decided to write it all down, in a gathering of the “readings”, a "Qur'an".

The Hebrew bible went through a similar process, but over a longer period of time, where the “readings” of the many prophets were all gathered in a written document. This did not please other “prophets” of the day.

As the "Qur'an" was "collected", one “version” was assembled and other “versions” destroyed; this created a single written source… There was also a later process in which the “Qur’an” was "hurrik", essentially adding vowels and punctuations; Semitic alphabets have none.

The “Qur’an”, therefore, evolved over time, much as the Bible did. But its interpretations are fixed in time. Assuming, as modern moslems do, that the present version is still the same as the prophet's original "Qira'a" requires that all those "memorizers", "reciters", "collectors", and "hurrikers" were somehow guided by the hand of God.

Much like the prophet. But he was the last one, according to Islam...

The Pope hinted at such an evolution when he commented on Surah 2: 256, which reads: "There is no compulsion in religion"; he described it “one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat”.

All such talk is anathema to modern Wahabis and their Shiite fundamentalist imitators. They are waging a campaign against Islam's past, trying to reclaim it and start a brave new world of their own; even the Prophet's home is not sacred to those modern vandals.

The war agaisnt religion is not confined to the West, but in the Arab world, it hides under the mantle of a sinister fundamentalism.

In Lebanon, it seems that the Sunni Mufti Kabbani and Shiite Cleric Fadlallah are siding in this camp. Which reminds me; at the funeral of Rafic Hariri, wasn't the Sunni Mufti late to show up? I recall the Maronite Patriarch dared to show up, and found himself there first... This would be significant in the sense that it would mean Kabbani was in the Syrian/Iranian political camp from the beginning.

Sometimes, there really are connections.

Ancient Islam: A Revealed Text, Written by Man, Interpreted by Reason.

Such discussions may be anathema today, but they were commonplace in ancient times, during the Arabic golden age.

Philosophers in Andalus and Baghdad were pondering issues of faith based on an empirical understanding of the world. The Andalusian Abu Al-Walid Mohammad Ibn-Rushd, in his "Tahufut al-Tahafut", had clearly demonstrated the supreme value of Reason over Revelation. Thus, "when revelation entered into contradiction with reason as constituted by the philosophers, it must be reinterpreted until that contradiction was resolved"...

I am not sure what would have happened had the Pope quoted Ibn-Rushd.

In Lebanon, he Shiite Mufti of Tyre, Syed Ali El-Amin, may fall in this camp; he called for an objective examination of the pope's comments, away from the passions of the street.

It is tragic that, having once saved the great texts of Greek philosophy, expanded on it, and used them to enrich Islamic though, the Arabs today are now rejecting the lot. Welcome to the Dark Ages.

In Praise of Ancient Greek

All interfaith debates should be carried out Ancient Greek. This language is supremely adapted to such “intellectual masturbation”. There is cure for that ailment, but for those who insist on such a worthy activity, Ancient Greek has some of the most convoluted double-uses for words…

Many Christian concepts cannot be understood outside ancient Greek.

John the evangelist demonstrates this unique feature when he stated that “In the beginning was the word, and the word is God”. The word he actually used was the Greek “logos”, which means both a “reason” which is “creative and capable of self-communication” and “word”, a “a unit of language”. In John, God acts with “logos”, and Jesus is the personification of that “logos”… This was the main crux of the pope's discussion.

The Druze have a similar concept, the Akl, apparently evolved from the “logos”. But while their texts are in Arabic, they have the wisdom of letting only the “learned” deal with such matters, and keep religion away from the “Ignorant” masses… The "learned" also pray in your stead, so you're off the hook. No, they do not accept converts.

So, if the debate persists in Ancient Greek, no one will understand what is going on, and the ignorant masses will keep on wallowing in their ignorance. Basically, they can focus on menial tasks, like being happy.

In praise of Chickens

Instead of pursuing the debate further, the pope appears to have somewhat backtracked at first glance; “The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers".

But the pope's official statement on the issue is far more subtle. I think that the official statement will not be accepted as an apology; in our modern dark age, few moslems can accept "certain passages of [the pope] address [...] should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions".

In Lebanon, Fundamentalists relish the opportunity to pick a fight that distracts from the real issues. In Pakistan, it allows them to hit back at the anti-Taliban campaing next door, and maybe win a few more votes. In Iraq, well, you know... Iran... And so on...

In this game of chicken, they will push further. And they play rough. And they listen little; what is mine is mine, what is yours is negotiable... This is not about debate, it is about power, and about changing the subject. Pay no attention to the guy behind the curtain...

Needless to say, any conciliatory moves will be perceived as weakness. More churches will burn, and more Mosques will burn. More innocents will get killed in medieval style. You would think that, if God had ennemies, he could easily kill them. Better yet, make sure they are not even born...

But the Mullahs know better; didn't they draft Him in their party?

It is time the civilized world confronted fanatics of all stripes in the battlefields of minds, rather than watch helplessly as they put the "fun" back in "fundamentalism"; stonings, behadings, amputations will continue unabated.

Thanks to all your SUV's and the oil money they derive, Sunni Moslems are today the hostage of a backward wahabi doctrine, Shiites are under the thumb of a middle-age style Iranian revival. Both are well funded, and easily push aside other interpretations.

The Inquisition is not over; it has just changed sides. They changed red for black. They call themselves mullahs and Syeds now... They upgraded torture techniques, and use electricity. No wonder Iran needs all that Nuclear energy for electric power.

They also have support in the west, thanks to anti-clerical, dogmatic left-wingers who have no grasp of deeper issues, and who are still smarting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. They also have on their side a few Catholics with a guilty conscience. Get over it, guys; you cannot change the past, but you can work on the present... And hope for the future.

Critics of the pope, like Fadlallah, forget that their own great Khomeiny considered that there "are eleven things which are impure: urine, excrement, sperm, bones, blood, dogs, pigs, non-Moslem men and women, wine, beer, and the sweat of the garbage-eating camel". It is time the world asked for some reciprocity; Khomeiny said those words when he was a refugee in France, at Nauphle-le-Chateau. He then lived to rule Iran. No "fatwa" came after him.

Today, reason's only hope may be, paradoxically, in the West; Arabs saved Western Civilization. It is time The West returned the favour, for its own sake.

It is only at this price that Islam could be saved from the current wave of what is called "Islamism"... And if it took an outsider to rekindle the debate, it is because the main people concerned are cowed into submission, unable to do much. Or too imbued in their own victimhood.

And do not say "George Bush"; he has only 2 years to go, unlike many other despots who keep changing the subject to remain in power...

An update (Sept. 16, 2006):

For more perspective on the debate; for those who read French, check out the insightful piece by Samir Khalil Samir on l'Orient-Le Jour.

I feel that The pope's satement, as I saw them on the BBC, were a masterpiece; conciliatory, but not an apology for something only his critics read in his statement, and that the media blew out of proportion.

Now the media is misquoting the pope again; they state that he was "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of [his] address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims", and reiterated that they "were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express [his] personal thought".

And the BBC can title: "Pope sorry for offending Muslims". After misquoting him earlier, they misquote him again; the fat is he said he "I regret the violence"; that's not "sorry". Jesuits...

In this day of Political Correctness, soundbites, and one-liners, watching the news becomes a chore. It suited them to fan the flames, it suits them now to help extinguish them... after all, on ne parle pas des trains qui arrivent a l'heure, and they have to maintain ratings...

I would love to see this motley crew report news in Iran or Saudi Arabia; they would not last a year... Then again, they may learn to K.S.A. very quickly.

The media must have realized that the assertiveness of Benedict XVI has nothing to do with the war-mongering of Urbain II. This time, they spin his words as an apology, thus leaving Islamic fundamentalists with little room for maneuver.

What the pope said should be enough to appease (sic) "leaders" who tried to earn political kudos among an ignorant populace, but it will likely be refused by extremists, who picked up the fight to begin with. The Maronite Patriarch understood as much, when he expressed "sorrow about the reactions in the Islamic world", and clearly reminded his listeners that the pope had been misunderstood.

When more attacks come, and they will, fundamentalist will find a less complacent Western media. But that would not stop them; even with less formal support from mainstream leaders, they will do something.

They only need an excuse; if there is none, they will make one. This is actually quite smart; if you want to start a war, choose excuses you can live with... And convince others to die for.

The Mufti of Tyre is very lonely in his courage (Sept. 18/19, 2006)

Now it is going to get lonelier for the Mufti; Hussein Nasrallah is calling for a "massive rally" in Dahyeh. No doubt more braying masses will add to the scholarly debate...

Velayati F... indeed.

This will actually confirm that the issue is beyond the pope's statements... Still, if the Pope's goal was as nefarious as the fundamentalists pretend, why would they prove his point? pick another issue for a fight.

In Israel, the issue is poorly debated, in spite of the presence of many insightful scholars with a direct stake in this. The Jerusalem Post has a good piece on this, though a bit self-centered.

In Germany, however, the debate is apparently more robust; Der Spiegel has an interesting interview that hints that the Church is not backing down. Rather, it wants a real debate on the matter.

Al-Jazeera, known widely for its consistency and objectivity, has weighted in with a rather tongue-in-cheek cartoon, which has been followed up on some blogs. The odd thing about it, is that when I showed up there to to "spontaneously" demonstrate and "accidentally" burn the offices of Al-Jazeera, but I found muself alone with my Jerrycan. It is a shame no one got the memo. No one ever does...

Talk in the wider world still consists of braying... same hatred, different target.

Freedom is never having to say 'sorry' (Sept. 20 & 26, 2006)

Dan Rabinowitz has a very good opinion piece in Haaretz, in which he laments that "the pope forgot that the present era is 'logocratic', [...] in which life or death are determined by labels, [...] and where there is no longer a chance for complex messages".

This point is confirmed by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, who also points out the need for exegesis, or "criticism of Scripture"; in Islam, much of it stopped within about 300 years. As a result, "The lack of critical interpretation of Qur’an, the lack of hermeneutics, is the problem".

I will give the final word on this thread to Prof. Chibly Mallat, in his excellent and courageous opinion piece in the Daily Star. He concludes with:

"... But even if the quote was inappropriate, critics should be satisfied with discussing it, and strongly disagreeing if need be. Demanding an apology was unnecessary."

"Beyond the quote chosen by Benedict, there is a more tragic dimension at play, one that concerns the fate of Christians in the Middle East. For the past half-century, the region's Christians have been increasingly threatened by a specific type of religious intolerance supported by extremists in the Muslim and Jewish communities..."

Still, I remain hopeful this is a step forward in some sort of dialogue, albeit a hard step". At the very least, each one's position will be well demarcated as a result.