Eye on the Watcher’s Council

As you may know the members of the Watcher’s Council each nominate one of his or her own posts and one non-Council post for consideration by the whole Council. The complete list of this week’s Council nominations is here. Here’s what the Council members nominated this week.

Dr. Sanity, “CDS—Christianity Derangement Syndrome”

In this week’s submission Pat Santy examines a phenomenon I’ve noticed and been extremely puzzled by for more years than I care to mention: the excessive sensitivity that some people have for expressions of religious sentiment in any form but, in this country, particularly Christian religious sentiment. Whether you call it CDS or Christianophobia or just plain old bigotry, I still find it puzzling.

I once heard a description of kids’ fascination with dinosaurs something like this: “Kids love dinosaurs because they’re very big and very dangerous and very dead.” In other words the combination of tremendous danger with a complete lack of ability to do any harm is pretty irresistible. Imagine, however, the horror at actually finding a Tyrannosaurus Rex in your front garden.

I think that’s pretty much the reason for the excessive reaction and expressions of shock at the presence of religion in the town square: it’s enormously powerful, they thought it was dead, and, yet, here it is walking around. Given this view the reason that these same people are quite willing to give expressions of Islamic faith a pass is that they’re suffering under the misapprehension that there’s no chance whatever that radical Islam can gain any power or do any harm.

I respectfully disagree with this point of Pat’s:

“Islam wherever it exists is trying to impose a theocracy.”

Islam does nothing of the sort. Some Muslims are, indeed, trying to establish theocracies wherever they can. Hundreds of millions (probably) don’t give a damn. Consider this map of freedom from Freedom House. See that patch of freedom in the middle of Africa? That’s Mali, it’s one of the free-est countries in the world and it’s 90% Muslim. Quite a few other of the world’s democracies have substantial Muslim populations. Are there Muslims in those countries interested in establishing theocracies? No doubt. But I don’t see a great deal of evidence that anything other than small minorities there are actively promoting theocracy.

I do agree with Pat that the fears of Christian theocracy and slippery slope arguments we’re hearing from some of our fellow citizens are completely disproportionate.

The Glittering Eye, “Annotations on the Cole Kerfuffle”

In my submission for this week I make a few random observations on the furor over Juan Cole that’s been going on in the blogosphere with a special focus on the futility of searching for moral perfection.

Done With Mirrors, “White House Rules”

Callimachus offers a critique of George Bush’s approach to his office complete with a contrast with Lincoln that, as usual, encapsulates my feelings on the subject pretty well. I’m perhaps a bit more “presumption of innocence” than he.

New World Man, “The Paper of Broken Record”

Matt Barr considers the New York Times coverage of the recent Zarqawi tape (and the bloopers version). I sometimes wonder if the Times folks haven’t confused balance with thesis and antithesis. The failure to consider things in their proper proportion is itself a failure of balance.

The Strata-Sphere, “The 2006 Elections: Kadima II”

AJ Strata compares the situation in this country with the events that led up to the creation of the Kadima party in Israel. There’s a big difference, AJ: Israel is a parliamentary system with a dizzying array of political parties. We’re “winner take all”. I’m afraid that I think that AJ’s political calculus is off. I wish it were otherwise but the deck is stacked here in favor of the two existing major political parties and I believe we’re stuck with them.

Remember what the late Mayor Daley said: “Regardless of how things look right now somebody will, in fact, be elected”.

ShrinkWrapped, “The Singularity & the 12th Imam: Part IV”

ShrinkWrapped considers millennialism both of the technological and religious varieties and I agree that both forms are discomfiting if for rather different reasons. I honestly don’t know what to think about technological millennialism as exemplified by those discussing “The Singularity”—the point at which technological advance becomes so rapid that prediction is impossible (and technological advance itself may become difficult to discern). Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t already reached that point. Recently I’ve read articles by some people wondering about quite the opposite: has technological progress already slowed?

I do know what to think about millennialism as exemplified by Iranian Khomeinist crackpottery, however.

Gates of Vienna, “ Are the Kurds a Steam Valve?”

In a typically excellent essay Dymphna considers the history of the Kurds and their role in Middle Eastern politics today. There are a tremendous number of points she makes in this essay that I’d like to discuss with her at some length. For example, cooperation between the Iraqi Kurds and the Turks (which appears to be getting better), cooperation between the Iraqi Kurds and the Israelis (which stands to reason), and the recent incursion by the Iranians into Iraqi territory in an attack against Kurdish bases in Iraq.

For example, she makes this point:

As always, Kurds make the perfect scapegoat: sturdy, stubborn, indefatigable, and ineradicable. In fact, it should come as no surprise that there is a strong genetic link between the Kurds and the Jews.

I wasn’t aware of this but I’m not a bit surprised. I happen to hold a rather non-PC, non-conformist opinion: that the actual homeland of the Jewish people is in the northwestern part of the Persian Empire of the early Iron Age and that much of the historical chronicles section (including Judges and Chronicles) of the Hebrew Bible are propaganda pieces justifying their being settled on the land that is now Israel by the Persians. However, I believe in dealing with things as they are and the reality is that there have been Jews continually in the land of Israel for more than 2,500 years now (significantly longer than there have been Arabs in any numbers), they’re in control there today, and they aren’t going to be dislodged without a bigger fight than any sane person wants to see happen.

Right Wing Nut House, “The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Open Borders Crowd”

Rick Moran has a fine rant against an open borders policy for the United States and those who favor such a policy. I’m not anti-immigration but I’m resolutely anti-open borders largely for security reasons. This isn’t the 19th century, people. It isn’t even the 20th century anymore. Things have changed not necessarily for the better and all the romanticization of the immigrants of the 19th century or economic sanctimony in the world will change that and it’s time for a radical re-think.

There’s already a consensus among the electorate on this issue; unfortunately, we’re in the control of a cabal of elected officials who disagree bitterly with that consensus for a variety of different reasons. Unless they move either to accede to the will of the people or to persuade them, I continue to fear it will put our political system itself into crisis.

Joshuapundit, “Ahmadinejad’s Letter… a Call to Da’wa”

In this week’s submission Freedom Fighter notes the possibility that the letter from the president of Iran to ours is the warning and exhortation required of pious Muslims before going to war. I’m no authority on this subject but I think that’s as good an explanation as any (that there are any number of counter-examples of this is no refutation).

As I wrote when the translation of the letter first appeared, I don’t know what to make of the list of grievances the letter represents. I see little basis for negotiations there so it’s hard for me to consider the letter as a diplomatic initiative at least in any 21st century understanding of the idea.

The Education Wonks, Leet: The Secret Online Kids Code

EdWonk provides a handy guide to understanding Internet acronyms and lingo used by kids (and others) with the possible intent and likely consequence of baffling their parents. I guess the real messages that need to be conveyed are be a part of your kid’s life but you’re not another kid, you’re the parent.

Rhymes With Right, An American Shame

Greg contrasts the official diplomatic visit of the leader of the People’s Republic of China with the officially ignored visit of the president of Taiwan. The “One China Policy” has been the policy of the United States for, I think, my entire life and I suspect Greg’s, too. I’d grab a different end of this stick: I’m uncomfortable with our presidents cozying up to the thugs that run the PRC. I’m not singling ouT the Chinese. I don’t think our presidents should be too friendly with any autocrats, theocrats, or dictators. Including the Sauds.

The Sundries Shack, A Gitmo Backpedal?

Jimmie Bise puts in his two cents on the disposition of the prisoners at Guantanamo. If anything I’m more extreme than Jimmie is on this issue. I don’t believe that we’ve been interrogating the prisoners there for the last five years, I don’t believe that most of them had any actionable intelligence when they were apprehended let alone now, and I believe that the Administration doesn’t like any of its options, has never wanted to take the heat for doing what it should have done with the prisoners there (either releasing them or trying and executing them), and it wishes the whole thing would just go away.

6 comments… add one
  • Except that it isn’t spelled leet; the correct spelling is 1337.

  • First, supra, re the spot of green you ID as Mali. you forget also Senegal, also overwhelmingly Muslim and with a long tradition of democracy.

    Second, re this claim: “In fact, it should come as no surprise that there is a strong genetic link between the Kurds and the Jews” – what the fuck is this idiot talking about?

    In a prior incarnation I worked for a large Swiss concern on genetic engineering projects – not as a scientist mind you, but I did receive a modicum of education in genetics, and on the side took up a hobby of reading into the primary literature on human genetics.

    Let me first say all such claims of large Ethnic Group X being strongly linked with Y “genetically” are utter bollocks and show complete illiteracy on the part of the claimant. As a general rule, all neighboring ethnic groups show common heritage with their neighbours and all populations show clinal shading into the neighbours – and finally all human populations are pretty much rather closely related (artefact of a series of genetic bottlenecks, rather little regional genetic variation actually).

    Second, I know of no such literature. Certainly, of course, one would not be surprised given the above, and given some Jews from Iraq were Kurds and given Middle Eastern Jews make up a significant percentage of total Jewish population, there would be shared heritage.

    The argument, however, such as it is, is at its heart at once illiterate in terms of the science, and fundamentally under the hood, racist.

    And just when I thought my esteem for the ‘Watchers’ Council’ could sink no lower….

  • Ah yes, and this, that sadly you wrote (leaving aside your theory, which makes no sense):

    However, I believe in dealing with things as they are and the reality is that there have been Jews continually in the land of Israel for more than 2,500 years now (significantly longer than there have been Arabs in any numbers),

    First, I haven’t much use for “our land because of our mythical stories about ourselves and our length of residence” arguments.

    Israel exists, it is, and that is its own justification.

    But that barely merits comment, the statement in re Arabs is idiotic.

    Primo, Arab tribes were in the area of Southern Isreal / Jordan dating at least back to the Petran period – proto Arabic inscriptions have been found in the vicinity and Greek and Roman writing records proto-Arabic or Arabic names. There have been nomadic Arabic speakers in the area then for a rather bloody long time, not just since the Islamic invasion.

    Secundo, the vast majority of “Arabs” in the area are without any doubt the descendants of the pre-Islamic Arab invasion – i.e. the descendants of the various other folks that the Jews shared the area with (as well as later day invaders, etc), as well as converted Jews (converted to either Xianity or Islam). In short, Arabised descendants. It is the height of illogic and indeed illiteracy to adopt the myth based argument “oh the Jews have been there longer than the Arabs” (it also does a subtle disservice to those Jews who are not in fact descendant of peoples resident in the area – converts, etc.).

    In short, it’s an idiotic, illogical, myth-based disservice to both sides at once.

    You should know better.

  • Thanks for bringing me back to facts, Lounsbury.

    The heart of my thought here is, as I wrote, dealing with things as they are now. I, too, am chary of myth-based arguments and every side of the discussion and I do mean every including Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans, and Americans, are relying too highly on myths.

    Of course, the farther back one goes in time the fuzzier the notions of language and ethnicity. My understanding (limited, of course) is that
    the archaeological record including the scanty evidence we have of language distribution going back some thousands of years prior to the Petran period suggests that the closest antecedents of the Hebrew language are from considerably farther north in northern Syria.

    The way I interpret what little evidence we have is that the Middle East has been much as it is now with people speaking a variety of languages including Northwest Semitic, West Semitic, and South Semitic as well as Indo-European languages and languages neither Semitic nor Indo-European (Elamite) for a very long time.

    I guess my usage is poor. My limited understanding is that the extent of South Semitic languages in the pre-Petran period did not extend that far north. And, again with limited understanding, the evidence of Hebrew in the area of Israel in the first part of the first millennium BCE is pretty scanty, too.

    However, there’s evidence for South Semitic languages farther south and the closest relative of Hebrew a lot farther north than Canaan extending a lot farther back than the Petran period.

    But the core of the argument I’m trying however ineffectively to make is that everybody’s ancient claims to the land they’re squabbling over are farfetched and I wish they’d stop arguing about history and start working out a modus vivendi.

  • Your reply is why I read your blog.

    Very fair overall and as clarified I have no issue – above all I absolutely agree with your last paragraph. In effect exactely my point of view.

  • Check out this introduction article on History of the Kurds:
    2.Kurds under the Arabs
    3.Ottoman and Safavid period
    4.Modern history

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