Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Anti-GOP Protest Sign of the Day

"Founded, grown and sustained by mass extermination the USA and peace are a fundamental contradiction. This criminal terrorist government will never be reformed by voting. It must be abolished through REVOLUTION!"

War Sketches

David Brooks has an intriguing piece in this Sunday's NYT Mag about "How to Reinvent the G.O.P." I like the historical perspective of it, and heartily approve of the idea of basing the party's identity on Hamilton.

Along the way, he outlines a "New Conservative Platform," the first element of which is "The War on Islamic extremism." This short section seems to me a good summation of the essential nature of our enemy, and a sensible account of what we've learned so far from successes and failures:

The first great agenda item has been thrust upon us. This has been miscast as a war on terror, but terror is just the means our enemies use. In reality, we're fighting a war against a specific brand of Islamic extremism, a loose federation of ideologues who seek to dominate the Middle East and return it to the days of the caliphate.

We are in the beginning of this war, where we were against Bolshevism around 1905 or Fascism in the early 1930's, with enemies that will continue to gain strength, thanks to the demographic bulge in the Middle East producing tens of millions of young men, politically and economically stagnant societies ensuring these young men have nothing positive to do and an indoctrination system designed to turn them into soldiers for the cause. This fight will organize our politics for a generation, as the Cold War did.

The first task is to build a new set of strong federal and multinational institutions to defeat this foe. Obviously the intelligence community needs to be reorganized. The military needs to be bulked up, and public diplomacy needs to be rethought. Somebody has to develop a counterideological message that is more than just: "We're Americans. We're really decent people. We're nice to Muslims."

We need to strengthen nation-states. The great menace of the 20th century was overbearing and tyrannical governments. The great menace of the 21st century will be failed governments, because those are the places where our enemies will be able to harbor and thrive, where violence can nurture and grow, where life is nasty, brutish and short.

We are going to have to construct a multilateral nation-building apparatus so that each time a nation-building moment comes along, we don't have to patch one together ad hoc. In the 1990's we thought free markets were the first things new nations needed to thrive and grow. Now we know that law and order is the first thing they need. We are going to have to construct new institutions to help nations develop rule of law within their boundaries, for if that is not accomplished, all the economic development in the world will not help.

More on Atefeh Rajabi

This piece has some eyewitness accounts and a lot of comments from people in the town. The contradictory accounts of her character given by her neighbors I think strengthen, rather than weaken, the notion that, sadly, the story is true.

A pharmacist, whose shop is not far away from the Railway Square, where Atefeh was hanged, recalls her final, painful hour. “When agents of the State Security Forces brought her to the gallows, I felt cold sweat running down my back. She looked so young and innocent, standing there in the middle of all these bearded men in military fatigues. Judge Reza’i must have felt a personal grudge against her. He put the rope around her neck and left her dangling on the gallows for 45 minutes. I looked around and everyone in the crowd was sobbing and damning the mullahs for doing this to our young people.”

A couple of days ago, Alasdair Palmer at the Telegraph damns the lack of attention to this story in the Western media and the double-standard it implies.

That disgraceful and disgusting "punishment" has excited a great deal of condemnation in Iran among the reformists. As far as I can see, it has not produced any comment here. Amnesty International issued a statement expressing outrage at the execution (the tenth of a child in Iran since 1990) - but no British newspaper or television station has reported this.

Why not? The two extremes of pro- and anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain are now united in not expecting even the most minimal ethical standards from Islamic countries such as Iran: the pros because they think that Islamic laws should not be criticised for fear of giving offence; the antis because they think all Muslims are just a bunch of irredeemable barbarians.

Those two extreme views have infected media coverage. What would be headline news if it happened in America (can you imagine the response if a 16-year-old girl was executed for having sex in Texas?) is, because it happens in an Islamic state, apparently too banal to count.

That attitude guarantees that more children will suffer Atefeh's fate. Of course, it suits our Government -- which is pushing for greater trade links with our new-found ally, Iran -- just fine if people think that criticism of Islamic judges is inappropriate because standards are different. But respecting Islam does not require accepting the judicial murder of 16-year-olds (or indeed anyone, of any age) for having sex. That's wrong wherever it happens. We need a Government, and a press, that says so. [emphasis added]

I Don't Think You Can Win It

"I don't think you can win it," Buth replied. "But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

So what's so hard to understand about that? If there's one thing War-on-Terrorism supporters and anti-war activists agree upon, it's that this isn't like any other war. It defies our common image of war. It involves both a military effort and a building up of some of the world's most forlorn regions, so that decent people don't turn to the awful last resort of terror.

It will be fought differently, and victory won't be something you measure by History Channel standards. There will be no Army divisions parading under the Arc d'Triumph, no U.S.S. Missouri sailing into Tokyo harbor, no handshake on the Elbe, no scribbling at Versailles, no Berlin Wall ripped apart into concrete dust and rusty rebar.

But this is an election year, and so Bush spent the next day explaining what he meant. To a veterans' group: "It's a different type of war. We may never sit down at a peace table, but make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win."

And on talk radio: "Listen, I should have made my point more clear about what I meant. What I meant was, was that this is not a conventional war. It is a different kind of war. I probably needed to be a little more articulate."

Forget it. The remark is beyond recall, and it's gone stomping off like an Al Frankenstein's monster in the Kerry camp: Bush, the gung-ho trigger-happy unilateralist cowboy, also is a defeatist!

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer derided Bush's latest remarks.

"What today showed is that George Bush might be able to give a speech saying he can win the war on terror. But he's clearly got real doubts about his ability to do so and for good reason," Singer said.

Consistency? Common sense? Forget it! This is the Anybody-But-Bush age.

The Reuters headline today is, "Bush Reverses Himself, Says Terror War Can Be Won". That seems to me disingenuous. When big media correct themselves, they are careful to distinguish between "correction" and "clarification." A correction is a "We were wrong." A clarification is, "we said what we meant to say, but it could have been said more completely or more clearly."

What Bush said in regards to his earlier remark clearly was a clarification, not a correction. It certainly wasn't a "reversal." If he had said, "we will lose," and he says now, "we will win," that's a reversal. But it just makes a so much more jucier anti-Bush headline to write "Reverses."

Anti-War Protester Quote of the Day

From Texas delegation greeted by pig protesters, published by Scripps Howard News Service:

"The delegates aren't well-informed on the issues," said Jodie Evans of Los Angeles. She said the groups were protesting to educate delegates about Halliburton's involvement in the war and said that Iraqis should be hired to help rebuild the country. "Iraq was an amazing country," she said. "And they basically destroyed it."

Sympathy for the Devil

The Democrats in my newsroom (OK, that's a redundancy) rejoiced yesterday that Ralph Nader was bumped from the ballot here in Pennsylvania. They pronounced his failure a triumph of the democratic process, based on the simple fact that his ballot petition didn't have enough legal signatures. "If he played by the rules, he would have been allowed to run," is how one put it (emphatically enough for me to hear across the room). It was as simple as that.

But wait, not it wasn't.

Kerry-backers had challenged Nader's signatures, and it looked like they were going to bump him on that basis alone. But that wasn't what the three-judge Commonwealth Court panel ruled yesterday.

It said Nader could not run as an independent because he had filed to run on the Reform Party ticket in Michigan.

The challengers celebrated anyway. As long as Ralph's off the machines, that's a good outcome, right?

Well, it depends if your commitment is to "democracy" with a big D or a little D. Nader's attorney in the case pointed out that the statute which the judges relied on for their ruling was misapplied here. It was meant to prevent candidates for most Pennsylvania offices from cross-filing in more than one party.

[The relevant clause of the state election code seems to be this one: "Each candidate for any State, county, city, borough, incorporated town, township, ward, school district, poor district, election district, party office, party delegate or alternate, or for the office of United States Senator or Representative in Congress, shall file with his nomination petition his affidavit stating ... (f) unless he is a candidate for judge of a court of common pleas, the Philadelphia Municipal Court or the Traffic Court of Philadelphia, or for the office of school director in a district where that office is elective or for the office of justice of the peace that he is not a candidate for nomination for the same office of any party other than the one designated in such petition; ...." (emphasis added)]

This sudden re-interpretation has national consequences. In 2000, when Nader ran in 43 states and in the District of Columbia, his party affiliation was listed in 13 different ways. The convolutions necessary for a non-two-party candidate to offer him or herself to voters in all 50 states all but require such a byzantine effort. But now even that won't be enough.

The Pennsylvania case wasn't a victory for the legitimacy of the electoral process. It wasn't a boon to the voters. It was a victory for the continued domination of the two-party system, putting any reasonably hope of success by any outside candidate all but out of reach.

Inverted Pyramid

Today's sickening suicide bombing story, as it could have been written. The same elements from the Reuters story (with one graph from AP), stacked up a different way. After the "Five W" writing, what decision-making process determines the juxtaposition of facts? Who decides? Based on what?

Palestinian suicide bombers killed at least 16 people in simultaneous attacks on two Israeli buses.

The Islamist group Hamas, sworn to destroy Israel itself, claimed responsibility for the new attacks.

Tuesday's blasts gutted the buses and scattered bloodied remains. Many of the passengers were leaving a market.

"I saw horrible sights. Two bodies were hanging from a window," rescue worker Moshe Zikstein told Reuters.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza City in joyful celebrations after the bombings. Muslim leaders praised the "heroic operation" — a phrase referring to suicide bombings — over mosque loudspeakers.

The bombers came from the nearby West Bank city of Hebron. Israeli officials said the unfinished section of the barrier near Hebron underlined the urgency of finishing its construction to keep out such attackers.

Israel says the 120 miles of its barrier erected so far have thwarted dozens of would-be bomber infiltrations into its densely populated north and coastal regions.

But sections between Jerusalem and Hebron have been held up by an Israeli court order that they be rerouted to avoid cutting off Palestinians from their farmlands.

The World Court has ruled the entire barrier illegal.

Earlier in the day, Sharon had set out a timetable for steps toward pulling 8,000 Jewish settlers out of Gaza. He said a draft bill establishing rules for compensating uprooted Jewish settlers would be put to his cabinet by Sept. 26.

Israeli soldiers at a Gaza border terminal captured a would-be suicide bomber on Tuesday who was wearing a new form of explosives belt hidden in his underwear, the army said.

Hamas said Tuesday's attack was vengeance for Israel's assassination of two top leaders in helicopter missile strikes soon after two suicide bombers hit the port of Ashdod nearly 6 months ago.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, visiting Egypt, officially bemoaned the bombings.

If the definition of "conservative" ...

... is, as was revealed to me this weekend, "one who supports the war to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein," should the definition of "liberal" also not be re-defined, in the 2004 American political lexicon, as "one who wishes the Iraqi people had remained enslaved to a fascist tyrant and his two psychopathic sons"? That's a shame. I don't recognize Jefferson or Wilson or Eleanor Roosevelt or Bobby Kennedy in that "liberalism."

Alternate Quote of the Day

From Ron Silver:

"Even though I am a well-recognized liberal on many issues confronting our society today, I find it ironic that many human rights advocates and outspoken members of my own entertainment community are often on the front lines to protest repression, for which I applaud them, but they are usually the first ones to oppose any use of force to take care of these horrors that they catalogue repeatedly."

Ignorance as an Excuse

I know Bush is supposed to be The Dumb One, but consider this.

In 1971, John Kerry, back from Vietnam, was accusing U.S. troops of widespread atrocities in Vietnam, of "crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." He was saying that "war crimes in Vietnam are the rule, not the exception." On June 30, he finally faced his rival, John O’Neill, who had commanded the same Swift boat during the Vietnam War that John Kerry did.

They debated on "The Dick Cavett Show." It wasn't much of a contest: the suave Ivy Leaguer had been trained in the art of debate since he was 14, and his opponent was an angry physically wounded man with a Navy Academy degree, wearing "the only suit I had," a less-than-suave blue serge number over white socks.

At first, when O'Neill asked Kerry whether he had participated or seen atrocities first-hand, Kerry put up a smokescreen of cant then shifted the topic from himself to the U.S. government without answering:

"On the question of war crimes, it is really only with the utmost consideration that we pose this question. I don't think that any man comes back to say that he raped, or to say that he burned a village, or to say that he wantonly destroyed crops or something for pleasure. I think he does it at the risk of certain kinds of punishment, at the risks of injuring his own character, which he has to live with, at the risk of the loss of family and friends as a result of it. But he does it because he believes intensely that people have got to be educated about the devastation of this war. We thought we were a moral country, yes, but we are now engaged in the most rampant bombing in the history of mankind."

Again and again, the question was asked. "Kerry stuck to his script." But he went so far as to say this:

"I personally didn't see personal atrocities in the sense I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that," Kerry said. "However, I did take part in free-fire zones, I did take part in harassment and interdiction fire, I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground. And all of these acts, I find out later on, are contrary to the Hague and Geneva conventions and to the laws of warfare. So in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg Principles, is in fact guilty. But we are not trying to find war criminals. That is not our purpose. It never has been." [Emphasis added]

"I find out later on"? Kerry has since backed off, in a general way, the more forceful things he said in those years. I don't know if this quote is inculded in that. But how can it be that this Ivy League graduate didn't know that shooting up sampans and wrecking villages for no good reason wasn't a violation of something? Had he ever heard of the Geneva accords? And who was it, "later," who filled him in on his unfortunate knowledge gap?

I bet Bush, getting his teeth cleaned in Alabama, knew about that.

You have to wonder about such things when a self-proclaimed war criminal runs for president as a self-proclaimed hero in a war that most of his backers who were alive at the time loathed and mocked as unjust and unconscionable.

Defining Vietnam

So what was Vietnam, anyhow?

I'm not asking for my sake. I know how I see it: a big campaign in the long Cold War -- someday to be known as World War III. A failed campaign, in the end, in what was, in the end, a winning war. Like the Spartans at Sphacteria, like Grant at Cold Harbor, like the Aussies at Gallipoli. As brutal as Korea, but far more damaging at home because of its coincidence with a worldwide youth rebellion, new media mentalities and technologies, general American discontent, and fractures surfacing via the Civil Rights Movement.

Rather, I'd like to ask the Democrats I work alongside, and those I'm related to: what was Vietnam?

A just war now, a good cause, after 40 years of telling us it was the worst example of America's barbaric militarism? If so, why nominate a self-professed war criminal from that era as our next leader? And why let him run his campaign so largely based on his military service?

It all seems odd to me, because when the same people wish to cast the most damning epithets at the war for Iraq's liberation, they use the terminology of Vietnam.

But I've stopped expecting any coherence from the anti-Bush party. Gods know the Republicans are full of contradictions. But generally their view of history jibes with their present policies. In the Democratic brain, the view of Vietnam is irreconcilable with sanity, but it serves a reactionary mentality that will see black as white as black again depending in which does the most damage. Just like Michael Moore's view of modern American soldiers: innocent boys, the underclass dupes of the recruiters in one scene, and merciless murderers in the next.

One of my co-workers is a 50-something, who in the Vietnam era was an out-and-out draft dodger and anti-war activist. He blasts Bush for being "AWOL." One of my relatives is half his age but routinely protests at the School of the Americas in the name of repressed peoples. Yet all she seems to have to say to the people of Iraq is, "the world would be better off if you still wore your chains."

To these other folks, there's only one issue: Bush. "He has such a phony posture at the podium," "he didn't give the U.N. a chance," "did you see 'Farenheit 9/11'?"

I guess I'm foolish to expect some historical coherence here.

As Richard Holbrooke writes in the Washington Post, Kerry was "a man who volunteered for duty in the Navy and then asked for an assignment on the boats that were to ply the dangerous rivers of Vietnam -- when most of his college-educated contemporaries (including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton) -- found easy ways to avoid Vietnam."

Was Vietnam a just and justified war? Then how could Kerry be justified in leading such a vocal opposition to it. Was it unjust? Then a soldier dragooned into the ranks can be forgiven. But Kerry went in willingly, with a gung-ho mentality, and confessed that his unit slaughtered civilians, including children.

He apparently fought hard there for a time, then got himself home and harshly criticized the war and the soldiers who were fighting it. I've said I have no gripe with his record there, and I still don't. The mentality of his supporters does interest me, though.

The glory-mongering of a young soldier before he sees combat is as old as the world and shouldn't count against him. The fog of war obscures the details of what he did on the Mekong. His subsequent change of heart about the whole enterprise is understandable, too. His very public pronouncements about that, however, are a matter between him and his fellow veterans, men who were in the line of fire or in enemy prisons when he stood up in front of the world and denounced them as a pack of murderers. Plenty of them seem plenty peeved about it.

When Tim Russert asked about your claim that you and others in Vietnam committed "atrocities," instead of standing by your sworn testimony, you confessed that your words "were a bit over the top." Does that mean you lied under oath? Or does it mean you are a war criminal? You can't have this one both ways, John. Either way, you're not fit to be a prison guard at Abu Ghraib, much less commander in chief.

One last thing, John. In 1988, Jane Fonda said: "I would like to say something ... to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm ... very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families."

Even Jane Fonda apologized. Will you, John?

And so forth. I'm not a veteran. I won't take part in that family quarrel. But ... ouch.

Monday, August 30, 2004

What a Class Act

The AP photo caption is: "Filmmaker Michael Moore gestures as Senator John McCain of Arizona addresses delegates at Madison Square Garden during the Republican National Convention in New York, Monday, Aug. 30, 2004. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)"

The "loser" sign is unmistakable. But it seems to have eluded the big media writers covering the convention. Describing McCain's speech, and Moore's reaction, the Chicago Tribune writes that Moore "smiled and waved in the limelight," Knight-Ridder says he "smiled broadly and raised a red baseball cap in salute," and AP reports that Moore "seemed to relish the attention, thrusting his arms over his head, laughing and saying, 'Two more months.' "

Now, imagine what they'd have written if some Republican blowhard, say Limbaugh, had flashed the "loser" sign to, say Max Cleland.

Quote of the Day

John McCain's speech:

After years of failed diplomacy and limited military pressure to restrain Saddam Hussein, President Bush made the difficult decision to liberate Iraq.

Those who criticize that decision would have us believe that the choice was between a status quo that was well enough left alone and war. But there was no status quo to be left alone.

The years of keeping Saddam in a box were coming to a close. The international consensus that he be kept isolated and unarmed had eroded to the point that many critics of military action had decided the time had come again to do business with Saddam, despite his near daily attacks on our pilots, and his refusal, until his last day in power, to allow the unrestricted inspection of his arsenal.

Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war.

It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our critics abroad. Not our political opponents.

And certainly not a disingenuous film maker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls.

Good News from Iraq

Here's the latest in Chrenkoff's bi-weekly round-up of good news and good reporting from Iraq, hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

French 'Tude

Bret Stephens parses the soul of French political culture a little more carefully than most U.S. observers (pro- and anti-Chirac) have done in these days of Freedom Fries.

Usually, the explanation comes down to adjectives: cynical, hypocritical, Machiavellian, cowardly. Yet the adjectives don't capture the reality. France is not hypocritical: It simply holds contradictory positions. Or to put it more precisely, France has attitudes and it has policies. And while the two are frequently confused (often by the French themselves) they serve radically different functions: the former is psychological; the latter is political. To have an attitude is a way of saying, this is who I am. It's a matter of self-identification. To have a policy is to say, this is what I'm going to do about it. It's a matter of will and capacity.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Poll Roll

Want to follow the horse race? RealClear Politics wraps the polls.

This Just In: It's a Sick World

Hialeah, Fla., candy seller recalls toy that recreates terrorist attack
By Gregg Fields
The Miami Herald

Aug. 28 -- A Hialeah company that sells 99-cent bags of Mexican candies recently recalled thousands of the packages after discovering, to its horror, that a free toy included inside re-created the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York.

"We were offended by it," said Luis Padron, national sales manager for Lisy Corp. "We're Cuban-American owned, very thankful to this country."

Padron said his firm became aware of the situation when a customer complained. He said he launched an immediate recall six weeks ago by sending distributors into the field to retrieve the bags.

... While the toy's two towers have tiered roofs, rather than the flat tops of the World Trade Center's twin towers, Padron noted that the bottom of the toys was stamped "9011."

Connecting the toy towers is a plane.

Padron said the toys were purchased from L&M Importing and Exporting in Miami. A receptionist there said she knew nothing of the subject and hung up. A message left in a follow-up call went unreturned.

... In the order that included the twin-tower models, an invoice described the toy, which is about 1-1/2 inches tall, as a plastic swing set, Padron said.

... The toy was made in China, he said, and he intends to investigate exactly where. He said a caller told him that it was widely distributed in Asia.

[emphasis added]

The Old Man and the Left

"Back with the Progressive Party in 1948, we used to laugh and laugh at how dumb the other side was. We’re still laughing, and we’re further behind now."

--Norman Mailer

Back to the Future

Harper's apologizes for Lewis Lapham's time warp trip. Sort of. He calls it a "rhetorical invention," and says "the author mix[ed] up his tenses" then lapsed "into poetic license." Whew; three different shades of excuse-making in one paragraph. Fact is, he tried to pull a fast one on his readers, passing off prejudice as judgment, and tripped over his own calendar.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

My Problem with Islam

Religion, sincerely held, tends to make individuals more intense in their native qualities. It's difficult to deny the stamp of individual character in a single religious tradition with devoted followers as diverse as Tammy Faye Bakker and Dorothy Day.

When a religion has a collectivist, communal ethos, that quality is magnified, into the national and international community. Civilizations driven by monotheistic religion tend to have a fiercer certainty than those without such a faith. Certain monotheisms hold this quality more prominently than others. That has consequences.

My sainted mother, who calls herself a Christian and often attends the local UCC church, lives her life according to her own ethics, right and wrong, mostly highly utilitarian. Where she disagrees with the Bible or the minister, she simply ignores them. I tell her that's not true Christianity. She tells me to get a haircut.

She suits Ambrose Bierce's definition of a Christian as, "One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin." There's a lot of her in the world, in any religion. That, not unbelief, is the behavior behind the English word often used wrongly to translate Arabic kufr -- "infidel." "Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving;" Tom Paine wrote, "it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe."

I respect Christianity; I take the Bible seriously. That's why I don't practice it or call myself a Christian. I feel spirituality in the Catholic Mass and a Quaker meeting, but I don't believe in dabbling in a faith.

Islam gives me the same reaction, in its own way, with its legalistic logic and mathematical art. When I immerse myself in study of it for a time, it becomes exhilarating to feel, not the free-fall sensation of free will in the wide-open world, but a path through a defined space, with firm walls and open courses.

Some people would instantly feel stifled there. That's fine. Not all traditions fit all people. Huston Smith, the great religious scholar, writes a telling anecdote in an introduction to a book on Islam by Seyyed Hussein Nasr. Smith writes that he felt an instant affinity for the supple music of the Upanishads, but was repelled by the legalistic rigidity of Islam. Then he met another Western religious scholar who confessed he had no idea what the Hindu texts were talking about, "but when I read the Koran, I'm home."

Like most people of basically secular, Western outlook, I have a suspicion of religion when it rises out of the personal and becomes a political experience. Not all religions are equally prone to this. Hindu nationalism and Roman civic paganism aside (and I think those are more political/tribal than religious), polytheisms seem less prone to the "jihad/crusade" quality than monotheisms.

If there are many gods, the god of that tribe or nation is as valid as the god of mine. But if there is one God and only one, and He has spoken to me and my people in our language, then the god of that other tribe or nation is a demon or a lie.

In the modern world, such tribal cults can be deadly. (A-religious or atheist systems can be even worse, of course: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia proved more murderous in the 20th century than all the monotheisms in history.) Certain people in every religion always will attempt to make it the core of the civilization. Some have political motives, primarily. But I believe many are sincere in their fundamentalism. They will try to twist all society -- politics, economics, education, science -- into subservience to God. We in America know this type well. Those of us with the longer tenure here are descended from boatloads of such people. And we also see how they falter, every time.

Because you cannot devise a code of laws based on the Gospel of Christ, even if you include Paul's letters. There's just not enough law-stuff in there. And you can't devise a Christian foreign policy -- it would be suicide.

Attempts to formulate a Christian government invariably have to go back to the Old Testament, and call themselves "Judeo-Christian" and bring in all sorts of niggling Leviticus rules that Christ made a point of telling his followers to ignore.

Islam is different. Amid the religious and moral prescriptions of the Qu'ran are many pieces of outright legislation, dealing with such topics as treatment of unbelievers, homicide, property inheritance, eating swine flesh, and sexual intercourse.

Muslim jurists count 500 verses with legal content. Their proportion in the Qu'ran is even greater than that appears, because the rest of the Qu'ran often repeates itself, both thematically and verbatim, but the legal subject matter in it almost never does. And the average length of the legal verses is two or three times that of the average non-legal verses. Some have argued, and it would be difficult to refute them, that the Qu'ran contains "no less legal material than does the Torah."

Even in Mecca, Muhammad was organizing his followers into a community, a political and social unit. In Medina, he not only set up a "constitution" for governing the city, he served as an arbitration judge. "Law can never be deemed Islamic without being somehow anchored in these two sources (Qu'ran and Sunna)" [Wael B. Hallaq, "A History of Islamic Legal Theories"]. But taken altogether, the legalistic aspects of Islamic tradition fall short of a full code of laws. And they fail to take into account, obviously, anything that has gone on in the world since about 800 C.E.

"In propounding his message, the Prophet plainly wished to break away from pre-Islamic values and institutions, but only insofar as he needed to establish once and for all the fundaments of the new religion. Having been pragmatic, he could not have done away with all the social practices and institutions that prevailed in his time." [Hallaq]

That leaves Islam in the worst possible situation, commitment to religious law, but with an incomplete and badly dated system of law. A tendency toward legal structure without a finished form. That leaves it vulnerable, eternally, to determined minds that would install their own dark, bloody, reactionary, anti-humanist desires into the word of God.

There are other ways to interpret Islam. Brilliant minds and brave hearts in the Islamic world have advanced them from time to time. But they never seem to make much headway. Even in the modern-day "crisis" of Islamic thought, the bid to give reason a place alongside revelation must be rooted in God, not man. When humanistic and positivist tendencies collide with the imperatives of revelation, in the Muslim world, revelation wins. Even among those who reject the medievalism of the old ways as irrelevant to the modern age. "Except for a minority of secularists, the great majority of modern Muslim thinkers and intellectuals insist upon the need to maintain the connection between law and the divine command." [Hallaq]

The failure to break through that impasse, I think, is why many Muslims reject the liberalizing tendency to try to align revelation with reason, and turn in the opposite direction, and reject rationalism and modernity as Western corruptions, and seek a "puritan" Islam. And since Islam was born in a time of war to the death against unbelievers, only a few small steps stand between fundamentalist Islam to jetliners plowed into skyscrapers.

Until the reformers start to get some traction, I -- and we -- have a problem with Islam. It's not that Christianity is good and Islam is evil. But if you find fundamentalist Christianity to be a bad influence on George W. Bush and America generally, show me one such quality that fundamentalist Islam does not promote in a measurably more intense degree. Yet too often my fellow Western liberal secularists, who articulately skewer the relatively benign "religious right" in America, throw their arms in warm embrace around hate-spewing imams.

The greatest gift from the Gods, I think, is the one even a good Christian or Muslim or Jew uses when you read those blood-curdling Old Testament genocide stories, or those Qu'ranic beheading commandments, and say, "that is cruel" -- say it even in the face of God, before you correct yourself. The discernment of right and wrong that can weigh even a god's actions is a holy power.

Ontario Update

alt.muslim has a good roundup of links to recent articles and opinion pieces, pro and con, about the implementation of shari'a law as an alternative form of dispute resolution in Canada.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Dirty Secrets

Salim Mansur in the London Free Press execrates the supposed internationalist humanitarians who have no interest in saving the victims of Darfur:

There, in the arid deserts of the eastern Sahara, where living is a bitter daily struggle against sand and sun, a genocide is unfolding, with nary a whimper from the folks at the UN and sophisticates in cosmopolitan centres who remain outraged over American "imperialism" dismantling brutal rogue regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And he also puts this genocide in the context of the ongoing Sudanese civil war. In Darfur, the victims are Muslim, black and non-Arab. The killers are Muslims of Arab origin:

The tragedy unfolding in Darfur has been well-documented by reputable international human rights agencies such as Human Rights Watch. There is no disputing in this instance the facts of a state-supported ethnic cleansing being repeated in the heart of Africa.

But Sudan is a member of the Arab League, an organization representing 22 Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Hence, the Arab League immediately rallied around Sudan at the UN to ease pressures being placed on Bashir's regime.

The diplomatic manoeuvres of the Arab League are predictable. It exists to defend the interests of Arab states -- meaning regimes in power -- and not the Arab people.

And he looks to the Muslims of the West. I'm sure most of them would prefer to live anonymous and unobserved lives, just like their Christian or Jewish neighbors. Many of them will be perfectly happy to enjoy the secular freedoms of the West, without feeling compelled to become politicized. Yet sometimes history doesn't give you that luxury:

Freedom and democracy are sorely lacking among the Arab League members, and popular condemnation of an Arab regime would not be tolerated.

Arabs and Muslims, however, now live in growing numbers in cosmopolitan centres of the West, and enjoy freedoms denied their people elsewhere.

Here they came out in unprecedented numbers, protesting American-led wars to liberate Afghans and Iraqis from despots. But in their unconscionable silence over Darfur, they disclose how selective is their outrage.

Because another quality European-Americans and their Arab-Muslim neighbors share is a discomforting legacy of racism:

This silence is also revealing of culturally entrenched bigotry among Arabs, and Muslims from adjoining areas of the Middle East.

Blacks are viewed by Arabs as racially inferior, and Arab violence against blacks has a long, turbulent record. The Arabic word for blacks ('abed) is a derivative of the word slave ('abd), and the role of Arabs in the history of slavery is a subject rarely discussed publicly.

Here, the contrast between the Arab treatment of blacks, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or not, and the Israeli assimilation of black Jews of Ethiopia, known as Falashas, cannot go unnoticed.

The tragedy of Darfurians ironically has exposed to the world the racial dimension of Arab-Muslim culture and the hollowness of rhetoric proclaiming the brotherhood of Muslims.

Old-Time Religion

The woman's husband drags her across the floor to a bed where he forces himself on her -- again. But when she goes to police after years of abuse, the male leaders of her religious community (where there are no female leaders) banish her from among them. They won't take her back until she promises to submit to her husband and never call the police again.

Yet another case of abuse in a conservative Muslim community? Think again. That's a story from a series my newspaper recently ran on abuse, and the failure of religious leaders to address it, in the Amish and Mennonite communities of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

As Ontario has authorized the use of shari'a law in civil arbitrations, Canadians might want to consider the impact of allowing social codes based on centuries-old faiths to dominate the lives of women and children. Especially in close-knit communities where those who break from the group are ostricized or worse.

Mennonites and Amish live a life strongly rooted in religious values. Moreso than many Christians, and not unlike many Muslims, religion guides their personal lives, and Scripture verses are used to establish guidelines for family relationships.

I know many Plain people around here. They deserve their good reputation for work ethic, humility, gentleness and good humor. When people anywhere need help, they respond. They send tons of food to poor countries and send strong men at a moment's notice to raise a barn in a day. Many are exactly the God-fearing, family-loving people they appear to be.

But when that world goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong, and the religious basis of their culture offers no safety net. In fact, it often greases the skids to Hell.

Statistics are sparse, but it's likey that the abuse rate among the Plain Sects is no greater than the average among their neighbors in the general population.

The difference is the way abuse is handled. As members of a tightly controlled church system and tradition-bound culture, the victims, primarily women, turn to their male deacons, ministers and bishops for help. They often come away blamed and shamed, in a system centered on Biblical injunctions about the sanctity of marriage, men's authority over women, forgiveness, and extra-legal resolution of conflict.

Work in the recent newspaper series began after two women who didn't know each other contacted the editors about their experience with abuse in Mennonite churches. A couple of reporters began investigating, and they found a pattern. The result was a multi-part series that ran in July. They spoke with at least 10 counselors and 20 victims of abuse and/or their families. Not one of the victims, family members or conservative church leaders who talked to the newspaper would allow their names to be used. Even some counselors only agreed to be interviewed if their names were not used.

The county district attorney said he knew of 24 cases of child sexual assault involving Amish and Mennonites during the past 10 years, but only six were prosecuted (two offenders went to jail and four were put on probation). In the rest, he said, the victims wouldn't testify.

Domestic violence is seldom, if ever, reported, according to police chiefs in the rural townships where the Plain folk live. "They're a little different when it comes to reporting things to the police; they don't like law involvement," said one township police sergeant. He hears stories, he said, but there's "a lot of church involvement in family issues."

Doctors, nurses, dentists, day-care workers and teachers are required to report cases of suspected child abuse. Yet Amish women and children rarely see such professionals.

The concept of "submission" is central, just as it is in Islam. "Jesus died for the church, which is his bride," a conservative Mennonite leader told us. "We husbands are commanded to love our wives with that kind of love -- so much so that we're willing to die for our wives. Under those guidelines, no woman would have trouble with submission."

Plain Sects -- the Old Order Amish and Mennonites, avoid involving law enforcement in their internal disputes. Their historical identity as religious communities is based on the Biblical call to be "separate from" and "not conformed to" the world.

"Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, though shalt by no means come out thence, till thou has paid the last farthing." [Matthew 5:24-26]

That's one of the scriptures Mennonites and Amish invoke as Biblical directive not to involve the law in personal disputes. Other scriptures support the spirit of the concept, such as turning the other cheek and loving your enemies.

In the more conservative churches, injecting the law into family matters is considered a violation of Biblical instruction. Church leaders eye professional counseling with suspicion; they fear therapists will lead their people away from the church and its ways. People who need help are expected to turn to church leaders. But most conservative Mennonite or Amish leaders have no schooling beyond eighth grade, and certainly no training in dealing with the psychology of abuse.

"We firmly believe God instituted marriage," said one Mennonite leader. Any problem, no matter how big, can be resolved by God if the husband and wife are willing to work at it. Church leaders give primacy to the marriage, not the couple in it or their children. "Divorce is a continuous state of adultery, with or without the paperwork."

One important difference: Muslims in the West often came here to put distance between themselves and the faith of their homelands. Plain sects in North America came here specifically to practice their faith without government interference.

The legalistic aspect of the Christian Gospel is much less prominent than it is in the Islamic Shari'a. Yet both embody concepts of men and women, family and force, that modern Western societies find, essentially, unacceptable.

More progressive religious minds, in both faiths, would say that God spoke to the people of ancient times in terms they understood, leading them away from bad habits gradually without intending to enshrine as God-ordained for all times practices like wife-beating and slavery.

But fundamentalist religious views do not see it thus. Certainly the excesses of Christian fundamentalism do not extend to sanctioned honor killing, jihad, dhimmitude. Yet they can stand as a warning of what happens when secular societies defer authority to ancient religious codes.

Enter Sistani

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric returned from Britain on Wednesday and his aides called for a nationwide march to Najaf to end nearly three weeks of fierce fighting between U.S. forces and Shiite militants in this holy city.

If this was the plan all along (and some thing it was), it's brilliant. The U.S. Army in Najaf, with its Iraqi allies, has been learning to fight in the traditional Arab way: a grand charge, then pull back, but always end up with more ground than when you began. The noose around al-Sadr is drawn tight.

So finish him off? Perhaps, but there's a risk in that, even if it's Kurdish Shi'ites who storm the mosque. Better, probably, to let Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani be the deus ex machina who saves the day.

Even if al-Sadr lives -- and every breath he draws is a small victory for him -- his reputation is shot. There never was much of it beyond a certain segment of the Shi'ites.

More important is that the Shi'ite population remains committed to its senior leaders, and that those leaders remain committed to the cause of a free, secular, democratic Iraq.

It's been noted that they have the most to gain, in terms of proportional representation, under such a system. But there's another reason. There's a sound theological reason that the Shi'ites are the key to secular, democratic rule in the Muslim world. America's 25-year conflict with Shi'ite Iran somewhat obscures the fact that Shi'ites, more than Sunnis, are receptive to a non-religious representative democracy.

It springs from the concept of the imam, which in Arabic means roughly "leader," and in the usual Sunni sense would mean "leader of daily prayers in a mosque" or even "religious scholar." But it has a much deeper meaning to the Shi'ites, something like "person of intrinsic spiritual power, perfect interpreter of prophetic revelation, intermediary between man and God."

There were only 12 of them (in the main branch of Shi'ism), and all were descendants of the Prophet. They were hounded and assassinated by the caliphs, who rightly saw them as a threat to their political authority, and the last one vanished in the 10th century C.E. The Shi'ites say that, like King Arthur in some British legends, the last Imam is not dead but in hiding, still in the world, directing affairs unseen. And he will return at the end as the Mahdi (hence the4 name of al-Sadr's army).

But until then, he can't be consulted, and with the Imam in "occlusion," the world is left in an imperfect state. Every form of government is necessarily imperfect, since the imperfection of people is reflected in their institutions. The political position of the Shi'ites, then, is a search for the least imperfect form of government.

Historically, the Shi'ites generally do not look to the "caliphate" as the legitimate Muslim political authority, though they often have supported it as a matter of accepting the prevailing political situation. They have been monarchists in the past, and democrats in the present. And they could set an example in Iraq that the rest of the Middle East, in spite of political prejudice, will come to envy and emulate.


These legal guidelines concerning jihad are taken from the commentaries of 'Umar Barakat (c.1890) on the 14th century writings of Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, in the Shafi'i school, one of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Within the range of Islamic thought, Shafi'is have a rationalistic interpretation of shari'a, unlike the extremism of some of the fundamentalists. Yet I think you'll find these plain-spoken accounts eye-opening, if you haven't seen them before.

The Muslim schools are identical in about three-fourths of their legal conclusions, and most of the differences are methodological. I am not aware of serious variances over the issues of jihad presented here; the one I can see clearly is outlined in the quoted text.

Though these texts are in some cases ancient, they are still in print, taught and learned and revered in the Islamic world. They are the basis of proper behavior for observant Muslims.

Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. And it is the lesser jihad. As for the greater jihad, it is spiritual warfare against the lower self (nafs), which is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said as he was returning from jihad,

"We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad."

The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus is such Koranic verses as:

(1) "Fighting is prescribed for you" [Koran 2:216];

(2) "Slay them wherever you find them" [Koran 4:89];

(3) "Fight the idolaters utterly" [Koran 9:36];

and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

"I have been commanded to fight people until they testify there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah";

and the hadith reported by Muslim,

"To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it."

[Jihad is obligatory upon Muslims, but there are two kinds of obligations in Islam, the personal and the communal. A personal obligation is required "from each and every morally responsible person." A communal obligation is required "from the collectivity of those morally responsible." If no one from the community undertakes it, then all are guilty of a serious sin. If one or some undertake it, then the obligation is fulfilled.

In normal situations, for Muslims at home in their own country, jihad is a communal obligation. But "when non-Muslims invade a Muslim country or near to one, ... jihad is personally obligatory upon the inhabitants of that country, who must repel the non-Muslims with whatever they can."]

  • "It is offensive to conduct a military expedition against hostile non-Muslims without the caliph's permission, though if there is no caliph, no permission is required."

  • "Muslims may not seek help from non-Muslim allies unless the Muslims are considerably outnumbered and the allies are of goodwill towards the Muslims."

  • "The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, provided he has first invited them to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax -- which is the significance of their paying it, not the money itself -- while remaining in their ancestral religions. And the war continues until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax, in accordance with the word of Allah Most High,

    'Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who forbid not what Allah and His messenger have forbidden -- who do not practice the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book -- until they pay the poll tax out of hand and are humbled.' [Koran 9:29]"

  • "The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslims, because they are not a people with a Book, nor honored as such, and are not permitted to settle with paying the poll tax, though according to the Hanafi school, peoples of all other religions, even idol worshippers, are permitted to live under the protection of the Islamic state if they either become Muslims or agree to pay the poll tax, the sole exceptions to which are apostates from Islam and idol worshippers who are Arabs, neither of whom has any choice but becoming Muslim [al-Hidaya sharh Bidaya al-mubtadi']."

  • "It is not permissible in jihad to kill women or children unless they are fighting against the Muslims. Nor is it permissible to kill animals, unless they are being ridden into battle against the Muslims, or if killing them will help defeat the enemy. It is permissible to kill old men, meaning someone more than forty years of age, and monks. ... It is permissible in jihad to cut down the enemy's trees and destroy their buildings."

  • "When a child or a woman is taken, they become slaves by the fact of capture, and the woman's previous marriage is immediately annulled."

  • "When an adult male is taken captive, the caliph considers the interests of Islam and the Muslims and decides between the prisoner's death, slavery, release without paying anything, or ransoming himself in exchange for money or for a Muslim captive held by the enemy."

  • "In Sacred Law truce means a peace treaty with those hostile to Islam, involving a cessation of fighting for a specified period, whether for payment or something else." A truce is "a matter of the gravest consequence because it entails the nonperformance of jihad." "There must be some interest served in making a truce other than mere preservation of the status quo."

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Diversion du Jour

Henry Raddick's hilarious mock-book-reviews on Amazon.com. A sample, "The Art of Flamenco" by D.E. Pohren:

I bought this book for my wife. Flamenco is the dust of the bull-ring, the flounce of the gypsy's skirt and the crazy clatter of castanets. Flamenco swaggers. Flamenco pleads. Flamenco is the beating heart of Andalusia. Flamenco is NOT a tanked-up Englishwoman embarrassing her husband in a hotel bar in Seville.

Saigon Syndrome

With an unfinished War on Terrorism, a complex struggle with nation-building underway in Iraq, nuclear weapons proliferating, an economy in the throes of transformation and time running out for America to find real energy and health-care policies, I can't believe we're about to decide an election based on what two men did or didn't do 30 years ago in Vietnam.

I blame the candidates. Kerry more than Bush, since he has made his service such a central pillar of his campaign -- propping those medals on his shoulder and daring Bush to knock them off.

But in either case, except as a minor point to ponder, I really don't care. Count me among those who say, Let It Alone.

Choosing Sides

The leaders of the Socialist Alliance met on Sept. 20, 2001, to state its position on the terrorist attacks on America. Here's a result:

We do not believe that the use of the word ‘condemn’ is appropriate in relation to the tragic events in the US.

Clearly we do not support the attacks on working class people and it should go without saying that we oppose the strategy of individual terrorism. This would be our preferred way of stating our case. But the language of ‘condemnation’ is that which is always required of socialists and national liberation movements by the media and the ruling class. It would have been better to avoid it for this reason.

The most important task of socialists is to patiently explain why the US government is hated so much and why there are people who are prepared to kill themselves and many others in opposing the US. The answer is US imperialist foreign policy.

At the moment we are in the eye of a media storm directed at mobilising international and popular domestic support for a bloody and destructive imperial intervention. We should not allow either the really terrible events of September 11 in New York or the media campaign that has followed to drive us to use language that we may regret when the real balance of terror is revealed by the war the major powers are now planning.

There are lines to draw here - we believe the Socialist Alliance should be part of an unstinting and principled opposition to US and western imperialism and the further mass murder Bush and Blair intend to unleash on the world.

Good work, guys. Deliberate hijackings of jetliners full of civilians and plowing them into skyscrapers are "tragic events." Such attacks are not to be supported -- when they involve "working class people." Presumably if you could have sent the dishwashers home from "Windows on the World" before imploding the building, leaving only stockbrokers to die at their desks, the socialists would be fine with the whole deal.

Kerry's Troubles

Belmont Club tries to frame the Democratic candidate's essential problem, and sees it much as I do:

John Kerry's troubles have largely been forced on him by the Democratic Party platform. He has been given the unenviable task of presenting it as the War Party when in fact it is not, nor does it want to be. The Democrats could have chosen to become a real anti-war party, in which case it would have nominated Howard Dean or it could have elected to become a genuine war party and chosen Joseph Lieberman. Instead it chose to become the worst of all combinations, an anti-war party masquerading as the war party.

To carry out this program, it required a Janus-like figure and found it in Senator Kerry; the only man of sufficient stature who could look two ways at once. It would have been a desirable trait, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, in a peacetime President.

He still gives, to me at any rate, the impression of someone who sincerely wishes that this were not a time of war. When critical votes on the question come up, Kerry always looks like a dog being washed. John McCain was not like this, when a president he despised felt it necessary to go into Kosovo. We are looking at a man who would make, or would have made, a perfectly decent peacetime president. ...

Ateqeh Rajabi, Again

The Ateqeh Rajabi story is getting some legs, but it hasn't got a foundation to put them on yet.

A post at a Free Iran Web site by "Ramin Etebar, MD" gives it a source in "Radio Farda" and cites interviews with "locals."

Meanwhile, Amnesty International added its outrage today to "the reported execution of a girl who is believed to be 16 years old, Ateqeh Rajabi, in Neka in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran, on 15 August, for 'acts incompatible with chastity' (amal-e manafe-ye 'ofat). Ateqeh Rajabi was reportedly publicly hanged on a street in the city centre of Neka."

The only new detail here seems to be that Rajabi was said to be "mentally ill," but that also was in the Ramin Etbar post from three days earlier. Depending on what is meant, that detail could be seen as at odds with the earlier account of the girl that suggest she was sharp-tongued and articulate. Of course, to an Islamic fundamentalist, independent thinking in a woman might look like insanity.

Yet, although AI goes on to write about the execution as an established fact, it gives no details that haven't been in the Internet reports cited by me and others, and does not establish any authoritative source for the story beyond Peyk-e Iran, the original of the Internet posts.

As a journalist of 20-some years, I'm cautious about this story. Nothing I can explain, just a faint odor of rat. Too many details, not enough sourcing.

Caught Red (State)-Handed

Back in the '80s I used to enjoy reading "Harper's" magazine. At the time, because I was looking for a job in publishing, I wished there was some genealogical connection between my family and that of the founder of that magazine. No such luck. My Harpers were ne'er-do-well small planters from the Maryland Eastern Shore.

Nowadays, though, I'm pleased to disavow any connection with those other Harpers. It's been more than a decade since I got through a "Harper's" article without losing interest. And now this, from Lewis Lapham

The speeches in Madison Square Garden affirmed the great truths now routinely preached from the pulpits of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal--government the problem, not the solution; the social contract a dead letter; the free market the answer to every maiden's prayer--and while listening to the hollow rattle of the rhetorical brass and tin, I remembered the question that [Richard] Hofstadter didn't stay to answer. How did a set of ideas both archaic and bizarre make its way into the center ring of the American political circus?

The issue's dated September. But "Harper's" always goes to print about a month ahead of its official publication date. So that piece, in which Lapham records his scorn for the speeches made at a Republican Convention that hasn't happened yet, has been in the hands of readers for several weeks now.

Electoral Collage

Fascinating electoral tidbits (and depressing conclusions) in Louis Menand's "The Unpolitical Animal" in the "New Yorker."

Rephrasing poll questions reveals that many people don’t understand the issues that they have just offered an opinion on. According to polls conducted in 1987 and 1989, for example, between twenty and twenty-five per cent of the public thinks that too little is being spent on welfare, and between sixty-three and sixty-five per cent feels that too little is being spent on assistance to the poor.

And ...

When you move downward through what Converse called the public’s “belief strata,” candidates are quickly separated from ideology and issues, and they become attached, in voters’ minds, to idiosyncratic clusters of ideas and attitudes. The most widely known fact about George H. W. Bush in the 1992 election was that he hated broccoli. Eighty-six per cent of likely voters in that election knew that the Bushes’ dog’s name was Millie; only fifteen per cent knew that Bush and Clinton both favored the death penalty. It’s not that people know nothing. It’s just that politics is not what they know.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Bana's Dreams

Through my girlfriend, I learned about Bana, a young Iraqi student who has been corresponding with some local women here. I'm not yet clear on the details of how they hooked up, but the correspondence (at least Bana's side of it) is here.

Here's one more Iraqi voice to add to your perceptions. And when you think about whether the U.S. should stay in Iraq, get smarter and more committed and finish the job it's begun, or cut and run and let the place go to the dogs, think about who you're abandoning. Here she is.

Someone among the American girls she corresponds with sent her one of those "getting to know you" surveys that go around the Internet. Some of her answers have a poignancy I don't think the senders expected:


people led by other people blindly (clerics).


I don`t know how it looks like, I never get one.

She's in Baghdad, not near any of the recent fighting, but the lack of security affects her nonetheless:

Well, It does not matter if I live in war zone or not cause it is the same. If it`s near or far, it is affected on our life in some way.

For instance I lose my job simply because when I took the permession to stay at home I left alot of papers & it increased during that period so my boss ask me to stay till sunrise which is an impossible thing cause of the situation; then who gonna finish the housework?

I asked him to take it with to finished it at home but he did not allowed so I left it to another person.

Having our daily life kept in suspense, always having to be ready to respond at a moment's notice ... make papa & mama stressed, nerves & desperate so they fight most of the time. Papa blame her cause she can`t understand the situation while mama blame him cause he won't to move out side Iraq when there is a chance to live there & we caught in the middle of all this.

So who does she blame for this? The Americans, of course, right? We all know from reading certain pundits that everything that goes wrong in the world is the fault of the Americans. Bana doesn't think so:

Everyday we heard many many things, & all of that because of one beast "sader." I`d rather die than live under his rules! I allowed to saddam to destroy my childhood but i`ll never let this damn guy (sorry for using this word when I talk to you) destroy my future.. NO WAY..

... I`m sorry for those Iraqis who live without knowing who to trust and led by clerics, & the later use them to gain power. Regrettably the fight broke out again because of young cleric called "sader." We call him "satan" he is just like saddam depends on violence to impose himself upon us.

For the uptenth time "thanks God" the colition soldiers are over here to get ride of him.again thanks alot for your great sacrifice to send us your dearest guys to help us. would you please give me a favor & tell everyone you know that Bana *an iraqi women* say hi & for all things you`ve done to her country you, all of you people of the U.S become the owner of her heart.

Appeals to the victims (actual or potential) are a cheap tactic. Certainly the U.S. occupation has created its own set of victims. Then it becomes a matter of comparing the number and severity of the victims we made to the ones we saved, and the individuals disappear again into statistics. But the great thing about certain people is that they simply refuse to disappear.

So this time I'm not going to demand that you look at her and tell her that you think the overthrow of Saddam, Udai and Qsay was all a mistake, a waste of our time, that the world was a better place when she lived under them. Or that it would be best to let the Islamists do what they want in "their" lands.

But if you wonder why I don't think the "American" thing to do at this moment is just pull up stakes and come home because Iraq is turning into a tough struggle requiring all our skills, she is one reason why. There are about 23 million others, but for this one, at least I can show you a face.

A Diversion

It's a nice day. Let's go for a walk.

Bush Loses the Military ... Or Not

This Knight-Ridder article is titled Bush alienating some military voters who helped him win in 2000. It opens by introducing readers to James McKinnon, a veteran whose support of Bush has turned to scorn:

WASHINGTON - When the Bush campaign asked James McKinnon to co-chair its veterans steering committee in New Hampshire - a job he held in 2000 - the 56-year-old Vietnam veteran respectfully, but firmly, said no.

Midway through the story, after much background and punditry, the second military voice appears:

"I voted for Bush in 2000, and I'm not going to vote for him again," said Jean Prewitt, a [Military Families Speak Out] group member from Birmingham, Ala. Her 24-year-old son, Kelley, was in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division when he was killed on April 6 just south of Baghdad. "I just feel deceived. He just kept screaming, screaming, weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction, we've got to get in there. We got in there and now there aren't any."

But not till the very end of the story, after yet more punditry and pontification, does the writer reveal the significant information that the only two "real people" he has quoted to illustrate his point have no intention of voting for John Kerry, either:

McKinnon, who rejected working again for the Bush campaign, worked for retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark's failed Democratic presidential campaign. McKinnon says he won't work for or support Kerry because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and for opposing a constitutional amendment that would ban the desecration of the American flag.

Like McKinnon, Jean Prewitt, 53, said she's hard-pressed to vote in November.

"I probably won't vote," she said. "I can't vote for Bush right now and I can't vote for Kerry. I just don't like him."

The latest Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania voters sheds light on the military vote question. Quinnipiac usually breaks down its results in Pennsylvania by gender, region, and union vs. non-union households. But in their latest survey of 1,430 Pennsylvanians (conducted Aug. 11-16, margin of error +/- 2.6 percentage points), Quinnipiac broke down the numbers into military and non-military households. And here's where it gets interesting.

The "unfavorable" rating for Bush among military households is four points higher than in the state overall. But Kerry's "favorable" rating is a point lower among military households than overall.

Lumping together veterans and active duty personnel is somewhat misleading. Veteran households in Pennsylvania outnumber active military duty ones by about 100 to 1. According to the U.S. Census bureau, there are 1.2 million veterans in Pennsylvania. The census reports the number from the state in active duty with the armed forces in 2000 as 7,595. Another 57,393 state citizens are in the Reserve and National Guard, of whom, as of this summer, about 3,500 now are on active duty [Tribune-Review].

Yet they undeniably have many concerns in common. They also are, by self-description, more tuned in to the presidential campaign. Asked "How much attention have you been paying to the election campaign for President," 59 percent of military households said "a lot," as opposed to 53 percent overall.

Asked "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?" state voters overall ranked the economy tops (25%) and the war second (20%), but military households ranked the war tops (26%).

The poll asked, "If the election for president were being held today, and the candidates were John Kerry the Democrat and George W. Bush the Republican for whom would you vote?" The Kerry vote in military households was only a point higher than the total, while the vote for Bush was two points higher among military households than overall. The difference there is a higher number of undecideds and "won't votes" among the overall population.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


U.S. philosopher Sidney Hook (1902-89) is one of the spiritual ancestors of the neo-Conservative movement (in a class with Lionel Trilling and Reinhold Niebuhr). He was a lifelong Marxist, yet a democratic socialist, who resented the Stalin-embrace of the radical Left; he came to see the fundamental division in the world as one of totalitarian and democratic forces.

In a 1976 address titled 'A Critique of Conservatism' (reprinted in his collection, "Marxism and Beyond"), Hook concluded his critique:

The differences between conservatives and liberals [in the American sense], when the terms are reasonably construed, are family differences among adherents of a free society, defined as one whose institutions ultimately rest on the consent of those affected by their operations. When the security of a free society is threatened by aggressive totalitarianism, these differences must be temporarily subordinated to the common interest in its survival. There is always the danger that in the ever-present and sometimes heated struggles between liberals and conservatives, each group may come to fear the other more than their common enemy. If and when that happens, the darkness of what Marx called 'Asiatic despotism,' in modern dress to be sure, will descend upon the world.

Hard Left Turns

Nick Cohen's "Where have all the children of the left gone?" in the Aug. 16 New Statesman contains a British version of an argument I've been making here: that the current "Left" in the Western nations is more like the Old Right than the old Left: isolationist, rubbishing democratic movements among oppressed peoples, toadying to shabby dictators who happen to share their ideologies and enemies.

The obvious conclusion to draw at the moment is that we are living in a rerun of the 1930s, and the liberal left is once again sucking up to tyranny. It is easy to think that way. Look at how the democratic left in Britain proved its futility and played into Tony Blair's hands when it allowed the Marxist-Leninist Socialist Workers Party to lead the anti-war movement. Look at the Independent, which has abandoned its founding principle of separating news from comment, so its front pages can imitate the manners of the Mail and scream at readers that the troubles of the world are the fault of democratic governments.

...Ask an Iraqi communist or Kurdish socialist today what support they have had from the liberal left and they won't detain you for long. Apart from the odd call from the Socialist International, there has been none worthy of the name. One expects the totalitarian left to be stuffed with creeps, but the collapse of the democratic left strikes me as catastrophic. Why couldn't it oppose the second Gulf war while promising to do everything possible to advance the cause of Iraqi democrats and socialists once the war was over? Why the sneering, almost racist pretence that Saddam had no honourable opponents?

More on That Iran Story

I found this more extensive account of the story of the teen-age girl supposedly executed in Iran. The site, an Activist Chat message board frequented by Iranians who oppose the theocracy, also contains some intriguing artwork related to the case.

On Sunday August 15, 2004, a 16 year old girl by the name of Atefe Rajabi, daughter of Ghassem Rajabi, was executed in the town of Neka, located in the province of Mazandaran, for “engaging in acts incompatible with chastity”. The execution was carried out by the order of Neka’s “judicial administrator” and was approved by both the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic and the chief of the nation’s “judiciary branch.”

Although according to her birth certificate she was only 16 years old, the local court falsely claimed that she was 22.

Three months ago, during her appearance before the local court, fiercely angry the young girl hurled insults at the local judge, Haji Reza, who is also the chief judicial administrator of the city, and it is said as another expression of protest took off some of her clothes in the courtroom. This act by the young girl made the administrator so furious that he evaluated her file personally and in less than three months received a go-ahead from the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Court for her execution. The animosity and anger of Haji Reza was so strong that he personally put the rope around the girl’s delicate neck and personally gave the signal to the crane operator, by raising his hand, to begin pulling the rope.

It may be noted that although according to the Islamic Republic’s own penal laws the presence of an attorney for the defense [is supposed to be] mandatory, regardless of the defendant’s ability to afford one, nevertheless the girl remained without an attorney. Her unfortunate father, while tears poured from his eyes, went about the city beseeching the townspeople for money to hire an attorney who in the least would provide his daughter with a line of defense.

The young girl was buried the same day after her execution but during that same night her corpse was disinterred by unknown individuals and robbed. The theft remains unexplained and the Rajabi family has filed a complaint.

The 16 year old girl’s male companion, who had been arrested as well, received 100 lashes and, after the Islamic punishment was carried out, released.

Again, no source or attributions, so some people will dismiss it out of hand, while others, like me, will keep looking.

The original article, "in Persian" (Farsi?) is here, but this appears to be another Iranian freedom civil rights site, not a media site.

Guest Post: One War

[From Katrina, currently in Iraq, doing contractual oversight work, including billing reviews, for a U.S. contractor rebuilding Iraqi water, oil, electrical, and irrigation systems at waterside facilities and branch systems.]

Some people in the West see vast differences between religious zealots who will go outside of their own countries to harm those of different religions, and those who profess to only be interested in doing it in their own lands. Yet the cause they cling to is the same. There's no difference whatsoever.

Both begin by regarding those not of their beliefs as unclean to the point where whatever we touch can somehow inflict them with unholy germs. Our bodies disgrace their holiness. And even our business with their nations disgraces them, if you have been paying attention. Theology wise, there's not enough difference in their basic beliefs to fit a needle through. And practically, there's not much room between them apart from a will to travel in order to religiously cleanse their world.

And the people who don't see this speak as if having a basic understanding of how to funnel money through international banking, produce a simple bomb or obtain weapons and jump on an airliner involves some vast amount of super intelligence and incredible planning. But none of those things do. Yahoos in Montana can do it.

Some people speak of the people of Fallujah as if they were all mud hutters who had never been anywhere. But there are people all over Iraq who have traveled all over the world. Some people say none of those fighting here would ever have the intelligence to jump on a plane and go to the U.S. But what do you really know about these people?

Apparently, very little. Traveling to the US or Europe for an education is a Middle Eastern accomplishment of some tradition, much as it is in India. It is a family thing, where young members are granted substantial sums and privileges in order to be educated in western universities and gain jobs that will profit the family and gain them economic and social status. You act as if you're speaking of some dead zone, but it's nothing like that at all. There is more than enough international sophistication residing in Fallujah to take out a nice big chunk of New Jersey and never skip a beat.

Parallel Universe

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has crafted a news story from an alternate universe. And his John Kerry, unlike the one we're stuck with, would have no difficulty getting my vote:

EAST HAMPTON, NY (IP) -- Democratic Presidential nomineee John Kerry laughs when told that most voters don't realize that he served in Vietnam, winning three purple hearts, a bronze star, and a silver star.

"Why should they? That's several wars ago," Kerry laughs. "Old stuff. I'd much rather people be talking about my detailed plan to rebuild Iraq, using an oil trust mechanism that would give the Iraqi people a stake in reconstruction. That's why I focused on that in my acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. What was I going to do, rehash events from 35 years ago?"

Kerry's friends say that, like other veterans, he's been known to tell a few tall tales about his service over beers with others who served, but that he seldom talks about his combat experience otherwise. "He's put that behind him," says his wife Teresa. "And he thinks it would be unbecoming to make a big deal about his service when others, like [Senator] John McCain or [former P.O.W.] Paul Galanti went through so much more."

"I would have invaded Iraq regardless of the WMD issue," Kerry observes. "Saddam Hussein was a threat, and a menace to his own people. And a free, democratic Iraq will be the first step toward addressing the 'root cause' of terrorism -- despotic Arab regimes that spew hatred to distract their people from their own tyranny. But as I said last year, the reconstruction needed more resources. That was why I voted for the $87 billion in reconstruction money, but urged the Bush Administration to ask for more, to do it right."

Kerry also takes a dim view of leftist filmmaker Michael Moore. "I think that his film 'Fahrenheit 9/11' was scurrilous and dangerous to the morale of our troops. That's why I asked that he be excluded from the Democratic Convention, despite Jimmy Carter's wishes. And that's why he wasn't seen there. In a time of war, we don't need guys like that. We can win this campaign based on our ideas, not propaganda films. That's also why I told Chris Matthews to 'stuff it' when he tried to make an issue out of President Bush's National Guard service."

Go ye and read the rest.

Who Wants to Abandon Iraq?

I always wondered what kind of person -- what kind of thinking person, I mean -- would belong to the "get out of Iraq now" crowd. I can understand it in reflexive pacifists, tin-hat conspiracy theorists, tunnel-vision America-haters in their fantasy world, Apocalypse-hungry Born-Agains, and hard-core Islamists. I can even understand it in political anarchists, since anarchy would be the result.

But what about a person who supposedly thinks hard about these things, is not mentally unhinged, and is not an anarchist or a sadist?

I found one. The hoary newspaper columnist Richard Reeves, whose Web site logo looks like some Mount Rushmore caricature featuring Nixon, Kennedy, Reagan -- and Richard Reeves. Of course, my newspaper runs him regularly. He must work cheap.

The dateline on the column is Sag Harbor, a yachting-club town in The Hamptons. Our intrepid columnist, hunkered down in this conning tower in the War on Terror, reports that his wife has been pestering him about "why I am not writing that we should get out of Iraq. Now!"

He then launches into passages from Nebraska Congressman Doug Bereuter's recent letter about "inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions," and Bereuter's rueful decision that, "all things considered it was a mistake to launch that military action, especially without a broad and engaged international coalition."

But Bereuter doesn't say, "bring them home now." In fact, as Reeves notes, Bereuter "says he believes that the Middle East and the world are safer places with Saddam Hussein in jail and Americans in Baghdad." [Note the suggestion of deception in "says he believes." When Bereuter says something Reeves agrees with, this tone is absent from the column.]

So the retiring Congressman doesn't say, "we should get out of Iraq. Now!" That leaves Reeves' wife, whose political credentials are unknown. All we know is she vacations in the Hamptons, and Richard Reeves has to put up with her "family arguments." Apparently, that's good enough for Richard Reeves.

I don’t agree that we are all safer because we invaded Iraq. And I can’t argue anymore, certainly not at home, that honor or duty requires us to stay and clean up the mess. We may be making the mess worse, day by day, hour by hour. I find it hard to rebut family arguments that it made no good difference to stay in Vietnam when we almost certainly could have made the same exit deal in 1969 that we settled for in 1973.

Except that that argument is based entirely on hindsight.

We made a mistake going into Iraq. Even if we believed everything Bush and company told us before launching shock and awe, devastation and doubt, the administration was negligent and stupid to ignore the warnings everywhere about what it would take to make and keep a peace.

Except that in 2002-03 the air was thick with dire warnings of world disaster if the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq. The Iranians would sweep across the border. Saddam would rain nukes on Tel Aviv and poison gas on coalition troops; the oil wells would go up in one vast conflagration. The United States would "almost surely" need "at least 100,000 to 200,000" ground forces to conquer the country, and, "Historical precedents from Panama to Somalia to the Arab-Israeli wars suggest that ... the United States could lose thousands of troops in the process." [Brookings Institution]

AID agencies, meanwhile, promised a "vast humanitarian crisis," including mass starvation of as many as 10 million Iraqis, the displacement of 900,000 refugees ["UN Warning of 'Devastating War' In Iraq," Times of London, Dec. 23, 2002], and Saddam Hussein "passing off chemical and biological weapons to terrorists, a generation of new Al Qaeda recruits, as well as loose nukes in Pakistan" [Cato Institute].

Reeves then quotes the hawkish Edward Luttwak's Aug. 18 NYT op-ed piece, “Time to Quit Iraq (Sort Of).” He seems to suggest that Luttwak, like Bereuter, recently had the scales fall from his eyes on the matter of Iraq. But Luttwak has been urging U.S. and U.K. forces to "withdraw to remote desert garrisons and let Iraqis try to govern themselves" since at least October, and calling for a quick exit since at least last August.

In fact, Luttwak hails from the "pragmatic" wing of the U.S. foreign policy camp, who advocated a military overthrow of Saddam, but did not believe the U.S. should be in the business of nation-building, or of bringing democracy to any place in the Middle East. His article that seemed to influence Reeves so much was nothing new in his line of thinking. It was consistent with what he and many others have been saying all along. He'd like us to be out of the cross-hairs but remain a strategic force in the region, tipping the balance between the vultures bickering over the corpse of the Iraqi nation.

Like others of his school, he thinks democracy can only work for a few Western peoples; certainly not for Arabs/Muslims:

Democracy seems to interest few Iraqis, given the widespread Shiite proclivity to follow unelected clerics, the Sunni rejection of the principle of majority rule, and the preference of many Kurds for tribe and clan over elected governments. Reconstruction was supposed to advance rapidly with surging oil export revenues, but is hardly gaining on the continuing destruction inflicted by sabotage and thievery. And in any case, it is unlikely that the new Iraqi interim government will be able to oversee meaningful elections in a country where its authority is more widely denied than recognized.

Luttwak's also a bit of a pessimist, by the way. On the eve of Desert Storm in 1991, he cautioned, "All those precision weapons and gadgets and gizmos and stealth fighters ... are not going to make it possible to re-conquer Kuwait without many thousands of casualties." He was off by, well, "many thousands." This time around, he was more accurate, predicting an easy victory, but he also predicted the people of Baghdad would rise up against their oppressors and liberate themselves from the Baathists once the coalition reached the edge of the city. Oh, well.

Luttwak's got a realpolitik view worthy of Kissinger or Metternich. My heart, schooled in liberal sympathies, can't simply abandon the thousands of Iraqis who have committed their lives, fortunes and sacred honors to the process of bringing an open, political process to their country. And the millions more who wait quietly and hope that life will get better for them all. I'm not content to see the place fall into Hell just for the sake of American convenience. But this is, arguably, a view that a cold-hearted realist could take.

Yet Reeves' clumsy dragooning of Luttwak's most recent NYT op-ed piece shows either Reeves didn't read Luttwak or didn't understand him. Luttwak is advocating "a well-devised policy of disengagement," not an actually abandonment. He's talking about a diplomatic strategy, though a deadly earnest one, as a tactic in the conflict between America and its various enemies in and around Iraq. He calls it "risk-taking statecraft of a high order":

The threat of an American withdrawal would have to be made credible by physical preparations for a military evacuation, just as real nuclear weapons were needed for deterrence during the cold war. More fundamentally, it would have to be meant in earnest: the United States is only likely to obtain important concessions if it is truly willing to withdraw if they are denied. If Iraq's neighbors are too short-sighted or blinded by hatred to start cooperating in their own best interests, America would indeed have to withdraw.

The obvious fact is that those Cold War nukes never were used. Just so the goal of this strategy is not withdrawal at all. Luttwak rounds off his article with three quick, half-hearted paragraphs of mumbled afterthought about how withdrawal wouldn't be much worse than what we've got anyway. And most of Reeves' citations are from this coda of the op-ed piece.

Reeves writes:

Finally, writes Luttwak: “The situation in Iraq is not improving, the United States will assuredly leave one day in any case, and it is usually wise to abandon failed ventures sooner rather than later.”

And, sooner rather than later, I shall go to the beach and tell my wife she was right all along.

But that's not what Luttwak says "finally." Here's what he says finally:

So long as the United States is tied down in Iraq by over-ambitious policies of the past, it can only persist in wasteful futile aid projects and tragically futile combat. A strategy of disengagement would require risk-taking statecraft of a high order, and much competence at the negotiating table. But it would be based on the most fundamental of realities: for geographic reasons, many other countries have more to lose from an American debacle in Iraq than does the United States itself. The time has come to take advantage of that difference.

So I found my thinking man who believes the U.S. should simply get out of Iraq now. He hides behind two other thinking men, but they don't say what he says at all. Once you pull away his smoke screen, he's just a hen-pecked husband.

Mosque and State

[Some further reflections on religion and secular society, in Islam and the West]

Plant your feet in the land of pure Islam, where religion governs all life's choices, and look at the West: The Seal of the Prohpets, Muhammad, has delivered God's message. And we have rejected it. Whether we are Christian, Wiccan, Jew, or secular, our refusal to submit to Islam is a religious decision. Moreso, our secular government is seen as an act of religion. We choose to limit faith to private and personal matters, not to give it primacy in civic law and communal life, as Muslims do.

We say that experience has taught us the wisdom of separating church and state, religion and law. But is this so? It also is true that this rule of secular law is allowed us, if not required of us, by the Christian Gospel.

Now, I haven't seen any Muslim apologists make this argument, perhaps because they haven't studied our sources and noted how the foundations of Western secularism are rooted in Christian (Protestant) theology. But they are so rooted, especially in Christ's injunction about God and Caesar.

In part, certainly, the authors of the Enlightenment knew their audience would be overwhelmingly believers, and the secularists had to walk the tightrope to coax such minds out of their theocratic notions without appearing to be anti-God. I can believe such cynicism of a Hume (who often wrote about Islam when he meant Christianity) or a Tom Paine.

But Locke and Milton were sincere Christians, and they advanced the notion of secular government and separation of church and state. And they drew deeply on the Scriptures to do so.

In both the documents I quoted earlier -- Locke's letter concerning toleration and Madison's resolution asserting government non-cognizance of religion, the authors grounded their assertions in the Gospel. Locke, direct quotes nine times from the Bible in his letter. He denounces religious intolerance in explicitly Christian terms:

[T]he Gospel frequently declares that the true disciples of Christ must suffer persecution; but that the Church of Christ should persecute others, and force others by fire and sword to embrace her faith and doctrine, I could never yet find in any of the books of the New Testament.

Since Christianity lacks a detailed code of laws and behaviors, government legislation of religion would be dangerous to faith:

Nor, when an incensed Deity shall ask us, "Who has required these, or such-like things at your hands?" will it be enough to answer Him that the magistrate commanded them. If civil jurisdiction extend thus far, what might not lawfully be introduced into religion? What hodgepodge of ceremonies, what superstitious inventions, built upon the magistrate's authority, might not (against conscience) be imposed upon the worshippers of God?

Even when he extends the widest degree of toleration, Locke bases it on the absence of a prohibition in the Gospels to do so.

[N]either Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing. The Church which "judgeth not those that are without" wants it not.

Madison, in his Virginia pamphlet, also addressed a God-fearing audience. Probably there's a degree of sophistry in his painting Patrick Henry's bill to provide public funds for religious education as an anti-Christian bill, because "it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them."

But in the course of his central argument Madison makes statements that, though he comes down on the secular side, show as high a respect for religion as you can find in the works of any ayatollah:

Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.

By that way of seeing, if America's culture of faith had been Islamic, not Christian, the laws of the nation would have been bound to follow Shari'a. Both Locke and Madison, I think, would say secular civil government is an act of obedience to Scripture.