Sunday, March 26, 2006

No More Martyrs

"The Quran is very clear, and the words of our prophet are very clear. There can only be one outcome: death,"Khoja Ahmad Sediqi of the Afghan Supreme Court

“We don't care if the West drops its support for us. God will look after Afghanistan.”Mohammed Qasim, a cleric in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan

Americans of all faiths have died in Afghanistan, fighting to take down the Taliban, fight al-Qaeda and bring democracy to the country. And for what? What have we been fighting for there? Only to see the Afghans take a page from the Taliban, with plans to execute a guy simply because he converted from Islam to Christianity (proving once again what we can ultimately expect from Islamic “tolerance” of other faiths) sixteen years ago.

We need to free Abdul Rahman. By force, if necessary. And it appears that such a goal might be best done militarily anyway. His family has already long ago rejected him. Even if he is released, he could be executed by fellow citizens on the streets for apostasy. Don’t believe me? The chief imam at Haji Yacob Mosque said “He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian. The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed.” Send in Special Forces to wherever Abdul Rahman is being held and bring him to the United States. That's a quick enough settlement, I think.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if they are our “allies” (with friends like these, who needs enemies?). And you know what? I don’t care what effect it will have when we humiliate a few more Muslims on the battlefield. Plenty of people are willing to die in the struggle to kill as many of us non-Muslims as possible anyway. Afghanistan doesn’t deserve our help if they are going to execute a guy because, out of obvious conviction,he converted from Islam to Christianity sixteen years ago while helping out fellow Afghan refugees. Enough of them don't want our help anyway, because our power gets in the way of their extremist ambitions.

Why should such a man have to be a martyr in this day and age? Why should anyone be killed simply by virtue of the fact that they are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim? Haven’t enough people died in the name of religion already? Let us not forget that we did not start the modern “Reverse Crusade” being waged against our societies by extremist Muslims. Let us also not forget the martyrs of many religions over the past few thousand years, who died because of zealotry - from the days when Jewish Zealots through "peaceniks" over the walls of Jerusalem for wanting to talk peace with the Roman legions surrounding the city in the 1st century CE, to the Crusaders slaughtering Jews and Muslims a thousand years later, to today, where in a "free Afghanistan" the right for one to worship as they wish apparently a right good only on paper, not in practice. Enough is enough.

Enough, yes, is enough. Why should more Americans die for and in an Afghanistan that has to debate whether or not a man should be executed for making a personal choice that causes absolutely no harm to others around him?

Think about it: Islam holds Jesus to be a prophet in the same line of prophets that they claim their all-but-deified Prophet Muhammad to be a part of. Because a man who at one time followed the teachings of one of the prophets of Islam chose to follow the teachings of another in that line, he deserves to be executed? I think not. Some constitution they’ve got there – Abdul Rahman is free to vote, to speak what he wants to speak, but not to believe what he wants to believe. The message of the Afghan Constitution, and it seems all of Islam, is “If you leave Islam you die” (it is also, by the way, apparently so that if you don’t believe in the Prophet Muhammad, you die).

In days of yore, the Taliban blew up Buddha statues and imprisoned Christian missionaries in Afghanistan. How, by executing Abdul Rahman, would the “new” Afghanistan be any different from the old one? Is it the democratic forces in Afghanistan that are gaining from the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban, or the clerics? Is Afghanistan to be a sham democracy? Is that what we've spent the past few years fighting for there?

I let out a huge, disbelieving guffaw when President Bush said last week “I look forward to working with the government of that country (Afghanistan) to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship”. That’s just stupid. You look forward to it? You look forward to “working with the government” of that country? What nonsense! Haven’t we made it clear since October 2001 that if there is an Afghan government dedicated to stripping people of religious freedom, rather than to upholding it, we’re going to act against it? Did we really “work” with the Taliban?

No! They wouldn’t hand over bin Laden, so we acted. Now, I think that Afghan president Hamid Karzai is a good man who loves his country. But if he cowers before the ultra-conservative clerics who manipulate his nation's politics not-so-behind-the-scenes he’s no better for the Afghan people than Mahmoud Abbas is for the Palestinians. If Karzai gives in, or the West gives in, then one would have to wonder to what lengths we will go to protect freedom – is it only oil that we fight for, or human decency as well? Will we tolerate hundreds or thousands of coalition troops dying not fighting Islamic extremism, but propping it up?

To those that object to using force and suggest diplomacy in this matter, I admit that yes, diplomacy might work to free Abdul Rahman – in two months, in ten years, or on his death bed – but what about the next Christian convert? What if – by God – someone decides to go Jewish in Afghanistan? What can we expect to hear? Infidel! Apostate! Free-thinker! Zionist! KILL HIM! How many “Abdul Rahmans” will there be before we throw up our hands in disgust, give Kabul the finger, and leave them to the warlords they seem so inclined to bow down to? Is it realistic to expect that even a plea of mercy from the Pope himself will do much good? It's nice to dream about, but reality cautions us to prepare for a negative outcome.

This affair should also make us reconsider what sort of government in Iraq we're fighting to set up, too. Will a government in Baghdad with a mindset similar to that in Kabul protect freedom of worship – of any religion – or hinder it? If a finalized Iraqi constitution has as many contradictions as the Afghan one, then I say again we should think long and hard about keeping our troops fighting to create such a situation whereby thousands of American troops are dying to prop up those who would preach our destruction. There would be cause for shame, were we to pull out of Iraq out of some sort of perception that we can’t, or shouldn’t, fight the terrorists there.

However, there would be very little shame at all to pull out the Christians, Jews and Muslims fighting on behalf of the Stars and Stripes – and democratic change – there because we don’t want to aid in the creation of another intolerant government in the Middle East. It’s bad enough, quite embarrassing really, that we have already fought to uphold such governments in the past – namely, in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Why continue to fight to create a regime that we’d just be inclined to “change” in the near future because it seeds and grows jihad-obsessed warriors? What a waste that would be! Is American blood that cheap?

Our president has said on this matter that “We have got influence in Afghanistan, and we are going to use it.” You’re right – we do have influence. Military influence. Use the troops. Show the world that America will not give into the clerical bully followers of a 7th century CE self-proclaimed Arab Messiah, whose adherents preach not peace and love but hate and blood toward their fellow human beings, in a country we've fought to bring freedom of choice to.

Let us show that freedom of choice in religion, the freedom to worship whomever or whatever a person may choose, is an inherent part of democratic societies, and that the U.S. is prepared to take up arms not just to bring democracy to foreign countries when undemocratic leaders might wish to harm us, but also to rescue those whose only crime is believing what they wish, in their hearts, to believe. Get Rahman out of there.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Justice in One of its Many Forms

How people can say that former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic escaped justice by dying in a jail cell in The Hague on Saturday is a bit beyond me.

So, he wasn’t convicted. But instead of dying in a hospital in Moscow with his family by his side, where his doctors wanted to treat him, the architect of four Balkan wars and hundreds of thousands of deaths died in a jail cell, far away from home or friendly soil, on trial for, among other things, genocide and war crimes.

You ask me, when an evil man dies in a jail cell – whether he was convicted or not, I am utterly convinced (as I have been since we went to war to help out the Kosovar Albanians in '99) that Slobodan Milosevic was an evil, despotic human being – that doesn’t tell me that he escaped punishment.

It tells me that Justice is not always dispensed uniformly, and that sometimes Justice, far from being blind, has 20/20 vision - he had a fair enough trial, for a Yugoslav war criminal . I understand such an idea comes as no comfort, or cold comfort, to the families of those whose deaths he either ordered or orchestrated, but the man died in prison. I remember when he was forced to surrender after a standoff so many years ago – and now, he’s dead.

He was a poor leader, who reflected poorly on Serbia and all Serbians who supported him. He’s a man that started and lost four wars – let the idiots in Serbia who loved him mourn him. He didn’t escape Justice by dying. He was served Justice by not escaping from those who sought to put him on trial.

And yes, the trials of those who helped him to start wars and murder innocent people might be complicated by his death. Still, if they are in jail, some semblance of Justice remains.

Slobodan Milosevic was a bad man. He died in a jail cell – so what if it was by natural causes. His death wasn’t a bad thing. If his is not to be celebrated, then at least let us not mourn him either.

Good riddance to Milosevic. Let him burn in Hell.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Mein Kampf, 2006

There is something about having an online outlet for one’s feelings and emotions that it sometimes seems like a soft underbelly, where if you’re not careful some sort of Hurricane Katrina can come out of nowhere and rip who you think you are to shreds and expose your vulnerabilities to the world. Of course, sometimes this occurs in full view of everyone, and at other times you have to advertise it otherwise people will misjudge your calm exterior as being the reflection of calm inside yourself…when in fact a storm is raging and, well, the levees have broken. Welcome to Jeremy Slavin's "Heart on a Sleeve Hour" (it took me about an hour to write and refine this, almost 1am on Saturday now).

I realized last Sunday that the intense discomfort, anxiety, and stress that I’d been feeling for a few days were the most immediate warning signs of a nervous breakdown. I didn’t realize that what I was going through was a nervous breakdown – though in the hours leading up until I did my research, I suspected as much. I made the decision to look up the definition of what is commonly referred to as a “nervous breakdown”, and the signs fit me all too well. What really was the spark to the barrel of gunpowder was simple enough – as I was going through the motions at work, I realized that even though I knew the calendar date, I was saving documents to be posted later according to a wrongly-held view of what the future dates of the week would be. It seems small, and in terms of work it was. I don’t care enough about my job to be upset about wrongly dating documents.

But the realization that I was so out of touch with the flow of things that I could somehow get the idea that a Thursday was the 23rd of February and not the 24th, and that I could so believe this that I would date literally dozens of documents in this way (even while dating others correctly), unlocked something within me that I didn’t know how to deal with. I felt so out of touch, so off balance – so unnerved – that a deep lethargy and malaise set in. Thursday night (end of the work week here) and Friday night, I tried to clear my head by drinking some beer.

On Thursday it was a solitary bottle of Corona, but on Friday evening it was two 500 mL bottles of Goldstar beer. I was convinced that drinking just enough to get a buzz would clarify my jumbled thoughts, which made my head feel crowded and in turn made me very uncomfortable. I didn’t drink a lot, but I drank enough and found that my thoughts were slower but in no way cleared. Even then, I began to see that this wasn’t some simple crisis or end-of-week stress. This was something else.

I spent Saturday in something of a daze, and even went so far as to purposely not pay attention to time for a while not long after waking up…which, when you think about it a bit, is kind of counter-productive to one who has lost touch with the passage of time and dates. Still I was kind of productive during what turned out to be about 4.5 hours, cleaning up the apartment a bit, showering, and reading a good bit of new book I’d bought in a series novels about Julius Caesar’s military and political career (really quite interesting; but another blog will be about books, related to this entry).

It relaxed me, this not-paying-attention-to-time thing, but only lasted as long as it could. On Saturday night, after Shabbat ended, I went to a party in Ramat Gan with my friends Mike and Avram, and for a while drowned my mounting crisis in a couple of cups of wine and several cups of vodka-laden drink combinations of one kind or another. Upon returning to Jerusalem early in the morning, I woke up 4 hours after passing out on my bed (still in my jeans), cleaned up - but not before stumbling and almost falling over in the bathroom before I could step into the shower, as the effects of alcohol hadn't worn off - and caught the train to Tel Aviv for the start of work on Sunday. And it was on the train ride that I realized I might be suffering from a nervous breakdown.

You see, all of the crazy, jumbled, ricocheting, disturbing, distressful, uncomfortable thoughts I’d been having since the little incident of getting the dates wrong a few days before had really kind of made me feel as if I was going insane. I was able to write about politics and port deals, etc, but even with my last post before this one I knew that something was seriously wrong. That, and the fact that I was getting teary-eyed emotional without warning – not bawling my eyes out, but feeling as if I wanted to, worried the hell out of me. I, in all honesty, felt as if I was losing my grip on reality. I wasn’t just out of touch – I was off my rocker. That had to be it.

And then, with the realization and confirmation that it was a nervous breakdown on Sunday morning last, there was only the briefest sense of clarity before the daunting task of dealing with the causes began. This has been one of the hardest weeks I can remember going through – at least after the ending of my first, truly serious relationship (which, like this nervous breakdown, occurred in Israel) I had some sense of clarity. I knew why I felt the pain. But this whole thing…it has been dealing with one cause of pain and stress, only to be confronted by another. Then another. Then another. And so on.

This is what happens when you don’t deal with the emotional pains of the past and present, the causes of stress that can fester and eat you up inside like a parasite, or like termites eating away at the foundation of you, for much too much long a period of time and then the body gives out – and the foundations crumble. This is what happened to me when I whitewashed the causes and immediate consequences of stress I’d experienced in the many months since moving to the Hebrew/Jewish State, whitewashing in the hopes that it all could be pushed back to be dealt with another day…or not dealt with at all.

I appeased my own fears and doubts and issues by not making decisions about them – I avoided confrontation. And finally taking the time to deal with them, to make decisions and confront the causes of my stress and pain…it’s a struggle. It’s my struggle, at the moment. It isn’t fun. It is ongoing. But I realized, a little late, that it is necessary anyway.

And I bet, from the title, you’d thought this would be about politics or anti-Semitism.

Fooled you. But I'm not joyful about it, because all this ain't over yet. Not yet.