2017-09-01

Jonathan Spyer on Ukraine's Jews

Jonathan Spyer:
In summer, Kiev is a charming city, filled with cafes and light. But the peaceful atmosphere is deceptive. History has not departed. Ukraine has been shaken in recent years once again – by revolution, and its handmaiden, war.

The ‘Euromaidan’ revolution toppled the pro-Russian government of President Victor Yanukovych in March, 2014. Yanukovych’s departure was followed by the Russian seizure of Crimea, and then the outbreak of a Russian-supported ,separatist insurgency in the Donbass – the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. The ill-equipped, rusty Ukrainian forces moved to crush the insurgency, but were then met by the entry of conventional Russian troops in August. The Ukrainians suffered bloody setbacks in the battles of Iovitsk and Debaltseve, before a ceasefire agreement was signed in Minsk on February 11, 2015.

The war is not over, and the issues that led to its outbreak have not been resolved. Today, the Ukrainians and their Russian enemies face one another along a static 400 kilometer front line. Observers from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) monitor the ceasefire. This reporter spent several days in the warzone of eastern Ukraine, and shooting across the lines is a nightly occurrence. Not just rifles. RPG, self propelled grenades and machine guns too. 10,090 people have died in this largely forgotten conflict over the last three years. Over 2 million people have been made homeless.

The war has impacted on Ukraine’s Jewish community in two central ways. Firstly, Jews resident in eastern Ukraine have suffered the direct physical effects of the fighting. Most of Donetsk and Luhansk’s Jews fled westwards as the frontlines approached their homes in 2014. The provisions offered by the Ukrainian authorities to those made homeless by the war are minimal. Efforts are ongoing by a variety of Jewish organizations to provide for those Ukrainian Jews made refugees by the events.

The second impact is a little less tangible. The war of 2014 was an important moment in the ongoing development of national identity in independent Ukraine. ...

Melanie Phililps on Liberal Rabbis and Trump

Melanie Phillips:

'In America, four liberal rabbinic organizations have scrapped their participation in the annual conference call in which the president traditionally offers his greetings for the Jewish New Year.

Their reason? President Donald Trump’s statements about the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville were “lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred.”

After that rally, which gave rise to a violent counterprotest and the murder of a young woman when a white supremacist driver plowed his car into a group of “antifa” (or anti-fascist) protesters, Trump provoked widespread fury by observing there had been violence on both sides. ...

There is now ample evidence of the hatred, intimidation and violence these supposed anti-fascists direct – not just against far-right extremists, but against all conservatives and white people, and Israel, too.

Last weekend on the Berkeley campus, more than a hundred antifa members attacked a small number of Trump supporters, injuring six, while screaming their true intention – to destroy the USA.

If anyone is “lacking in moral leadership and empathy” for the victims of hatred, it’s surely those liberal rabbis.

Faced with left-wing aggression and bigotry, many American Jews display a high degree of cognitive dissonance. That’s because they think not as Jews, but as leftists – not least because they can’t discern the difference. ...'

2017-08-27

Special

People tend to want to believe things that are flattering to themselves.

If you believe that most of the people around you are ignorant, racist bigots, then you get to be special and enlightened just by virtue of not being a bigot. Slandering the masses is a great way to feel good about yourself.

If, on the other hand, most people are not particularly prejudiced, then not being a bigot doesn't make you special - it just makes you normal.

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Covenant Lands: Updates

I moved back to Portland at the beginning of 2014, after living in San Francisco for a few years for family reasons. At the beginning of 2017, I moved back to my old building in downtown Portland, and I'm working full-time in IT these days.

So I've been away from blogging for a while, but I mean to find time to start posting regularly again. When I first started posting at this blog (then called Dreams Into Lightning) some thirteen years ago, the big stories were chiefly in the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.

A lot has happened in those thirteen years. I still follow the Middle East closely - in fact, I had the opportunity to visit Iraqi Kurdistan in April of 2015. I'm now also following events in Africa, and I visited Kenya and Uganda in 2016.

But I'm also paying a lot of attention to events closer to home. The election of President Donald Trump unleashed a wave of destructive and sometimes violent leftist riots in many left-leaning cities, including Portland and San Francisco. Conservatives and their allies - including the Patriot Prayer organization - responded with rallies in those same cities. It is, literally, a battle for control of the streets, and it's still ongoing.

I joined the pro-Trump patriots in the June 4 rally in Portland; my friend Andy Ngo covered the rallies for National Review, and reported on Chadwick Moore's appearance at Portland State University.

There's a lot more that I want to write about politics and free speech, and about how my understanding of the world has developed and evolved since I started blogging in 2004. (I also post at Lightning Times, formerly Dreams Into Lightning 2, on current news items.) But for now I'm going to leave you with Liberty Wolf on the cancelled San Francisco rally:

Today my beautiful old hometown San Francisco celebrated mob rule and the death of freedom of speech. Congratulations San Francisco! On the urging of your corrupt political class, including Mayor Lee and Nancy Pelosi, you ran a ragged bunch of black men, Latino men, a white woman, a Muslim woman, a Samoan, and assorted other “white supremacists” out of town. How brave, how courageous, how righteous. What a very sad day and what a silly bunch of people. ...

2017-06-18

The Rally

So, I went to the June 4 rally at Terry Schrunk Plaza in Portland.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1927691894133941/

Short version first: It was an amazing experience. I saw Andy there, and finally got to meet Athena and Leo and a number of other local people that I'd only interacted with online. Marco and Harim came up from Cali and I got my picture taken with Harim. A street preacher talked about sin and forgiveness, and a trans activist stomped on a communist flag. This big, friendly Polynesian guy named Tiny started the whole thing off with a warrior dance.

The folks on the other side tried to make trouble for us, but they didn't even make a dent. The Portland police did a good job of keeping order. I had been a bit apprehensive about the event, and didn't decide until the last minute that I was going to go at all. But it was incredible, energizing, and a great chance to build bonds with people I hadn't met before but needed to.

I've already posted (without much context) a few pictures from the event. I'll have more to say soon, both about the rally itself and events leading up to it. But I've had a super busy day and I need to be turning in soon.

Originally posted here: http://asher63.livejournal.com/653076.html

UPDATE: The Federalist has photos.

2017-06-17

Trump

The people who formed a caricatured, cartoon-villain image of Trump based on his persona are deeply invested in their perception. At stake is the validity of their whole system for categorizing people based on speech, mannerisms, and other markers of "sophistication". Threaten this, and a whole world-view comes crashing down in ruins.

Religion and Politics

Maybe you think my religion is stupid. That's fine - sometimes I think my religion is stupid too.

I like being free to explore, question, and re-affirm my beliefs from one day to the next. I love being able to discuss and debate these things with others without fear. One of the great achievements of Western civilization has been the creation of a broad cultural consensus, enshrined in law but deeply rooted in hard-won social norms, that makes possible the free and open discussion of matters of faith without fear of reprisal or persecution.

We are in danger of losing this.

No one will be burned at the stake or imprisoned for attacking Christianity in any Western country. Well and good. But today's self-styled "liberals" who are so proud of their indifference to Jewish and Christian doctrine will bend over backwards to defend Islam against any perceived slight, and to smear and silence those who critique the Muslim faith.

I am under no moral obligation to have a good opinion of Islam, and I don't. Maybe I'm wrong, and you're certainly welcome to debate me on the matter; but I reserve the right to form my own opinion. That doesn't mean that I'm blind to the fact that there are people who are fine, beautiful human beings, and also devout Muslims. It does mean that I'm capable of judging individual human beings by their character - and also of forming judgments about the belief systems that influence the behavior of millions of people.

On my coffee table at this very moment sits a slim, attractively bound paperback titled 'Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment'. Edited and translated by Caroline Warman and others, it's an anthology of the founding texts of the European Enlightenment.

The book was conceived and produced in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders as a tribute to the highest ideals of the French Republic. A far nobler and more constructive gesture than lighting candles and posting "Je Suis Charlie" on social media - and yet, still tragic. Because in the end, the jihadis unequivocally won. Charlie Hebdo continued publishing, but never again dared incur Muslim wrath with cartoons of Mohammed.

"Can Islam be reformed?" This is a question asked by many well-meaning Westerners. Personally I think it is only answerable by the Muslim world as a whole. Whether Muslims "reform" their religion or abandon it altogether is of no concern to me; what I care about is the practical outcome.

I do not entirely understand the solicitude of Western non-Muslim liberals for the well-being of Islam. They want to defend it from criticism and even save it from itself. It's almost as if, having abandoned church and synagogue themselves, they remain in the grip of an unacknowledged craving for religion.

What I do know is that I care about my relationship with the Creator and with the sacred tradition that I (however imperfectly) follow. I care about the freedom to use my gift of reason to investigate the meaning of the Scriptures and the findings of science. I care about living in a world where people treat one another with the kindness and dignity befitting beings made in the image of G-d.


Originally posted here: http://asher63.livejournal.com/655133.html

Senate Democrats Snub Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani

Andy Ngo in the New York Times:

On Wednesday, Democratic senators appeared to ignore Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani after they gave brief testimonies on the ideology of Islamism at a U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, sparking a social media outcry.

It was the first time a Senate hearing was devoted to discussing the ideas motivating both violent and nonviolent Islamist movements around the world, but, through a strategy of deflection and demonization, the Democratic senators — mostly women — ignored the scholarly and lived expertise of Hirsi Ali and Nomani.

Viewers in the Twittersphere took immediate notice as they watched the live stream on C-SPAN. ...

Go to the link for the rest. Great reporting by Portland's Andy Ngo, who clearly has gone on to bigger and better things since leaving the Vanguard.

2017-06-08

US vs Iran in Syria

Nicholas Blanford at CSM (via Jonathan Spyer):
US-backed forces announced Tuesday that they had begun the long-awaited assault on the northeastern Syrian city of Raqqa, the so-called Islamic State's main stronghold in the country and its self-declared capital.

But some 170 miles to the south, in a remote corner of Syria’s southeastern desert, another clash is brewing that is pitting the strategic objectives of the United States against those of Iran, and that could soon bring US troops and Iranian-backed forces into direct military confrontation.

Both US and Russian warplanes have been deployed, and some shots have already been fired, including by US-backed coalition forces on Tuesday, the US military said.

The clash is over a military garrison at Tanf, located near a border crossing on a highway that cuts through hundreds of miles of flat desert. It was captured from jihadist forces more than a year ago and is being used by US Special Forces and allies to train Syrian militias to fight ISIS, which controls territory to the northeast. ...
Read the rest at the link.

2017-06-07

Andy Ngo on Free Speech in Portland


Andy Ngo in Conservative Review:

After Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler referred to two upcoming conservative political rallies as “alt-right demonstrations” peddling “hatred and bigotry,” the event organizers are pushing back.

“I am calling on the federal government to immediately revoke the permit(s) they have issued for the June 4th event and to not issue a permit for June 10th,” Wheeler wrote on Twitter. He cited the deadly knife attack police say was carried out by suspect Jeremy Christian, a homeless man with a violent criminal history, as reason for the proposed free-speech bans.

The ACLU of Oregon also weighed in on the controversy, pointing out that Wheeler’s call for censorship is unconstitutional. ...

Read the rest at the link. More on the rally to follow soon.

2017-05-12

The Right to Openly Discuss Ideas Must Be Defended

2017-05-09

Jonathan Spyer on Syria


https://jonathanspyer.com/2017/05/09/assads-hollow-crown/

The old city was tense, behind a veneer of strained normality. There were checkpoints every hundred meters or so. These were maintained not by the army, but by the National Defense Force (NDF), an Iranian-sponsored paramilitary force created to fill the gap presented by the Assad regime’s lack of loyal manpower. Young men mostly, with a sprinkling of older types and a very few girls. Supervised by Mukhabarat officers with pistols in their belts. They were suspicious of foreigners. There had already been a number of suicide attacks by members of the jihadi organizations in regime-controlled areas.

For the most part, though, the atmosphere of strained normality held. Undoubtedly, fear of the regime played its part in the exaggerated professions of loyalty and love for Bashar that one would hear. But there was also justified fear of the Islamist rebels, and what their advance would mean. And, of course, there was mainly fatigue, and the desire of people to live in their own private circle, and willingness to cope with any governing authority which appeared able to provide for that. The Syrian pound had plummeted in value since the start of the war – from 48 pounds to the US dollar in March 2011 to 625 to the dollar now. There were long queues each morning to buy subsidized bread at the state bakeries. The traffic was on the roads, the shops were open, pictures of the dictator and his family were everywhere. But all was far flimsier and more brittle than it initially appeared.

I should explain first of all how I came to be in Damascus. I have been writing about Syria now for over a decade. I have visited the country numerous times since the outbreak of its civil war in mid-2011. My visits, though, were always to the areas controlled by the Sunni Arab rebels or the Kurdish separatist forces. This was a notable gap in my coverage. I wanted to remedy it. ...

Read the rest at the link. At JS's Facebook page, here is the 'Aleppo is in our eyes' billboard.