Hard Questions for the Obama Administration

What is the capital of Israel?

Journalist: "Could you just give us an answer?"

Will the Department of Justice permit free speech?

Rep. Trent Franks (AZ): "Here's my proposal. I'm asking you to answer a question."

Economist on Jews

The Economist's David Landau finds the world's Jews "alive and well":
JUDAISM IS FLOURISHING, both in Israel, where 43% of the world’s Jews now live, and throughout the Jewish diaspora. The Jews as a nation are flourishing too. Israelis, for all their problems, are the 14th-happiest people in the world, happier than the British or the French, according to a recent global happiness report commissioned by the UN. In the diaspora Jewish life has never been so free, so prosperous, so unthreatened.
Well, that's sure good to know. The writer duly treats of the Jewish experience in America and elsewhere; of Hitler's program of extermination that wiped out one-third of the world's Jews, and of Zionism, which after the experience of Nazi Germany "was vindicated, at least in its own eyes".

Then there is Landau's visit to "a non-Orthodox synagogue in suburban Connecticut", no doubt not far different from the one I attended as a young person. Landau surmises that its members
like most Israelis and diaspora Jews, would tell pollsters that they support peace and two states. The atmosphere there on a recent Sunday could hardly have been more civilised. Jews, Christians and Muslims munched hot dogs and coleslaw together before setting out to clean up the neighbourhood park. The rabbi spoke words of appropriate interfaith inspiration. In the library the synagogue staff had spread carpets on the floor for the Muslims to pray.

In the corridor outside this temporary mosque, two Muslim schoolboys read the Israeli declaration of independence: “We extend our hand of peace and unity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples.” It was displayed alongside a map of the region. “No Gaza,” one noted. “No West Bank either,” his brother added. A synagogue warden explained later that the map was “biblical, not political”.
Landau's account of the interfaith event (not much different, I expect, from the one I attended in Oregon a few years ago) is short on details. What was said by the speakers? How many of the Muslim attendees called for recognition of Israel by the Muslim world? What was the map, exactly, and what did the boys' comments mean?

Never mind, let's get back to the Jews.
The prevailing political sentiment in Jewry today is of aggressive defensiveness, a curious amalgam of victimhood and intolerance. Dissent about Israel is discouraged and often gagged outright. Among British Jewry, some 300,000 strong, “a positively McCarthyite atmosphere has been created,” says Jonathan Freedland, a political columnist. “People are frightened to say what they feel.” In America “honest discussion about Israel is largely shut down,” notes Arnold Eisen, a historian and chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a rabbinical school in New York. “Some rabbis will speak their minds…but people don’t want to fight and there is a disinclination to argue about Israel. The right says you’re giving aid and comfort to the enemy if you say anything critical about any Israeli policy.” Given Israel’s power and diaspora Jewry’s strength and influence, that seems paradoxical.

Resurgent religious faith is deeply caught up in this. Nationalism, xenophobia and Judaism blur and merge. Jews find themselves out of step with most of world opinion, which heightens a widespread sense of apprehensiveness. Iran’s threats and nuclear pretensions provide a focus for these feelings. Diaspora Jewish leaders insist that Israel is misunderstood. They attribute criticism to anti-Semitism, which is rising again.
Well, I'm sure I can manage an intelligent comment on this, if only I can get past my aggressive defensiveness, victimhood and intolerance, nationalism and xenophobia.

But wait - did Landau say something about "anti-Semitism, which is rising again"? But I feel so free, prosperous, and unthreatened!

Maybe a look at the comments will help clear things up:
The real disgrace is the existence of "israel". "israel " is in fact the apex of colonisation , founded on a myth of a peopless land perpetuated in an ever increasing occupation. ... The similarities between "israel" and Nazi Germany are startling.

Judaism is enjoying an unexpected revival.Is this good news or bad one?In advanced scientific era people are returning to religion that mean some thing wrong with scientific advance.I have on objection Jews are embarrassing again to religion.My only request to Jews please abandoned your old psyche which teach you " An eye for eye and tooth for tooth'"this revengeful motto poured too much blood in the world. ...

Im not even gonna bother commenting on this "hebrew appreciation piece" since everything critically to orientals would be deleted.
Alive and well, indeed.


Armed Patron Foils Robbery

Awesome. Wizbang has the video, I'll just let you go over there and take a look.

OCALA - The Internet cafe patron who shot and injured two men as they tried to rob the business will likely not face any criminal charges.

“Based on what I have seen and what I know at this time, I don't anticipate filing any charges,” said Bill Gladson of the State Attorney's Office for 5th Judicial Circuit. ...

Samuel Williams, 71, who fired the shots, has a concealed weapons permit, according to the Sheriff's Office ...

And notice how FAST those guys took off! Notice too that the 71-year-old Williams was - to all appearances at least - outnumbered and outarmed. (The second intruder was carrying "a bat or something".) Henderson, who carried the gun, claims it wasn't loaded, and that his accomplice, Dawkins, was injured by broken glass when he smashed a computer monitor. (Real geniuses, these guys.)

But the thing that stands out most for me is the element of surprise.

Here's more on Henderson and Dawkins:
Hours after his release from the hospital, Henderson, who talked about the pain he feels in his buttock and hip, said the plan was to “barge in, get the money and leave.” He said “he never expected anyone to be armed.”
And I'd say the video bears that out.

Well, that's one way of looking at it.

Apart from the fear of other attacks abroad, yesterday's events are worrying because of the region's increasing lack of stability. Assad's regime hangs in the balance, Iran is allegedly responsible for killing Israelis abroad, and Israel is approaching decision time on the Iranian nuclear threat. In view of all this, the chances that this summer we'll be able to focus on the social protest and on drafting the ultra-Orthodox are dwindling.
Yup, I'd say that's probably a safe bet.

Honor Killings: Not Exclusively Muslim - But Overwhelminly So

Phyllis Chesler: 'Although the overwhelming majority of honor killings worldwide occur within Muslim communities,[1] one would not know this by reading the mainstream media. Fearful of being labeled "Islamophobic," the American press has given only glancing attention to the widespread, honor-related ritual murder of Muslim women in the Middle East and South Asia while treating periodic honor killings among Muslim immigrants in the West as ordinary domestic abuse cases. ...'

Read the rest at the link.


Courage and Desolation: "Where the West Ends" by Michael J. Totten

"Where the West Ends" is, at least superficially, a travelogue about the region straddling eastern Europe and western Asia, during the period from 2006 to 2012. The book is divided into four sections covering the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea. It's roughly the same region covered by Robert D. Kaplan about ten years earlier in Kaplan's book "Eastward to Tartary". But "Where the West Ends" is more personal, and it is astonishing. At times it surreally reminded me of China Mieville's novel "The City & the City".

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Probably most of us are guilty of throwing around terms like "the West" and "the Middle East" without really thinking too hard about what they mean, or where those places begin or end. If you want to understand what "the West" is, read this book to learn where it is, and where it is not.

There is a persistent feeling of loneliness in this book. It is the loneliness of communities cut off from one another and from themselves; but it's also the loneliness of certain individuals who refuse to be confined within the communal walls that are assigned to them.

There are harrowing stories of violence and cruelty, such as Berisha's tale of the expulsion of the Albanians from Prishtina and the ravaging of Krusha e Vogel. There is Ukraine's memory of the Stalinist "hunger plague" of 1932-1933. But there are also stories of courage and kindness, and of hope.

Three themes emerged for me as I read "Where the West Ends". There is the image of the lonely liberal, surrounded by a sea of increasingly hostile and violent factions. There is the conflict between old traditionalism and new fundamentalism. And there is the improbable eruption of pro-Americanism in the strangest places.

The Serbian film writer Filip David is one of those lonely liberals; so is the half-Serbian, half-Bosnian Predag Delibasic, who takes pride in having declared himself variously a Jew, a Muslim, and a Yugoslav - and claims that nonexistent nationality to this day. Perhaps the loneliest, though, is Shpetim Mahmudi, an Albanian Sufi mystic who must watch the gradual encroachment of foreign-backed Arab islamists on the grounds of his religious compound. His story is tragic.

It also points to something important about religious conflict in the Muslim world: that the conflict is often not - as Westerners sometimes imagine - a case of Western modernity threatening to extinguish Islamic tradition. Rather, it is instead a direct attack on centuries-old, evolving religious traditions by well-armed, well-financed followers of a comparatively recent fundamentalist sect. It is ancient moderation versus newfangled fanaticism.

It should not be news that there are places in the world where America is not well liked. Serbia is one of those places, as attested by the Belgrade taxi driver's curt greeting to Totten at the beginning of chapter 2. What's a better-kept secret, though, is that there are places that are enthusiastically pro-American. "Where the West Ends" visits some of those places: Iraqi Kurdistan, Albania, Georgia, Romania.

Taken as a whole, this book presents a spectrum of individual and communal relationships: nation-states new and old, enclaves and exclaves, secessionist and occupied zones, segregated and integrated communities, and individuals struggling - with varying degrees of success - to behave with dignity and decency amid environments calculated to breed brutality.

What we're left with is an admiration of the courage it takes to succeed. The Georgians in chapter 9 have watched Russian planes burn their forests and bomb their villages. They are angry with Russia, but they do not hate Russians. And Delibasic, at the end of chapter 2, says, "I don't hate anybody" - not even the general who commanded the prison camp where he was once confined.

Still, forgiveness is sometimes born of proximity. In the course of a conversation with a Romanian researcher about that country's Communist past, Totten is reminded of a militant in another place who said, "[They] don't live here … they live over there, so I don't have to forgive them!"

One final note: The values and traditions that we cherish in the West are by no means assured of continuance. "The West" is an abstraction that exists in space and also in time. If in the title you replace the word "where" with "when", the book is also a warning.

The book ends with an unforgettable scene of desolation. Read the book all the way to the end, to understand why the chilling final pages capture a part of Europe still haunted by many ghosts.

UPDATE: Thanks to Michael Totten for the link!


Jonathan Krohn: Beyond Conservatism

The Blaze interviews the young "ex-conservative" Jonathan Krohn, CPAC's poster child from the 2008 campaign:
“I’m not transitioned to another ideology,” he says from his mother‘s silver car parked outside his grandma’s retirement home. “I keep saying I really want to be myself. I don‘t’ want to be identified as this ideology or that ideology.”

Either way, he embraces Obamacare, gay marriage, and abortion — his social conservatism, he says, was the first thing to go.

He throws out sentences such as “when I was conservative,“ and says ”my views are a lot more liberal than they are conservative.“ He slips in phrases like ”the ideological anger that comes from the right.” And if you point that out, he admits that it’s hard to describe his story without using widely-accepted terms.

“I see that, and I agree,” the 17-year-old, with black plastic glasses and slightly disheveled hair, admits. “My problem with calling myself something is I’ve had bad experiences labeling myself. And I feel that the problem is that if you label yourself you get locked into an ideology with all the trappings. You have every little thing you have to agree to to be a part of an ideology, you know?”
Do I ever. This is why I resist calling myself a "conservative" or "ex-liberal", even though most of my left-leaning friends would undoubtedly call me a "right-winger". (I use the term "neoconservative" in my blog header with a healthy dose of irony.) As I mentioned in my previous post, I think a responsible liberalism has an important part to play. And when your position is perceived as changing, people - especially in the media - want to read all kinds of things into it.

Go read all of Jonathan Krohn's interview at The Blaze. According to a certain narrative, Jonathan shifted "from right to left"; according to another narrative, I went "from left to right". But I think the truth is that Jonathan and I both went in a new direction - and we're not really all that far apart.

On Culture

I'm not going to bore you by recapitulating the debate over "multiculturalism", but I do want to link this excellent article from my old friends at Psychology Today:
My ancestors are from the violent, improverished part of Sicily. This gave me a dash of realism when teachers taught me to celebrate other cultures and sneer at everything American. I embraced this "multicultural view" for a long time, and even taught it to innocent youth. But I could not continue the dishonesty of excusing huge flaws in other cultures, while erasing all the good in American culture.

For exampel, a recent PT post Lets Eat, Drink and Grow Old Together, described the health benefits of the Sicilian diet and social system. This is true if you overlook the centuries of starvation and in-group murder produced by the Sicilian culture. I speak frankly because this my heritage. ...
By starting an argument with a Sicilian, PT made one of the classic blunders. But more importantly, Loretta Graziano Breuning reminds us that "the rush to idealize other cultures often leads Americans to a self-hate that is bad for our health."
I was shocked to hear the ways people from that culture rationalize and normalize child abuse, spousal abuse, and violent strategies for making your way in the world.

"Our society is like that too" you may rush to say. That's what was taught in school, and I absorbed it because I wanted to be "educated." But I always knew that life was more complicated. I was beaten by my mother, and I could see that "our society" treated me better than I was treated at home. I knew that we do not live in the nightmarish police state suggested by my college professors, who may not have experienced any direct violence. ...
She's talking about what some commentators have labeled "oikophobia" (if your Greek is rusty, that's "fear of the house"):
The adolescent rejection of home and its iterations (ethnic group/tribe/religion) is composed of many different strands; it is nearly, though not completely, universal. Adolescents in more traditional cultures and subcultures typically navigate through a more limited rejection of their parents and culture. The vast majority of adolescents come to terms with the compromises and limitations of their own culture and become full members by the time they have become young adults.

The Oikophobes have now established their own subculture in which adolescent angst and the repudiation of limitations is not only accepted but celebrated; imperfections in America are then the objects of Utopian inspired rage. ...
It's essential to recognize the difference between a reasoned, responsible, constructive critique of one's native culture (which liberalism, at its best, aspires to provide) and an irrational rejection of even the best aspects of one's heritage simply because it is not "foreign" enough. Knowing this difference matters, whether we are ordering lunch, or a land war in Asia.

Islamist Advance

Militant, radical Islam continues to make inroads around the world.

Nigeria: Raids on Christian villages.
Armed gangs attacked Christian villages in northern Nigeria on Saturday, sparking a day of violence in which 37 people died, the military says.

Dozens of men launched attacks on the villages near the city of Jos in the early hours of Saturday.

A military task force deployed and got the situation under control after hours of heavy fighting, officials said.

Muslim herdsmen were blamed for the raids, but their community leaders denied any wrongdoing. ...

Obama invites Morsi to US.
President Barack Obama has invited Egypt's newly elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, to visit the United States in September, an Egyptian official said on Sunday, reflecting the new ties Washington is cultivating with the region's Islamists. ...

Sudan constitution to be 100 percent Islamic.
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Saturday Sudan's next constitution would be "100 percent Islamic" to set an example for neighboring countries, some of which have seen religious parties gain power after popular uprisings. ...

"And we tell non-Muslims, nothing will preserve your rights except for Islamic sharia because it is just," he said.

London police arrest terror suspect.
London police have arrested a female suspected terrorist, the seventh in a sting operation carried out last week.

The 22-year-old woman was taken into custody on Saturday morning on suspicion of committing, preparing or instigating terrorism.

Five men and another woman ages 18 to 30 were picked up in London last Thursday on similar charges, according to CNN. None of the nationalities or ethnic identities of the suspects were released. ...
I'm not going to speculate (and I don't really care) about the "nationalities or ethnic identities" of the suspects, but I'm going to go out on a limb and make an educated guess about their religious ideology. This is not a belief system that promotes tolerance, open-mindedness, and acceptance of others. It's a fundamentalist, totalitarian cult that seeks to dominate the world by force and threats of violence.

CAIR: California Muslims Hold Law Enforcement Training Conference

(LOS ANGELES, CA, 6/21/12) – The Muslim American Homeland Security Congress (MAHSC), along with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and the department’s Muslim Community Affairs Unit, last week held a one-of-a kind training conference for Southern California law enforcement agencies.

SEE: LA County Sheriff Department’s Muslim Community Affairs Unit

The daylong conference, titled “The Muslim Community and Law Enforcement” and held at the IMAN Center, attracted more than 100 law enforcement personnel and featured sessions on dispelling myths about Islam and Muslims, community outreach and engagement and countering violent extremism. Participating agencies included the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department, Redondo Beach Police Department, Glendale Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and several other police departments. A message by Janet Napolitano, Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, was also shared at the conference. ...


Totten Interviews Francona

I gave it a mention in today's Morning Report, but I thought this was worth its own write-up here on DIL 1. My friend Michael Totten has an new interview with Rick Francona and it's well worth reading.
MJT: You lived and worked in Damascus for a while as a military intelligence officer. What did you learn about the Syrian regime that doesn’t come across in media reports?

Rick Francona: I’m pleasantly surprised at the reporting out of Damascus, especially given the fact that is very difficult to get journalists into Syria now. There are quite a few reporters with excellent backgrounds in Lebanon and Syria –people like you who have been on the ground in good times and bad—who understand the deep division in the multicultural makeup of the country.

A Syrian friend keeps me apprised of the situation from his point of view—he’s an Assad supporter, but is quick to explain why. It's pragmatic for him. He, like many in the country, fears a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other Islamist group. The regime is adept at playing on the fears of the Shia, the Alawites, secular Sunnis, Christians, and Druze. None of these groups want to see an Islamist Syria.

The media has done a credible job in exposing the Baath Party regime in Syria for exactly what it is—a ruthless, authoritarian, corrupt machine that will do absolutely anything to keep itself in power. Look at the atrocities committed by the regime protection units of the military, the intelligence and security services, and Assad’s ghastly out-of-control militia, the Shabiha, the ghosts. It almost exceeds the bounds of the imagination. I spend a lot of time watching Syrian social media. It’s heartbreaking and sickening. It's also a testament to the courage of the Syrian people. They know what this regime is capable of, yet still they resist.

I’m sure you’re going to ask what we should do about it. I’m torn. ...
Go read the rest for Francona's comments on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Balkans. He's also got a new book out on Kindle. It is Chasing Demons: My Hunt for War Criminals in Bosnia. Francona's perspective is immensely valuable, and his book looks great. Hopefully we can look forward to more books on the Middle East and the Balkans soon.

Site Update

Welcome to Dreams Into Lightning 1, if this is your first visit, and enjoy your stay. Please also take a look at sister site Dreams Into Lightning 2, where I post breaking news and my daily Morning Report feature.

I've been posting here on Blogger since April 2004. I started posting on TypePad two years later.

Currently I am working on expanding the size and scope of DIL 1 and 2. (This is a challenge as I am working full-time and co-parenting two wonderful kids.) Here at DIL 1 I'll be focusing on personal essays and commentary on the news, in addition to interviews, travel journals, and more. Stay tuned.


Sexual Assault in Egypt

Maya at Feministing:
Another horrifying sexual assault against a woman journalist in Egypt is spotlighting the epidemic of harassment in the country–as well as the risks lady reporters regularly face across the globe. The attack against Natasha Smith, a British student journalist working on a documentary about women’s rights, during the post-election celebrations this past weekend closely echoes the attacks on Lara Logan and Mona Eltahawy last year. ...
Natasha Smith:
But in a split second, everything changed. Men had been groping me for a while, but suddenly, something shifted. I found myself being dragged from my male friend, groped all over, with increasing force and aggression. I screamed. I could see what was happening and I saw that I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t believe I had got into this situation.

My friend did everything he could to hold onto me. But hundreds of men were dragging me away, kicking and screaming. I was pushed onto a small platform as the crowd surged, where I was hunched over, determined to protect my camera. But it was no use. My camera was snatched from my grasp. My rucksack was torn from my back – it was so crowded that I didn’t even feel it. The mob stumbled off the platform – I twisted my ankle.

Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals.

Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions. ...
Muslim Women News:
Sawfat Hegazy, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood preacher who gave the sermon at Friday’s gathering in Tahrir Square, physically and verbally attacked two photographers covering the day’s events.

One photographer is a French freelancer, the other is a staff photographer for Egypt Independent.

The altercation took place on the side of the stage near Mohamed Mahmoud Street, before the arrival of Morsy, who took the presidential oath and delivered a speech in the square yesterday.

The two women were standing with other photographers and cameramen in the area when they were approached by a man who claimed to be from security, who told them to leave the area. They refused, saying there were many other photographers standing there and they were within a safe distance from the stage. ...
Stop Radical Islam has more.