Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Iraq: In Search of Unity

I finally got a chance to listen to Scott Powell's latest Islamist Entanglement lecture which focused on Iraq. The key to understanding Iraq seems to be that for most of history there was no such thing. Unlike Egypt or Iran, Iraq does not have a unifying history, race, or even religion. For much of its recent history the area now occupied by the state of Iraq was made up of three separate provinces within the Ottoman Empire. No modern Iraqis identify with the ancient empires that used to occupy parts of what used to be called Mesopotamia. The Iraqi population is made up of Arabs in the center and south of Iraq and Kurds in the north. Like Iran, the Shiites represent a majority of the Iraqi population; however, unlike Iran there is substantial minority of Sunnis. Thus, the only basis for the existence of an Iraqi political entity are the imperial machinations of the Western powers after World War I, in particular Great Britain. For a while, Iraqis were able to unite somewhat around enmity toward the West. However, after independence, such unity was only possible to be maintained with the brute force of dictatorships. The Iraqi history and background does not lead to optimism with respect to the present attempt to create a united, democratic Iraq by the United States, particularly after the departure of US troops.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Iran

Scott Powell's Islamist Entanglement lectures (also available as individual lectures) help set the historical context for an understanding of the Middle East and last week's lecture on Iran was no different. Beginning briefly with ancient Persia, Scott traces the development what became Iran as part of the various Islamic empires. Important in this regard is that most of Iran, unlike much of the rest of the Muslim world, is Shia. Its religion has thus always put it somewhat at odds with the rest of the Muslim world. After the usual confrontations with the West, Iran began to modernize a little and by the early 20th century some of its intellectuals were attempting to enact constitutional reforms. Unfortunately those reforms failed. Iran has a long history of having an alliance between a military and the religious leadership. The leader is supposed to follow the sacred path and if he does not he deserves to be overthrown. When the leader starts to endorse Western ideas, that is usually when he is regarded as having betrayed his office. Ultimately this is what happened to the American-supported Shah in 1979. Also of note is that Scott presents a somewhat different perspective on the whole Mossadegh-CIA affair of 1953. All in all, this is a highly recommended lecture.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The truth about Hamas and what to do about it

As usual, Caroline Glick puts it best:
The simple truths that the media, Jimmy Carter, the Bush administration, and the Olmert-Livni-Barak government are all unwilling to acknowledge are that Hamas is a genocidal terror group sworn to Israel's destruction and that it represents the will of the majority of Palestinians who elected it to office in 2006 and who continue to support it today.

This plain reality demonstrates that there is only one responsible policy for Israel to follow and for the international community to support if they are truly interested in peace between Israel and the Palestinians. That policy is for Israel to lay waste to Hamas's terror army in Gaza and overthrow its regime. Only when they are forced to pay a real price for their support for terror and jihad - as opposed to being rewarded for it with further Israeli land giveaways - will the Palestinians be forced to reconsider that support. Only when they realize that terror will get them nowhere - as opposed to anywhere they wish - will the Palestinians be forced to accept Israel as an unchanging reality with which they must live in peace.
What it takes to be Homeschool Parent

With all the frequent negative portrayals and comments about homeschooling in the media, it's nice to see a very accurate, positive portrayal for a change. Check it out here!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Update on Ascent of Man

I have now watched eleven of the thirteen episodes of the documentary series Ascent of Man, hosted by Jacob Bronowski. For the most part I have very much enjoyed the show. Bronowski is a passionate, engaging presenter and the content is mostly very rational and at times profound. Nevertheless, at times the presentation suffers from Bronowski's unwillingness to apply the same rational standards that he applies to the sciences to art. He seems to have no issue with modern art, viewing it simply as a response to developments in the sciences and certainly making no attempt to judge it.

However, Bronowski's worst moments are when he attempts to discuss Nazism and its consequences. Here he follows many liberal thinkers in arguing that what makes Nazism (as well as other totalitarian systems) so destructive is their commitment to "absolute knowledge" which he equates with unthinking dogma. Certainly it was the case that what the Nazis considered "absolutes" was dogma to them. Nevertheless, as Leonard Peikoff has pointed out, the Nazis were simultaneously the greatest pragmatists and the greatest dogmatists. This is because they were following the centuries-old philosophical trends that had undermined the objectivity and absoluteness of knowledge, some of their rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, had there been a proper philosophic opposition to the Nazis ideas in Germany, an opposition that upheld contextual absolutes based on the reality and reason, history would likely have been very different.

The fact is that fanatical commitment to systematic ideas cannot be fought with calls for "tolerance." It simply does not work. This is a lesson that is still not widely understood even today, 35 years after Ascent of Man was broadcast.