Home At Last

Last Saturday on the way to HMI traffic was slowed around Topanga due to tree cutting crews. I assumed the same this morning as I drove on the 101 through unusually slow traffic past the blocked Moorpark Road off ramp.

I drove out to Las Vegas and flew out to Parkland. Both were disasters cultivated by ready availability of weapons to people susceptible to violent rhetoric.

What happened last night at the Borderline Restaurant bears the same imprint.

So I will be active over the next few weeks trying to heal the damage at colleges and communities traumatized by the end of so many precious young lives. The psychic scars I salve are the tissue from which the barrier to heaven is woven against those that cultivate a culture of fear.

Think of it that way, my fellow light-workers. We can forgive, but forgiveness does not entail acceptance. Not everyone can be saved.

Basta es basta.

The Ideology of Massacre

Prior to 9/11, the most destructive terrorist attack in America was the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995. One-third of the nine-story building was destroyed, and casualties were concentrated in the day-care center on the first floor.

The perpetrators of the attack, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were motivated in part by the actions of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas. Both incidents involved compounds led by apocalyptic leaders that believed the government was a tyrannical conspiracy. Disaster evolved when normal law-enforcement procedures were initiated against paranoiacs that resisted contact with the outside world. Their possession of gun arsenals was a particular problem.

Where most might have seen government missteps as indicating problems in practice in dealing with a new sub-culture predisposed to violence, the separatist militia movement saw things differently. Propagandized by Reagan’s “government has a boot on your neck” rhetoric and Gingrich’s anti-government messaging, the two incidents in jurisdictions a thousand miles apart were taken as proof of tyranny. Buoyed by this political rhetoric, McVeigh and Nichols saw themselves as freedom fighters, exercising their Second Amendment rights to strike a blow against the ATF agents housed in the Murrah Building.

Gingrich never recognized this connection, because his strategy had much narrower political motivations: attain Republican control of a Congress that had been dominated by Democrats since the New Deal. Rather than deal with specific issues, Gingrich attacked the government as a whole, indicting the Democrats by association. The reverence in which Gingrich is held by the movement reflects the continuing effectiveness of that political strategy: smearing government and blaming Democrats for all of its defects.

It’s the smearing government part that relates to mass murder in our public schools. To a young adult, a public school is the only governmental agency they interact with. When bureaucratic procedures fail to protect students from abuse (as in Columbine) or impose sanctions for paranoid aggression (Parkland), to justify mayhem the affected parties have only to make the same step made by McVeigh and Nichols.

What needs to be understood is that the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment zealots in the Republican Party advocate openly for that step. They characterize gun ownership as an essential element in maintaining a free society, a characterization that makes sense only if guns are actually used by individuals in resisting authority. It is this logic that requires the provision of military-style weaponry to the public, which when turned on unarmed civilians results in heartbreaking trauma.

So for Gov. Scott in Florida and others to assert that these incidents are reflections of “pure evil” should be seen as a self-indictment. These incidents reflect people doing what you tell them they should do, against a government that is incapable of controlling the dangers that your rhetoric incites.

Please, Fire Mueller

The breadth of the GOP conspiracy in the 2016 election was illustrated yesterday when, in response to a demand from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that the FBI produce all documents related to the Steele dossier, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray scheduled a surprise visit with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Nunes, a member of the Trump transition team, is obviously a conflicted choice for chair of a committee so essential to unraveling the Russian investment in Donald Trump. The free press has been steadily amassing evidence that Trump is a Manchurian candidate whose political ambitions were stimulated and financed by Russia, and whose fragility and incompetence alone make it inevitable that American will be humiliated by the two criminal super-powers, Russia and China.

My guess is that Rosenstein and Wray presented evidence that Nunes has been interfering actively in the Russian investigation, probably by funneling information through to the Trump Administration, thereby confronting Ryan with criminal complicity if he did not act to protect the investigation.

But the American public should be tired of this charade. In hearing after hearing, Republican lawmakers have strutted and huffed and humiliated the most dedicated members of American law enforcement. Those individuals have been unable to defend themselves against slurs and innuendo because it would compromise the active criminal investigation led by Mueller.

So I hope that part of what Rosenstein and Wray conveyed to Ryan is:

Go ahead, punk: make our day.

If the investigation is shut down, all these figures will quit, and in defense of our democracy will air publicly everything that they know, exposing GOP criminality to domestic and international condemnation.

The only question left in the balance is whether the Republican base is sufficiently indoctrinated that they will swallow whatever Fox News broadcasts regarding the “Deep State.” Fox News claims that in order to protect the federal civil service jobs targeted by budget cutters in Congress, the right-wing leadership of the FBI is manufacturing evidence that the GOP is a criminal enterprise. That claim is ludicrous on its face, but if the base remains firm, the GOP may indeed be able to hang on to power in the mid-term elections, largely because they have gerrymandered the electoral map to disenfranchise Democratic voters.

But given recent special election results, the odds are long against it.

A Republican friend at work, in the immediate aftermath of the Trump victory, mournfully predicted the death of his party.

I fear that the other alternative is destruction of our democracy as it is transformed according to the Iranian, Chinese and Russian model: pro-forma elections among candidates hand-picked by kleptocrats dedicated to ensuring that the federal bureaucracy no longer intervenes in their rape of the middle class.

My Fair Islam

Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana has posted a threat to “radicalized Islamists” (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Higgins claims that his words are being twisted by the left for political gain.

And what, my dear Mr. Higgins, do you think the ISIL propagandists are doing right now? Telling the impoverished Muslim world that they will find security if they recite the Pledge of Allegiance with marbles in their mouth?

After all, from their point of view, America sends special forces and fighter jets around the world to murder women and children.

There’s no tracing back to the origin of fault. Your job as a political leader is thus not only to fund security, but to build coalitions that reach across sectarian lines. That includes running incendiary words past Islamic leaders. They’re the ones that bear the brunt of hatred, and you damn well better ask permission before you claim the privilege of “free speech.”

The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming!

RussianCodeWe are engaged in World War III. Vladimir Putin go the drop on us, organizing a disinformation campaign that has allowed nationalists throughout the Western World to rise to prominence, undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing hacked documents to support the Republican contention that she was unable to secure secrets.

Russia’s leading opposition figure released a video that both documents the luxurious lifestyle and the ownership structure that allows Putin’s inner circle to protect the wealth they have embezzled from the Russian people. The production include footage from drones flying over huge compounds owned by Putin’s second-in-command, Dmitry Medvedev, a man whose government salary is less than the U.S. President’s.

I don’t think that I need to make any claims regarding the source of this information. It’s almost certainly a tit-for-tat by our intelligence services.

In the last year of his term, the Obama Administration leveled a $700 million fine against DeutscheBank for facilitating embezzlement by Russian officials. Donald Trump netted nearly $60 million through the sale of an estate in Florida to a Russian kleptocrat. The key question in this war is whether American’s intelligence services have the means to hack the hidden accounts to drain away the funds, or means through financial accountability laws to freeze the assets.

If Vladimir Putin had a significant portion of his personal wealth seized by foreign governments, would he respond with a nuclear counter-strike?

It’s hard to judge. The similarities between Putin and Russia’s last strongman, Josef Stalin, are eerie. Stalin, too, sent state security agents around the world to assassinate actual and supposed enemies.

Stalin set the terms of the Russian campaign to build nuclear weapons. The program was driven by terrifying threats against failure, leading to short-cuts that left massive environmental degradation around many of the facilities. Russia eventually created a hydrogen bomb capable of vaporizing everything within a ten-mile radius of the explosion, with a 100-mile-wide fireball.

Stalin was motivated by threats against the Soviet system on his own territory, and may have seen nuclear weapons simply as a protection against invasion. Putin, however, feels free to cross international borders to achieve his domestic and foreign policy aims. Would he honor the constraints recognized by Stalin?

If he does, this war will proceed much as did WW II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Better, it will progress at internet speed. Putin has already seized two of Russian’s most senior information security officers, presumably believing that they were responsible for some of the information that appeared in the US intelligence briefing on Russian intervention in the presidential election. Given that Putin has engaged in a war with an invisible enemy pushing photons down optical cables, this kind of paranoid response is going to run out of control. While Putin is decimating the ranks of his information security office, the US side will tighten control over technical secrets at its facilities, preventing any future WikiLeaks releases, and focus narrowly on the weaknesses of Russian cybersystems.

Putin may rely on couriers to run the country, but you can’t move money and conduct cyber warfare by those means. His international web of criminal terror will be strangled.

The Struggle

These thoughts began to form this Sunday during services at the University Catholic Center down in Westwood.

May all those that surrender their light in service to dispelling the darkness be gathered by welcoming arms into the healing heart of Christ.

And from that sacred nexus that joins all open hearts, may the one lost realize the opportunity, in that place outside of time, to reach out to those that grieve for their loss – to whisper into our hearts words of comfort and encouragement in every moment that offers an opportunity to renew our strength and courage, and so to guide us toward healing.

And may we that grieve not build a wall of resentment against God, who suffers in sorrow alongside us, but remain open to the voices of those we have lost, and so discover that we are not abandoned – that our loved ones, while no longer physically present, are still with us in spirit.

Finally, may we all remember that our sorrow, if we but seize it as an opportunity to continue the work of healing begun by Christ, is but a momentary experience on a journey that leads to an eternity of love.

Islam Reflected

While my understanding of Christianity is rooted in my personal spiritually, my reflections on other religions are stimulated by my encounters with writings that I feel express an authentic immersion in cultural experience. Among these writings I include Wouk’s This is My God, which celebrates the depth of Jewish faith while revealing honestly the costs of its insularity. Thich Naht Hahn’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching is similarly powerful, though Ethan Nichtern’s The Road Home serves better to situate Buddhism in the modern world.

As regards Islam, apologists have the enormous benefit of written records that describe the formation of the faith. This is abused, perhaps, in their claims of authenticity and authority. But it also means that we are allowed a more intimate look at the personal and social transformations generated by a prophet. In Islam and the Destiny of Man, Charles Le Gai Eaton rendered this history appropriately, disentangling cultural and religious influences, but also with a sympathy found only in one steeped in spiritual experience. This summary of the essence of the Qur’an is not untypical:

Other books are passive, the reader taking the initiative, but revelation is an act, a command from on high – comparable to a lightening flash, which obeys no man’s whim. As such, it acts upon those who are responsive to it, reminding them of their true function as viceregents of God on earth, restoring to them the use of faculties which have become atrophied – like unused muscles – and showing them, not least by the example of the Prophet, what they are meant to be. To say this is to say that revelation, within the limits of what is possible in our fallen condition, restores to us the condition of fitrah. It gives back to the intelligence its lost capacity to perceive and to comprehend supernatural truths, it gives back to the will its lost capacity to command the warring factions in the soul, and it gives back to the sentiment its lost capacity to love God and to love everything that reminds us of Him.

The universality of this formulation reflects Eaton’s awareness that revelation is not unique to Islam. Mohammed and the Qur’an are manifestations of the Divine intention in circumstances that were unique to Arabia. Eaton dwells lovingly on those unique characteristics: the vast open spaces traversed by spice traders, the restricted word roots that make Arabic a richly allusive language, and the culture of the warrior poet – all were aspects that made the people’s minds uniquely susceptible to wisdom in the form emanated by the prophet.

But Eaton was also a European writing in 1985. The Occident was just recovering from the first of the OPEC oil crises, and the paroxysms of WWII were kept fresh in mind. Israelis and Palestinians blew each other up in hotels and apartments across Europe, to be succeeded shortly by kidnappings and bombings by home-grown radicals. The scheduled deployment of tactical nukes heightened global tensions between the US and USSR, threatening a conflict that would leave a radioactive waste along the fault line dividing NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Seeking prescriptions for healing, Eaton’s comparative anthropology led him to elevate the virtues of Arab and Muslim culture. He places much of the blame for the onset of social decay in Muslim states on colonialism (including Zionism) and Westernization of the elite. Worse, his analysis tends to dismiss the virtues of European culture, characterizing our economics as an obsession with administrative efficiency, Christianity as immature idolatry, separation of church and state as self-destructive materialism, and our rational science as justifying exploitation of the natural world.

Placed in proximity, these attitudes seem damning, but Eaton presented them without polemics. To the Muslim, these are obvious realities not worthy of great fanfare, and generally of no great concern except in that the instability of Occidental nations threatens to engulf the Muslim world. But the comparison seemed also to blind Eaton to the subtle miscegenation of Islamic and Arabic virtues, and so perhaps blinded him to the lessons that could beneficially be learned from the history of other nations.

Among the characteristic values of Muslim culture, Eaton lists the sword, manifesting as a willingness to embrace risk in seeking greatness, and a conciliatory attitude towards death. But the symbolism is pertinent: the Muslim world was always a world of conquerors financed by the Central Asian traders whose camel trains linked the Orient with Europe. As in feudal Europe, religion forced the warlords to rationalize their ambitions in religious terms, but it was in large part the constraints of technology and flesh that limited  hardship among the people. Remove those constraints, as happened in Europe following industrialization, and both rational analysis and experience proves that there are no winners in modern warfare. It is far easier to destroy infrastructure than it is to build it. And so, after two great paroxysms, Europe chose to ensure that the struggle for dominance between national leaders was constrained to the free market. Rather than learning from this history, today we witness the Muslim world slowly grinding itself up in Lebanon and Iraq and Iran and Yemen and Egypt and Libya and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yes the sword created the Muslim empire, but replace it with rifles and suicide bombers and tanks, and no culture has proven itself wise enough to resist the rush to self-destruction.

To the degree possible, restless aggression is moderated by the second Arab fascination: women. Eaton celebrates coitus as the most direct route to spiritual union, but then turns around and supports strict cordoning of the masculine and feminine worlds to guard against sexual immoderation. In a culture of aggressive males, these constraints inevitably fell most heavily upon women. This catering to masculine weakness discourages expression of the feminine virtues, principally among them conciliation and healing. In America, conversely, in my lifetime we have seen a steady disciplining of institutionalized misogyny, starting with removal of cheesecake calendars, passage of anti-harassment laws, and finally aggressive reconstruction of the workplace to assimilate graduating college classes that are more than fifty percent female. If the West is failing anyone today, it is the men that have not been provided the spiritual tools to control their youthful passions.

But can Islam, celebrating a man with twelve wives, offer anything more? Considering the brutal enforcement of female dress codes throughout the Muslim world, it would seem not. Yes, the West is in the ugly stage of the transition to sexual equality, but we are learning from the process, and will emerge far stronger for the investment. The Muslim world should take note.

But this criticism does not detract from the power of Eaton’s presentation. Like a great novel, his work immerses the reader in the Muslim mind-set, aided in no small part by a detailed rendering of the heroism of the founder and his heirs. It is a great story, guided by a holistic faith that has inspired artistic and intellectual achievement for more than a millennium. In recognizing defects, I seek merely to inoculate the Western reader against making too much of them, and to warn the Muslim reader to appreciate the costs of their insularity.

Islam and the Destiny of Man presented its religion as a profoundly human story, much as Christianity did in casting God’s devotion to us as the sacrifice of a son. In that commonality, the true Christian should find all necessary means to reach across the divide, inspiring and being inspired by the greatness that faith calls from humanity.