Forget Allah, Buddha, Christ, etc. Two minor Greek mythological deities excavated by Freud in his theory of what makes us humans tick have been ruling the world forever. Eros, the god or drive for love and Thanatos, that of death. Of course, any number of cultures follows the established pattern of duality. Be it yin and yang or the light versus darkness of my Zoroastrian ancestors, these warring forces live inside all of us. Looking at the state of the world, one would have to wonder if, for several decades now, more than explaining humanity, they aren’t actually splitting it in two
Populations with a pea-sized brain (and I’m being generous here) in countries or communities prey to religious superstition and/or battleground to sectarian or other conflicts, tribalism, warlordism, illegal occupation, and/or crushed under brutal regimes—take your pick—have every reason to believe in Thanatos’s supremacy. That is what they see all around day in and day out. You can preach all you want about peace and love and the brotherhood of man, they would sooner drive a sharp dagger through your lying heart than listen to more pieties. Death is all there is and you are responsible for this, they will assert time and again, you caused this war and the one before that. You brought to power that tyrant. You stole our ressources, you victimized us, and now you insult our prophets. You deserve death, I will kill you and die myself rather than live to see another day.
There you go. Thanatos once more spreading his dark wings, grabbing his scythe. What can you do against imbeciles whose most powerful emotion is hatred, who will always destroy rather than build, who will hold the most asinine beliefs and defend them to the death?
Also powerful believers in Thanatos are the vicious regimes which we, to our shame, pretend are no better and no worse than any other, whose repulsive heads we invite at our tables, with whose governments we sign juicy contracts, whose terrible crimes we pretend not to see. Did our administration voice even a modest protest over the 47 executions in Saudi Arabia last Saturday? Is decapitation horrendous only when performed by ISIS? Is crucifixion bad when putting Christ to death but okay to get rid of pesky teenagers who send out one tweet too many? Yet, even that kingdom built on sand has executed only 150 people in 2015. Our real best buddy since the signing of the doomed-to-crumble nuclear agreement is Iran where nearly one thousand people have been executed during the year that just ended. (Hurray for Iran, they’re getting there, though still far from our own United States where this past year 33,000 of our citizens died through gun violence—thirty-three THOUSAND?—and where cops killed almost 1200 people, mostly from minorities and often unarmed. All this to much cheering from the half-wits who refuse gun control and police accountability.)
We can’t confront Thanatos, his hold is too strong on fanatics and deranged individuals (for whom we continue to voice excuses and understanding.) That shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing his cult as the big divide between civilized discourse and mayhem. Or from picking Eros.
I hardly remembered the word existed. Then, yesterday morning, I read in the Guardian that the UK had decided to cancel a £5.9m contract to provide a training program for prisons in Saudi Arabia and the sun came up: But of course, there’s the word I had forgotten existed: h-e-r-o. Kudos to British Lord Chancellor and justice secretary Michael Gove who, after much wrangling, persuaded PM Cameron and foreign secretary Hammond that the dismal human rights record of the Wahabite Kingdom, certainly one of the ugliest regimes on earth, didn’t make the oil-rich and ruthless country a worthy partner.
This is a first in the agitated, incomprehensible phase the world is going through–countries in the West shamelessly vying with each other to grab the most lucrative deals, accommodating dictators and oppressors of all stripes, making sure that the oil never stops flowing (and effing up the planet) and that multinationals can continue to press impoverished locals into the new and improved brand of slavery. Our would-be leaders can only helplessly go with the flow. Look at Obama, shrinking and greying by the day. (How could a President who came with such promise turn out to be so indecisive and ineffective?) Look at Hollande, the French President, cheering on wave after wave of businessmen flying into Iran, ready to sign the biggest contracts of their career (note to Michael Gove: please take on human rights violations in that country, second only to China in number of executions. Or should Iranians take solace in the thought that the goodwill following the nuclear agreement will only last until the Islamic Republic starts reneging on the accord, which of course it will?)
The reversal that just took place in Britain is simply unheard of. Western politicians in a spat because a young Saudi risks beheading and crucifixion? Because a 74-year old British pensioner is condemned to 360 lashes for driving with homemade hooch in his car? Somebody pinch me, please. I’ve always been big on dreams but this is too much, even for me. What next? The vile troika Putin-Erdogan-Netanyahu putting an end to their shenanigans? The ice cap on North and South Pole restored? A roof for everyone, food for all, banks becoming honest, politicians serving the public? OK, I’ll stop here before going overboard but thank you Michael Gove. I owe you. The world owes you.
The Western world has no inkling or beginning of an idea, strategy or plan regarding the human wave breaking over it. Behind the sadness over the humanitarian crisis that has sent hundreds of thousands scrambling for shelter, any shelter, and the help extended, even and perforce temporary (water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, a place to lie down for the weary) is the elephant sitting there that most everyone pretend is not: the faith that these refugees belong to, Islam. Over the last few decades, the West has developed fear of and loathing for a religion that until the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was like any other. The blame of the terribly negative connotation it now has lies solely with the faithful themselves. Islam is no longer a religion but, in a frightening return to its roots, a political ideology based on world domination.
The masses who until thirty-six years ago—despite propaganda and more or less covert action from movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other similar conservative, by-the-book Islamist organizations—went about their business, some practicing, some not, never demanding, any more than followers of other faiths, respect or the imposition of their own customs, mores, and cultures on non-Muslims, or judging entire foreign societies by their own standards, now do all this, with a vengeance. The French can hardly find meat not bearing the hallal label; British women are heckled on the streets by ranting Islamists who yell at them to dress more modestly; female American converts cover up from head to toe, ignorant of the plight of Saudi women who chafe under the imposed burka; Muslim women everywhere in the West defiantly cover their heads as a sign of deep piety, not realizing that this is not a cultural or religious sign but a recent trend and that in countries like Iran where women have to, they fight back by stealthily posting photos and videos of their flowing long hair and at least once in recent memory taken to the streets naked, in utter rebellion; swimming pools in European cities have days for women only (who still cover up in “burkinis,” possibly wary of the salacious looks of other women?) Then there are the prophets, the brain washers, the ideologues, who fan these flames on innumerable sites with their public defense of fanaticism and the sanctity of the Koran and the Prophet. Not a word of the first can be changed, not a hair on the second can by mentioned for fear of blasphemy. The punishment for which, quite simply, is death. All the while, moderate voices, often Muslim, rise, asking for revisions and second opinions, to no avail as the violent chorus on the other side drowns all discussion.
So yes, the West is afraid while the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flee both Assad and ISIS, while the Libyans, Iraqis and Africans caught in the lawlessness and violence in their lands risk a miserable death to reach countries where no one wants them, precisely because of the terrible image that Islam has created for itself. European leaders either act pious and welcoming and open the doors wide or venture into extreme-right discourse and the erection of walls while Europeans on the whole engage into their permanent reductive blame-America-for-everything stance. Of course, the awful Bush administration is responsible for the rise of the Taliban, for the emergence of the ISIS monsters, for the total disruption of countries like Iraq, Libya and others in the God-forsaken Middle East that, despite unpleasantly repressive regimes, knew a certain degree of stability. But whatever the causes of the present chaos, no one wants more mosques, more public prayers in the streets, more veiled women, more sharia, more lessons on morality.
Then we have the Iran nuclear deal. I personally am against all things nuclear, whether for peaceful or belligerent purposes. The protection of our planet and the safety of its populations should be our first consideration. Have we forgotten Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima and the hundreds of lesser accidents constantly occurring? Aren’t we afraid of the next catastrophe? Alternative sources of energy, abundantly available, should be our only preoccupation.
Also, an agreement with a criminal regime which offers military and strategic help to Hamas, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad, a regime which has executed over 700 Iranians since the beginning of the year, which arbitrarily arrests not only its own citizens but foreign journalists and missionaries (The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian has been rotting in a cell for almost a year, on no specific charge) is not palatable. How can there have been nary a mention of this terrible record? Obama and Kerry or their successors will live to regret not only the agreement but their silence on major issues the day the Iranians renege on part or all of the agreement, as they will.
Regarding the migrant situation, idea, strategy or plan should have been an all-out, concerted effort directed at the complex and multiple sources of the problems in the Middle East, reining in the exaggerated power wielded by the Iranian Qods force in the region, reaching some kind of accord with the murderous Syrian leader, actually pushing back against ISIS’s expansion, bringing to heel the awful Netanyahu and his irresponsible talk of an Iranian nuclear attack.
Stopping the flow of refugees has now become an impossible task and numbers will no doubt climb in the coming months and years. The Middle East is in tatters, its fleeing people come up against walls; where they don’t, it’s the local citizens who are not only worried about having to dig deep in their own pockets to fund unwanted visitors but also angered and often terrified by a religion once respectable, now a hydra rearing its many ugly heads.
The discussion continues over PEN members* signing their names to a shameful refusal to award the PEN American Center’s Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. As a reminder to those of you who have since been washed over by successive waves of news, twelve Charlie Hebdo staff members were slain in Paris last January 7th over the publication’s cartoons deemed offensive by irate Islamists. These, Kalashnikov in hand, showed their displeasure in the swift and bloody Islamist manner we are learning to expect and recognize.
The controversy has raged on: What latitude does free expression give us? Can any faith claim infallibility and demand total respect not only from its followers but from everyone regarding its tenets, its holy book, its founder? Honestly, Read more…
Picture this. You live under one of the most repressive regimes possible, a dictatorship not only enforced by thugs, which would be bad enough, but by Islamist thugs, so that ideology and faith gone astray are stirred into the already unpalatable mix. (Gallup’s most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at #93 on a list of 138 countries. As for highest negative emotions in the world, Iran comes second only to Iraq.) You chafe, you fret, there must be an outlet. Iran’s population is young, often hip, and not easily cowed, as we saw in June 2009 when boys and girls in practically equal numbers took to the streets to protest rigged presidential elections.
These youths are irrepressible in their thrust toward freedom. Today, theirs is not a political struggle—they don’t want regime change, they don’t challenge the existing order, they don’t even care about the sinister robed and turbaned clowns in power. They have chosen a different route. You won’t let me write or express myself? Okay, I’ll sing, how about that? You won’t let me have the life I want? Then I’ll dance. Just try and stop me. Read more…
We live in a complicated world, awash in a sea of information where topics swell and shrink according to immediate relevance like words in the computing cloud. Right now the two subjects du jour that top every list are a) everything JFK and b) the Iran nuclear talks. This may be as good a place as any to bring the two together.
Although the talks in Geneva, two weeks ago, regarding Iran’s nuclear program became a non-event ending on a stutter, bringing about another Netanyahu conniption, a sudden show of resolve from France’s pitiful government and an exchange of forced smiles between Kerry and the Iranian delegation, that door remains ajar.
The possibility of a deal when these talks resume rests on the fact that Iran has a new president, one that at least on the surface seems more palatable than his miserable predecessor. Also, Iran, on its knees economically, is ready to talk. The country’s oil exports have been slashed in half and remaining clients aren’t allowed to pay in cash but in manufactured goods, which in turn shuts down the industries that used to produce the same goods inside Iran. Given that present sanctions don’t allow financial transactions, the country’s banking institutions are in a coma. Inflation stands at 45 percent. I don’t know if Iran pursues or has pursued in earnest an actual nuclear weapon but at this point the Islamic Republic’s position is not tenable; either it gives in or it collapses. Read more…
No matter how you look at it, democracy is still the best system—nay, the only system—to govern our messy human race. But with this system spinning out of control, here comes a conundrum: can we have democracy without elections and if so, what would replace them?
Item: There are signs that the Iranian President shortly to begin his mandate may not be all he was touted to be—or, if not quite an dangerous cretin like Ahmadinejad, not allowed much leeway by the power elite in the Islamic Republic. The U.S. response to Iran’s perceived or real threat regarding the nuclear issue so far has been to impose ever stricter sanctions. For me, these fall under the “don’t know” category, meaning I’m neither for nor against, unable to figure out their utility. Are they working? If the goal is to weaken and even destroy the economy, then yes, they are. Will it bring the Iranian regime to its knees and make it renounce its evil ways? I don’t think so. We’re giving too much credit to the Supreme Leader and his clique when we attribute to them a Machiavellian mind capable of reasoning and strategizing rather than see how incapable they are of realizing that their repressive and irresponsible regime will eventually fail, with or without sanctions. And while analysts analyze and Middle East or Iran experts pore over tea leaves, Congress does what? Votes 400 to 20 to increase sanctions, in a move typical of a system—ours in democratic countries—gone amok. Read more…