The Real War

The Real War

By Thomas L. Friedman
New York Times
November 27, 2001

If 9/11 was indeed the onset of World War III, we have to understand what this war is about. We’re not fighting to eradicate “terrorism.” Terrorism is just a tool. We’re fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism. World War II and the cold war were fought to defeat secular totalitarianism – Nazism and Communism – and World War III is a battle against religious totalitarianism, a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated. That’s bin Ladenism. But unlike Nazism, religious totalitarianism can’t be fought by armies alone. It has to be fought in schools, mosques, churches and synagogues, and can be defeated only with the help of imams, rabbis and priests.

The generals we need to fight this war are people like Rabbi David Hartman, from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. What first attracted me to Rabbi Hartman when I reported from Jerusalem was his contention that unless Jews reinterpreted their faith in a way that embraced modernity, without weakening religious passion, and in a way that affirmed that God speaks multiple languages and is not exhausted by just one faith, they would have no future in the land of Israel. And what also impressed me was that he knew where the battlefield was. He set up his own schools in Israel to compete with fundamentalist Jews, Muslims and Christians, who used their schools to preach exclusivist religious visions.

After recently visiting the Islamic madrasa in Pakistan where many Taliban leaders were educated, and seeing the fundamentalist religious education the young boys there were being given, I telephoned Rabbi Hartman and asked: How do we battle religious totalitarianism?

He answered: “All faiths that come out of the biblical tradition – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have the tendency to believe that they have the exclusive truth. When the Taliban wiped out the Buddhist statues, that’s what they were saying. But others have said it too. The opposite of religious totalitarianism is an ideology of pluralism – an ideology that embraces religious diversity and the idea that my faith can be nurtured without claiming exclusive truth. America is the Mecca of that ideology, and that is what bin Laden hates and that is why America had to be destroyed.”

The future of the world may well be decided by how we fight this war. Can Islam, Christianity and Judaism know that God speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays, and that he welcomes different human beings approaching him through their own history, out of their language and cultural heritage? “Is single-minded fanaticism a necessity for passion and religious survival, or can we have a multilingual view of God – a notion that God is not exhausted by just one religious path?” asked Rabbi Hartman.

Many Jews and Christians have already argued that the answer to that question is yes, and some have gone back to their sacred texts to reinterpret their traditions to embrace modernity and pluralism, and to create space for secularism and alternative faiths. Others – Christian and Jewish fundamentalists – have rejected this notion, and that is what the battle is about within their faiths.

What is different about Islam is that while there have been a few attempts at such a reformation, none have flowered or found the support of a Muslim state. We patronize Islam, and mislead ourselves, by repeating the mantra that Islam is a faith with no serious problems accepting the secular West, modernity and pluralism, and the only problem is a few bin Ladens. Although there is a deep moral impulse in Islam for justice, charity and compassion, Islam has not developed a dominant religious philosophy that allows equal recognition of alternative faith communities. Bin Laden reflects the most extreme version of that exclusivity, and he hit us in the face with it on 9/11.

Christianity and Judaism struggled with this issue for centuries, but a similar internal struggle within Islam to re-examine its texts and articulate a path for how one can accept pluralism and modernity – and still be a passionate, devout Muslim – has not surfaced in any serious way. One hopes that now that the world spotlight has been put on this issue, mainstream Muslims too will realize that their future in this integrated, globalized world depends on their ability to reinterpret their past.

Bye bye Helms

The Wall Street Journal today has an editorial piece bidding farewell to that “Great Jacksonian” (sic) Jesse Helms. They believe that he should be lauded for his achievements during the civil rights battles of the 60s. Helms’ great achievement is that, when blacks in the 60s attempted to assert their civil rights, Helms was not, unlike previous Southern erstwhile segregationists, “directly and openly involved in the murder of black political leaders.” Wow, what a big-hearted tolerant fella he is, eh?
current_music: Travis – Why does it always rain on me?
current_mood: cold

Further proof that most people are dull

So, the FBI finally announced how often the infamous Carnivore email-snooping program has been deployed. During a 10 month period, they used it 13 times. Some civil liberties reactionaries.. er, groups claim that is too frequent. How often did they run wiretaps? Bet it’s more. Why are you more worried about email than phone taps? Or is it just the allure of the new? Seriously, most people are boring, so don’t worry about the FBI and the NSA snooping on your email: nobody wants to read it, including many of the recipients. Deal with it.

RIAA and Napster

Those silly silly people running the music “industry” (like there are factories and stuff?) just can’t figure out how to not blow themselves up. Napster offered them 200 million dollars per year for the next 5 years, if the RIAA would just not try to destroy Napster, and maybe even try to play nice with them.

The RIAA, being the old greybeards they are, couldn’t bring themselves to approve such a scheme, so they’ll probably end up winning the court battle and shutting Napster down. Of course, since Fanning and Co. have a deal with BMG records, they’ll stick around as the front end for ONE record company’s electronic distribution system.

Meanwhile, the other companies in the RIAA are working on their own systems, which they’ll probably screw up royally. Anyone else remember the awesome Personics systems from the 80s? You could go to a record store kiosk, choose your personal favorite songs from the playlist, and have a cassette created with only music you wanted, with a nice laser-printed jacket and labels. The record companies made royalties, and the consumer got a product they truly wanted. Of course, the industry let that system die from lack of attention, and it was too late anyway, with the CD revolution in full swing.

This past week, the RIAA started going after OpenNap servers, which are equivalent to Napster, but without any company to sue. Next, I’m sure they’ll attempt to sue the users of Gnutella, who are individuals operating out of their own homes. This is basically the music companies suing their own customers. I wonder how they justify that business model.

Really should have made that deal with Napster, RIAA. It was the best chance of getting any money at all without suing your own customers. This should be an entertaining year.

current_music: Everclear – Now That It’s Over

Snow and Random Crap

Wednesday –

How in the world did the US end up having an election this close? Wow. Let others ruminate on it, I’m thinking of more important things…

West Texas has snow. This is akin to Hell having snow, and about as likely in most minds. Of course, there are no snowplows, and all schools and even the local military base (I call it work) are closed for the day. Snow Day! Woohoo!

Farscape browser

I have nothing to talk about, but I got some cool new eye candy for my computer. Traci Lords is going to be on First Wave next season, so I felt a strong urge to have more SciFi Channel stuff. Here’s my desktop as it looks today (800×600 or 1152×864). Probably change it soon, since I usually like more minimal looks, but I’m feeling frivolous today.

Geeks are not Killers!

Monday

OK, so the whole damned country is going nuts about Littleton.  I don’t want to appear uncaring, but aren’t there larger tragedies that have gotten glossed over more quickly?  And, exactly why do all of the reporters have to mention the two psycho kids’ love of video games, as if that explains everything?  Now, of course, the clueless administrators of our screwed-up school system have gone on a witchhunt to root out any other weirdos that may be harboring homicidal tendencies.  Like, oh, pretty much anyone that I could stand from my high school.

I realize that people want to do something, but they can’t seem to understand that perhaps there is nothing they can do, nor was there anything most people could have done beforehand.  Obviously, there were all kinds of hints that these two kids needed assistance, not the least of which was the bomb-making factory in the garage.  Can you say, “What parents?”

Let me be a voice of common sense and reason in these troubled times.   My friends and I put together an amazingly cynical “underground” newsletter in high school, and very few of us ended up murdering our friends.  I owned a trench coat, I like to wear black (very slimming), and I listen to pretty obnoxious music (at least that’s what some people claim).  So, am I going to go crazy?  Did I murder a bajillion people and leave their bodies to rot in my basement?  Guess not.  So, maybe not everyone who is not a mainstream dork is homicidal.  If you actually look at the real stats, the level of teenage violent crime/murder is actually at a low point.  And, most people find violent games to be cathartic, not training aids. Ever felt like running over that pedestrian that jaywalked in front of you? Go play Carmageddon.  Wish you could design a town, to prove you’re smarter than the town elders?  SimCity.   Ever want to shoot down an airliner? Play any of a jillion flight simulators.   After being in the Army for ten years, and playing a lot of games like Quake and Duke Nukem, etc, my aim has still not improved on the firing range, nor do I have any desire at all to own a firearm.  Do I like blowing up aliens and evil zombies?  Sure.  Do I know the difference between reality and a game?  DUH.

Remember a few years ago when some kids burned their house down and the parents blamed Beavis and Butthead?  If your kids are able to get to matches while still not understanding that poorly drawn cartoons are NOT role models, perhaps the fault lies closer to home.

Of course, I could be wrong.