Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Mess in Mesopotamia

It is worth noting that Mesopotamia – now Iraq did not exist prior to the end of WW I, unless you want to consider the Babylonia Empire under Nebuchadnezzar, which was absorbed into the Persian Empire. From that time Mesopotamia did not exist as an independent nation. It is important to understand that Iraq is a creation, not by Arabs, or Muslims, or any indigenous group in Iraq, but was created by the British led by that intrepid self-proclaimed genius and aristocrat – Sir Winston Churchill – aided and abetted by that other self-promoting genius Colonel T. E Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia. This was the last gasp of European Colonialism.

It is worth remembering that Queen Victoria had died only 17 years before the end of WW I so the colonial mentality that was so prevalent throughout Europe had not yet expired so the French and English felt it was totally within their right – indeed divine right – to set up the world to suit themselves. So what once had been the Ottoman Empire now became Turkey, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. Persia and Egypt had always existed except they were now Iran and Egypt. At the same time that these artificial lines were being drawn Churchill upheld the controversial policy aimed at establishing a Jewish State in what was then Palestine. Palestine, like Persia had ancient roots and had always been a fractious place that had given fits to the Romans who had barely been able to maintain peace there even with massive military force. Nevertheless, Palestine has ancient roots and has long been ethnically diverse and home to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Ironically had you asked a Jew what his nationality was up to the time Israel was created he would have said he was a Palestinian. It was only after the creation of Israel and the schism between the Jews and Muslims that the Jews became Israeli’s and the Muslims became Palestinians. Today there are Muslims AND Palestinians and while to western eyes this distinction seems pretty fine, but Muslims are a very fragmented group and these distinctions are very real to them.

But it was Churchill who was the driving force – along with T.E. Lawrence – who Post WW I, set up the country then called Mesopotamia and now called Iraq. Initially this was a constitutional monarchy and independent democracy from 1925 until 1958. But the bloodletting never abated and these “democratic” governments supported pogroms against the Jews and genocide against the Assyrians. The Shi’ites in Mesopotamia rebelled and were cruelly suppressed by the Sunni’s and the British. The British had occupied the ancient territory of Mesopotamia as liberators of the Iraqi people. In British eyes they were being freed from the oppression of the Turkish Ottomans. And initially the British Army was welcomed as liberators as they determinedly set up a constitutional and democratic government. Unfortunately the people turned on their liberators and killed thousands of the British troops – so the current situation in Iraq is simply an encore of the British experience in the 1920’s. The British ultimately crushed the rebellion but at a cost, the lesson was that it required a massive military intervention applied with an iron hand. This was a lesson lost on the American Military who suffer from the American Disease – this disease is the belief that all peoples are alike, they desire freedom, and that a democratic government will bring peace. The sad reality is that not everyone in the world is prepared for a democratic government either psychologically or culturally and the Muslim World in particular is not ready for democratic government. Democracy has failed every time it has been implemented in the past and the current situation in Iraq shows every sign that it will fail once again.

The western liberals simply cannot let go of the idea that the Arab world is desperate for freedom and democracy. The only Muslim state that has come close is Turkey and that democracy was implemented by force. The Muslim World is actually fragmented by tribes, cultures, feuds, and ironically – religion. They are somewhat unified by their hatred of the West which dates back to the Crusades which is still evidenced by Osama bin Laden and others referring to Westerners and Americans in particular – as Crusaders. Currently the liberal establishment is totally convinced that the American invasion of Iraq was instigated by George Bush for the sole purpose of enriching the oil companies or even worse as a distraction to the failed domestic policies. Both of these are totally false but the truth may be even more pathetic.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a strategic bulwark against the Shi’ite dominated Iran but it was increasingly unstable as Saddam began to have visions of grandeur. But the US policy wonks mistakenly thought that if they toppled Hussein the people would view the US as liberators and immediately establish a stable democratic government. It was as if these highly educated people from all of those liberal elite eastern universities never read a history book. Instead of liberators the US was quickly seen as invaders and Crusaders and instead of following the historical precedent of ruthlessly crushing all dissent with overwhelming force, the Americans held an election. The real question is didn’t any of those fancy universities ever hear of Machiavelli? So instead of bringing democracy and law and order, the US managed to unleash all of the pent up hatred and feuds already present and these were exacerbated by the external influence of Al Qaeda. Worse, the stabilizing influence of Sunni Iraq is now gone and the weakened Iraq is falling under the influence of Iran and fueling their nuclear ambitions.

It seems the mess in Mesopotamia is much worse than anyone realizes. If the US exits Iraq it will be a strategic disaster because it will be seen as a defeat of the US by Al Qaeda. If the US stays it will continue to inflame Muslims worldwide as it will be seen as an invasion of Islamic lands by Crusaders determined to crush Islam. Also if and when the US does leave Iraq it almost guarantees that an enterprising General will rise to power and overthrow the democratic government which is only a sham anyway. If this General is pro-Iranian, which is likely then we will be faced with an anti-American alliance that could destabilize Saudi Arabia and threaten the World’s oil supply. It would be better if the CIA orchestrated this coup and saw to it that a pro-American General became dictator, but it is unlikely any administration would have the courage to do this and face the wrath of the liberal press. Mesopotamia is a mess and it has always been a mess.

The Founding Fathers

From time to time I encounter various quotes attributed to various members of the Founding Fathers of America, you know that group of self-serving hypocrites Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin. More recently as the new Messiah, Barrack Obama, has ascended to power, the number and frequency of these quotes is increasing, especially those attributed to Thomas Jefferson. So precisely what did this slave owning rich hypocrite do – what are his beliefs?

It was Jefferson who inserted into that revolutionary document that forms the very basis of our nation the statement that has stood as a stumbling block to all tyrants and would be tyrants:
“ ...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Americans are the only people in the world who have the RIGHT to the pursuit of happiness. Not very specific but it was meant to be imprecise because it represents the first separation of government from individual rights. As long as the individual does not break the law Jefferson intended that he should be free to pursue his own pathway to happiness. Even though Jefferson’s words laid the foundation for the elimination of slavery the fact that he owned slaves forever brands him in the eyes of the modern revisionist history professors – a hypocrite and unworthy of admiration or even study, even though he was a driving force behind the Bill of Rights. It is this Bill of Rights that buttress the Constitution, spell out and guarantee the very fundamental rights that Americans take for granted, but it is this same Bill of Rights that is under attack by those Oligarchs in Washington. Perhaps it is time to review these basic rights, which have been so interpreted and distorted by the Congress and the Supreme Court as to be virtually unrecognizable.

Article 1
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that Congress is prohibited from making any law the curtails or restricts the free exercise of religion. It does not state that religion or God should be separate from the government if those governed desire to worship God. Congress cannot abridge the freedom of speech but it says nothing about “hate speech” or the use of profanity but the Supreme court acting unilaterally has declared profanity and pornography protected by free speech but God and racial slurs are not. Precisely who is the hypocrite today?

Article 2
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

Of course this Article is under heavy attack as the Congress and those Oligarchs seek to expand their power. It is to their benefit to disarm the people and it is this precise risk to our freedom that his Article was inserted. The argument is that only the “militia” can be armed which is interpreted as the “National Guard” but it was the Minutemen Farmers who fought and won our independence and it is the well armed citizenry that will and can maintain it. The Constitution specifically spells out this right because the Founding Fathers wanted to protect the people FROM THE GOVERNMENT.

Article 5
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This article has been quoted and employed to great effect but more recently the little phrase at the end regarding private property seems to be routinely ignored by the current administration. We see the government taking over private industry and determining unilaterally the value of the property being taken from the share holders and bond holders. The Bond Holders in particular had a contract that guaranteed them “just compensation” but the administration gave preferential treatment to the labor unions – their big supporters while giving the investors – the capitalists—pennies on the dollar-- Jefferson and Madison be damned!!

As President Jefferson reminded America that our happiness and prosperity rested on a wise and frugal government and a government that would remain free of regulating business and industry and that government “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned”. The time has long past for Americans to return to those fundamental rights and limitations established by the Founding Fathers and increasingly ignored by Congress, the Supreme Court (and Ninth Circuit Court) and the current Administration who are by passing Congress entirely in their drive for power never intended by the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

What Is Art?

The common position seems to be that ART is in the eye of the beholder, meaning a pile of elephant dung painted royal blue is art if the painter says so. Then again what is the value of art? The answer once offered by an artist was that the value of his work was what a purchaser was willing to pay for it. From this we could conclude that nothing is ART unless someone is willing to pay for it. This would eliminate many of the artists whose work we see displayed as art even though they have never sold anything. They have been called an artist by some gallery owner using their elephant dung monstrosity as bait to shock the media into giving them free publicity so they can draw real buyers into their gallery to see real art, which brings us back to the original question of what is ART?

Art of course takes many forms and there is a range from amateur to great art and this applies to virtually every type of art from paintings to music to sculpture and everything in between. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to illustrate this range of artistic endeavor is to look at literature. On the one hand we find Shakespeare, the Greeks, Milton, and other great and famous authors. These are works cherished by the sophisticated and well read but ignored or scoffed at by the average person who may never have read them or having read them not understood them. Then there is the trade literature, the Clancy’s, Cussler’s, Kellerman’s, and that army of authors we find in any bookstore or airport. These tend to be well written, popular, and make their author’s rich and while technically art are they great art – probably not.

Music is perhaps the one art that most people, especially the young and unsophisticated, come into contact with on a daily basis. These contemporary concoctions have hosts of aficionado’s and technically they are art since people pay for their work, but are they great art? How much contemporary music will stand the test of time, probably not much given the historical record for popular music? Around the turn of the century Rag Time was very popular – the Rock and Roll of its day – but the only composer to survive with any degree of popularity and recognition is Scott Joplin. But not all popular music is doomed for oblivion because much of the music from the various decades survives and retains its popularity today, but while art is it great art?

This opens the question of what is “great art”, who determines it, and how is it defined? Unfortunately “great art” is much like quality in that it defies definition but you know it when you see it. If there is an answer to that question perhaps it is that when you see or hear a great work of art you know it immediately. The first time you see a Michelangelo statue you know immediately that this is great work because the people seem to be alive but then these are also well executed and realistic but not all sculpture is realistic. What about Calder’s mobiles and stabiles? These are totally abstract and resemble nothing – they just are. So is this great art? Consider Picasso’s abstractions or Dali’s surrealism – are these great art? Who determines this and on what basis?

There probably isn’t any answer to this question other than a shared and common belief that these pieces are great art. Some of this belief is undoubtedly tied to the originality of the work. After all Calder’s mobiles were original – the first of their kind, Picasso’s cubism was original as was Dali’s limp watches. Those that came after were followers so originality of the work plays a part and then later the name of the artist seems to determine if the work is “real” art. Consider the later works of Picasso and Dali – hardly original and certainly not the quality of their earlier work.

Music seems to be a little easier to classify given that the work of many composers rarely out last their lives. When you look at the classical music scene the great standout but there are few of them. When you look at popular music of any era the amount that survives is really quite limited. The music industry gives out awards every year in too many categories to even think about, but how many of those compositions are popular a few years later? How many people even remember who won what even 5 years ago? Popular music is quite perishable and may be art but hardly the great art of Gershwin or Porter.

So what is ART? I guess it is what the artist said – it’s worth what you pay for it and if it sells it is art. Great art stands alone and is determined by time and the appreciation of generations.

Egypt -- Libya -- Islam

The events in Egypt and Libya taking place today may determine the future of the Middle East for years to come. More importantly these events may affect Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine, and most certainly the radical Islamists. Will Islam and Sharia Law become the dominant force in the Middle East or will the more moderate Muslims prevail and turn toward modernism and the world at large? IRAN Perhaps Iran holds the key to any peace in the Middle East. It is a government dominated by a group of radical Shi’ite Clerics posing as a legitimate government. They are funding most of the violence endemic in the Arab World. They are working on the development of an atomic bomb and have already developed the means to deliver that bomb to Israel as well as Eastern Europe. The question is “will Iran use their nuclear capability to attack Israel?” I think this is unlikely because it would lead to the downfall of the current government and end the clerical dominance. Would Iran quietly provide the nuclear weapons to their Hezbollah alter ego? This also is unlikely because the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah is no secret. Would they offer nuclear weapons to Palestine in order to assist the Palestinians in their pathetic war against Israel? This might be a possibility if the radical Islamists truly want to destroy Israel. PALESTINE The first question is “Is Palestine a real nation or is it an imaginary country like Afghanistan? The Arab world pays a lot of lip service to the Palestinian “cause” but after more than 60 years of rhetoric no Arab country seems to provide the Palestinians any substantive support nor has the erstwhile government ever shown any control over the factions ruling and dividing them. True – someone is paying for the weapons used by the Palestinians but either the Palestinians don’t have enough men to use all of the weapons or there simply isn’t enough armament to effectively attack Israel. Either way it appears that the Palestinian problem is nothing more than a way for the Arab world to rally around a cause without getting too involved. As the events in Egypt, Libya, and Syria unfold the question becomes “will the emerging Arab governments opt for a peaceful co-existence with Israel and the world or will they intensify their attacks on Israel and the West? The answer to that question might lie with Saudi Arabia. SAUDI ARABIA This may be the most schizophrenic country in the world. It is a monarchy on the one hand but a theocracy on the other. There is the royal family who are westernized (ignore their traditional dress) and realize their fate may lie with the Western Powers because of their economic dependence. At the same time the Royal family is not totally confident in the support of the people and are afraid of Iran and it’s religious influence over the Saudi people. The Saudi’s are the guardians of the most sacred places in Islam, practice Sharia Law, and are expected to be the model of an Islamic state. So publicly the Saudi’s are opposed to Israel while it has been rumored for years that privately they don’t care about Israel, which raises the question of how will they react to the events in Egypt and Libya. EGYPT The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in the 1920’s as a semi-secret organization with the objective of establishing Islam as the governing authority in the Arab world. They have been opposed and outlawed ever since – at least until the recent elections in Egypt, where they received 51% of the vote. The Egyptian Military does not support the Muslim Brotherhood and has worked with the Egyptian Judicial arm to weaken the constitution and the power of the President. The military dissolved the Egyptian parliament but the new President Morsi in an act of defiance convened it and then adjourned it before the Military could act. This was clearly intended to challenge the Military. On the positive side Morsi has promised to include Christians and women in his government and has promised to govern for all Egyptians. As his first foreign visit he is visiting Saudi Arabia. This is an important visit because how the Saudi Arabian government receives him is important. They could influence him to establish a modus Vivendi with Israel, rein in the Palestinians (who rely on arms coming in from Egypt), lean toward the West and not Iran, or any combination of these. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia cannot ignore the events in Libya either and what happens there could influence what happens in Egypt. LIBYA The Libyans have over thrown Gaddafi whose government was at least nominally Islamic. The question now is will Libya become an Islamic government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood or will it lean toward the West and modernism? The recent elections in Libya have been indeterminate with the more secular National Forces Alliance headed my Mahmoud Jibril claiming victory while the Islamist Justice and Construction Party claims that it will ultimately prevail. This claim is based on the rather complicated political structure which prevents either party from gaining an absolute majority of the Parliament. Mohammed Sawan believes the independent votes in the Parliament will go to the Muslim Brotherhood giving them control of the government. At least some of the Independent parties fear the Muslim Brotherhood and see it as allied with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Other independents are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood for fear that they would close off Libya from the West and install a conservative Islamic government. The Independent candidate stated that he had rebuffed offers from Justice and Construction Party (Muslim Brotherhood) because "Libyans are ready to experience democracy and only educated liberals with a world view can bring it." SYRIA Syria has yet to come into play due to the de facto civil war raging. The existing government is heavily supported by Iran, shelters Hezbollah, and tacitly opposes Israel. Precisely who the forces opposing the Syrian government are is uncertain. The Iraqi’s have warned that Al Qaeda troops are pouring into Syria from Iraq. If this is true it doesn’t bode well for Syria’s future. If the opposition prevails they could follow Libya and turn westward or they could establish an Islamic state with an anti-west position.