Rod Dreher

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The Left’s Crush on Islamism

Fantastic essay by Michael Walzer in Dissent magazine, questioning his own side — the Left — on its bizarre unwillingness to confront radical Islam. He says the concept of “Islamophobia” is a left-wing way to shut down critical discussion about Islam — a discussion that the Left is perfectly willing to have about other religions. Excerpts:

For myself, I live with a generalized fear of every form of religious militancy. I am afraid of Hindutva zealots in India, of messianic Zionists in Israel, and of rampaging Buddhist monks in Myanmar. But I admit that I am most afraid of Islamist zealots because the Islamic world at this moment in time (not always, not forever) is especially feverish and fervent. Indeed, the politically engaged Islamist zealots can best be understood as today’s crusaders.

Is this an anti-Muslim position, not a fear but a phobia—and a phobia that grows out of prejudice and hostility? Consider a rough analogy (all analogies are rough): if I say that Christianity in the eleventh century was a crusading religion and that it was dangerous to Jews and Muslims, who were rightly fearful (and some of them phobic)—would that make me anti-Christian? I know that crusading fervor isn’t essential to the Christian religion; it is historically contingent, and the crusading moment in Christian history came and, after two hundred years or so, went. Saladin helped bring it to an end, but it would have ended on its own. I know that many Christians opposed the Crusades; today we would call them Christian “moderates.” And, of course, most eleventh-century Christians weren’t interested in crusading warfare; they listened to sermons urging them to march to Jerusalem and they went home. Still, it is true without a doubt that in the eleventh century, much of the physical, material, and intellectual resources of Christendom were focused on the Crusades.

The Christian Crusades have sometimes been described as the first example of Islamophobia in the history of the West. The crusaders were driven by an irrational fear of Islam. I suppose that’s right; they were also driven by an even more irrational fear of Judaism. They were fierce and frightening religious “extremists,” and that assertion is not anti-Christian.

He’s right about that. As I’ve said here in the past, if I were a Jew in medieval Europe, the argument that anti-Jewish persecution isn’t “true Christianity” might be abstractly true, but it would also be completely useless. The news would not have reached my Christian neighbors, or the Church. Similarly, even if it were true that waging jihad on infidels is not “true Islam,” of what use is that to the infidels in the way of ISIS, and Boko Haram? More Walzer:

There are perfectly legitimate criticisms that can be made not only of Islamist zealots but also of Islam itself—as of any other religion. Pascal Bruckner argues that the term “Islamophobia” was “a clever invention because it amounts to making Islam a subject that one cannot touch without being accused of racism.” The term was first used, he claims, to condemn Kate Millett for calling upon Iranian women to take off their chadors. I don’t know who “invented” Islamophobia, but it is worth repeating Bruckner’s key point: there has to be room for feminists like Millett and for all the militant atheists and philosophical skeptics to say their piece about Islam—and also about Christianity and Judaism—and to find an audience if they can. Call them to account for bad arguments, but their critical work should be welcome in a free society.

Also true. Just because somebody criticizes Christianity doesn’t make them anti-Christian. They may in fact be bigoted against Christianity, but criticism alone doesn’t prove that. Same with Islam. One more Walzer bit:

The left has always had difficulty recognizing the power of religion. Aren’t all religions the ideological tools of the ruling class? And aren’t all millenialist and messianic uprisings the ideologically distorted response of subaltern groups to material oppression? Religious zealotry is a superstructural phenomenon and can only be explained by reference to the economic base. These ancient convictions are particularly obfuscating today. Parvez Ahmed, a Florida professor who is fully cognizant of the “scourge” of Boko Haram, provides a typical example in a recent blog. He argues that “much of the violence [committed] in the name of Islam is less motivated by faith and more so by poverty and desperation.” Similarly, Kathleen Cavanaugh from the National University of Ireland, writing on the Dissent website, insists that “the violent and oppressive actions [of ISIS] have little to do with religion per se,” but rather are “underpinned” by material interests. But is this right? Why don’t poverty, desperation, and material interests produce a leftist rather than an Islamist mobilization? In fact, the religious revival, not only among Muslims but around the world, among Jews and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, has enlisted supporters from all social classes, and the driving motive of revivalist activity seems, incredibly, to be religious faith (Fawaz Gerges’s Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy provides ample evidence of religion’s power).

This is quite true. I find that most people on the secular Left simply do not understand how religion works.

Read the whole thing. 

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Walker Percy Bleg 2015

Readers, I am meeting today with a couple of co-organizers of the Walker Percy Weekend 2015, set for June 5-7 in St. Francisville. We are going to finalize the programming. I’d like to know if any of you would be able and willing to participate in any of the following panels. Note well that at this point, we can’t pay an honorarium; we can only comp your hotel and meals. You’d be coming out of love for Percy and Southern literature, and also because the beer is cold, the food is great, and so is the company.

This year, we are going to have two Percy-focused panels, and two panels that have to do with Southern literature in the broadly Percyan orbit. We have not settled on any one panel topic yet; we are just talking about them now, but we have to decide very soon. Things we’re thinking about for this year are:

1. Stoicism, Christianity, and the Religion of the South. Percy observed that Christianity in the South was heavily informed by Stoicism, and indeed was in some cases more Stoic than Christian. Percy wrote a memorable essay about how the South’s more Stoic form of Christianity crippled its response to the civil rights movement. We’d like this panel to talk about what Percy meant by the South being more Stoic than Christian, and the extent to which that still remains the case in an America that Percy (rightly, I think) called “post-Christian.”

2. Walker Percy & David Foster Wallace. We will definitely do a Percy/DFW panel, but we’re not sure quite how to approach it. One idea is to compare the themes in The Moviegoer and Infinite Jest — that is, how both of them discuss entertainment (specifically, moviegoing) as a way to buffer oneself from the experience of life. Another one is to compare Walker Percy’s view of life with David Foster Wallace’s, as expressed in DFW’s famous commencement address, “This Is Water.” DFW killed himself; Percy, a member of a family prone to suicide, died a natural death, and wrote in praise of the “ex-suicide.” This blog post from 2013 encapsulates the discussion I would love for us to have at the panel. 

3. Wendell Berry and the Work of Local Culture. A discussion of the sense of place in Berry, and what we rootless moderns can learn from it. Or (and?), comparing Percy’s ideas about place and authenticity with Berry’s.

4. Why Flannery O’Connor Still Matters To the Modern South. Basically I want the great Ralph Wood, who was one of our most popular speakers, last year, to come back and talk about his wonderful book. It would be nice to have one or two speakers to respond to a Wood presentation.

5. Shelby Foote & the Civil War. This year marks the 150th year of the end of the Civil War. I don’t know the historian (and dear friend of Percy’s) Shelby Foote’s work, but it seems right to attempt to put together a discussion of it this year. Ideas? Nota bene, we are not looking for a general discussion of the Civil War, but one tied directly to Foote’s historical writing on the topic.

Any other ideas? I mean, ideas for panel discussions, and for speakers? E-mail me at rod (at) amconmag.com if you’d rather not respond in the comments section.

 

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American Dream to American Nightmare

The Washington Post has a piece today on how a Prince George’s County family, Ghanaian immigrants, went from living the American dream to being bankrupt, via their mortgage. Excerpt:

A decade ago, Comfort and Kofi were at the apex of an astonishing journey they had made from Ghana in 1997, when they had won a visa lottery to come to America. They did not know it at the time, but they were also at the midpoint in their odyssey from American Dream to American Nightmare.

Today, they struggle under nearly $1 million in debt that they will never be able to repay on the 3,292-square-foot, six-bedroom, red-brick Colonial they bought for $617,055 in 2005. The Boatengs have not made a mortgage payment in 2,322 days — more than six years — according to their most recent mortgage statement. Their plight illustrates how some of the people swallowed up by the easy credit era of the previous decade have yet to reemerge years later.

When they moved into the house in November 2005, Kofi was earning $82,740 as an IT consultant for a government contractor, and Comfort, then 43, was making $30,000 as an administrative assistant. But in the overheated mortgage market of the time, they said everyone told them that they could buy a $600,000 house.

They made a $60,000 down payment and all their mortgage payments for more than 2½ years — through September 2008. But the house was financed with subprime loans, which reset to higher rates after short time periods, creating what are known as “shock payments.” The Boatengs said they could not make their new higher payment, and, in the middle of the 2008 mortgage crisis, they could not refinance.

“I think the hardest part was the beginning,” said Kofi, now 55. “It was when I realized we really lost something. . . . Initially, we were arguing. But I guess it was because we were blaming each other for a mistake we both made.”

More:

“I don’t think we really understood everything,” Comfort said. “It’s very difficult to deal with everything, especially when you’re dealing with this huge document that you don’t really understand. We didn’t take it too hard that this was going to be a problem. We thought we’d be able to manage it.”

If you read the whole thing, you may think: what kind of morons allow themselves to be suckered into a trap like this? It all seems so obvious now. But as someone who bought a house at the same time as the Boatengs, I have some sympathy for them.

Julie and I are naturally scared sh*tless conservative about going into debt, and our fear meant that we were not going to do what it seemed like everyone else was doing back then, which was to “buy as much house as you can.” We bought a modest house in a transitional neighborhood. It was as much house as we needed, and we could easily afford it. Yet five years later, trying to sell it after the crash, we ended up losing about $50,000 on it — and were incredibly grateful to have gotten it off our hands. We were living in Philly then, and paying apartment rent and a Dallas mortgage. The loss ate a huge chunk of our nest egg, but we were lucky. One of my Templeton colleagues had to sell a house in the DC suburbs when he took a job at the foundation; he and his wife lost over $200,000 on the deal.

If not for our fear — and thank God for it — Julie and I could have easily been led into getting ourselves into a situation not too far removed from the Boatengs’. Understand, I don’t think they were innocent victims; nobody held a gun to their heads and made them build a $600,000 house. The point is, it should not have been so easy for them to borrow money. They were dazzled by their dreams, and told by the system that this size house was affordable. Let me emphasize: the Boatengs are ultimately responsible for their own choices. But they are not alone; the government and the banking industry created a system that made it easy for people to fall into this trap.

A real estate agent in Dallas told me back in 2005 that everything was bound to crash. She was trying to steer people to houses they could afford, but many, many of them — especially minorities — demanded to see more luxurious houses. The banks were throwing money at these buyers. “A lot of these people are one paycheck away from not being able to make their mortgage payments,” she said. “But the lenders are still approving them.”

I remember sitting at the closing of my Dallas house, as well as the house in Louisiana that we bought last summer, thinking about how little I understood what was in those contracts. I mean, I’m not a dummy, yet the world of real estate and financing is utterly opaque to me. We put ourselves wholly into the hands of our agent, and other representatives of the system. Even if one’s agent is a responsible, upright person, he is only a person, and is subject to the same kinds of groupthink pressures as everybody else.

When we were going through the process of buying our current house — and by the way, on our income, and with our credit record, we could have been approved for a significantly more expensive house — I remembered how it felt to sweat out those six months in Philly until we sold the Dallas house. I recalled the cold fear as I watched our savings drop with each passing month that the house hadn’t sold. That was the time that I first became sick with mono, though it wouldn’t be diagnosed for two more years. Within three months, I had moved across the country, started a new job, learned that my sister was dying of cancer, and had to sit there watching our savings evaporate as we paid that Dallas mortgage in the depth of the bust, with the real prospect that we would not be able to sell the place. The stress of all that made me physically sick. I never, ever want to be in that position again, if I can help it.

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Small is Delicious

Great Raft Brewing, Shreveport. Beer from here. (Photo by Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Visitors Bureau/Flickr)
Great Raft Brewing, Shreveport. Beer from here. (Photo by Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Visitors Bureau/Flickr)

Tim Wu explores niches in our economy in which mass producers can’t compete. Why do craft brewers succeed, even though their beer is significantly more expensive than mass-produced beer? Wu:

Their beers were not better advertised and certainly not better priced. Rather, the crafts went after an enormous blind spot for the big breweries—namely, flavor. I don’t entirely mean to be snide; more precisely, craft beer succeeded by opting not to compete directly, instead pursuing what can be called a “true differentiation” strategy. That means they established a product that, in the mind of the consumer, is markedly and undeniably different (as opposed to “false differentiation,” which is more or less the same thing with different packaging). True differentiation, if it works, actually changes consumer preferences. The dedicated craft-beer drinker, once he’s hooked, no longer cares if Coors Light costs three dollars less. Today there are once again thousands of breweries in the United States (more than 3,000, in fact).

You can see the strategy of true differentiation at work in other areas of the economy as well. Farmers who sell, say, organic or free-range foods, cannot hope to compete based on price. Instead, they try to create consumers who won’t eat chicken produced by big companies for moral, health, or aesthetic reasons. As Jaime Rogers, the owner of Pushcart, a small chain of coffee shops in New York, put it to me, “We compete with Starbucks by selling to people who don’t want to go to Starbucks.” Independent bookstores (whose sales are actually rising) can’t beat Amazon on price or selection. But they can curate intensely and make the act of browsing for books an enjoyable experience that cannot be matched online. True, the differentiated product is often more expensive, but a craft beer or a fancy coffee, unlike, say, a Lamborghini, is not beyond the reach of the middle class.

On the beer thing, that’s definitely true. If the only beer available in a particular situation is Coors, Bud, or Miller, I’ll drink Coke Zero instead. It’s not a snob thing; it’s that once you’ve accustomed yourself to the taste of the real thing, the pale imitation cannot satisfy, only irritate.

Regarding bookstores, Eighth Day Books in Wichita is a perfect example of what Wu’s talking about. I can’t think of another bookstore where you go in and discover books that you didn’t know you wanted, precisely because the experience of shopping there has been so well curated by owner Warren Farha. It’s not an all-purpose bookstore, but a bookstore aimed at people who are serious about Christianity (e.g., they don’t sell masscult Christian books), literature, philosophy, and the arts. If I weren’t a Christian, I would haunt that bookstore if I lived in Wichita, because its selection of books on poetry, art, and philosophy is so rich. Aside from what you can buy there, Eighth Day offers an experience of a bookstore that you rarely find anywhere nowadays. It feels like a destination. The reason it can’t be franchised is that there’s only one Warren Farha.

I think about where we bought wine when we lived in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn: Heights Chateau. It was a neighborhood wine store where the selection was excellent, and the staff knew your tastes, and so could be helpful when you came in not knowing what you wanted. You can’t get that buying wine at Costco — and you can’t always get it from a small wine shop, if the staff is brusque. Shopping at Heights Chateau was such a pleasure that they probably ended up selling me more wine than I would otherwise have bought, simply because they knew what I liked, and when I would walk in would suggest that I try this or that bottle that I never would have discovered on my own. I learned a lot about wine from this ordinary commercial relationship, because it was, to use Wu’s word, so well-curated.

Another, more cynical way of looking at this is to say that these merchants do a much more sophisticated job of doing what all marketers do: make you want things you didn’t want before. At one level, that’s true. But here’s the difference: coming to desire things like unfamiliar books or wine is not only about satisfaction, but about learning. When I would shop at the Brooklyn wine store, I never got the feeling that they were trying to move the merch, and snooker me into buying things. It was rather a relationship in which the staff knew that I was a novice about wine, and curious to know more, and they saw it as their business to further my education, within my limited budget. What they had was a passion for wine, and they were eager to share that passion with their customers. You could treat it as a mere exchange of money for goods, and they would be fine with that. But if you wanted more, there it was, and nowhere else in the neighborhood at that time. Same deal with Eighth Day. You go there for the books, but you keep coming back for the experience of learning more about the world of ideas and the pleasure of words, provided by someone who loves them as much or more than you do.

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Crunchy Cons: Not Dead Yet

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It has been nine years since Crunchy Cons was published, and the thing still has legs. From an op-ed in New Statesman by Nigel Dodds, an MP from Belfast:

Justin Welby rebuts the idea “that if we fix the economy, the fixing of human beings will follow. This is a lie,” he starkly says. When opponents of this truth contend the churches shouldn’t “poke their noses into politics”, I, as a politician, say politics has done a lot of poking over the years and everyone else should feel free to poke back. A capitalism that conservative-minded Christians can live with is one that Rod Dreher, the American advocate of “Crunchy Conservatism”, has summed up very well. We’ve got to call greed to account; we’ve got to be as sceptical of big business as we are of big government; and all our hopes for any economic system should be rooted in humility and restraint. Mrs Thatcher, as she was in some other matters, was wrong about the Good Samaritan. What mattered was not that he had hard cash but that he had good intentions. The Archbishops have them too and conservatives of every stripe should listen and learn.

Thank you, Nigel Dodds! Yesterday I received this letter from a new reader of the book. I post it with his permission:

Hello, Rod. I don’t know how often you get mail from someone who has just discovered Crunchy Cons after all these years, but I just finished reading the book last night and wanted to thank you so much for a marvelous piece of writing.

I have been reading your stuff the last couple of years and have seen Crunchy Cons mentioned by others numerous times. My reaction was always, “Oh, that looks good; I should read it sometime.” Of course I never got around to it. But lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading on distributism and Catholic social teaching, and at some point it hit me – “This is what Rod Dreher must’ve been talking about in Crunchy Cons!” And so I read it, and not only did I find that it resonated perfectly with the ideas of distributism that I’ve been learning about, but also with my own lifetime intellectual and spiritual trajectory.

I was raised in a rural, middle class home in Kentucky just one generation removed from agrarian poverty. My parents (a factory worker and school teacher) were Baptists and New Deal liberals. I grew up with their values, except that in high school I took on a much more radical stance after reading Gandhi’s autobiography and encountering Charles Reich’s book, The Greening of America. By the time I entered college I was probably the youngest card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and spent a lot of time involved in various kinds of campus activitism. This was the late 1980s and early 90s.

My particular brand of socialism was extremely communitarian, even though I didn’t have that word to describe it at the time, or to articulate why the Left’s obsession with identity politics and the ever-expanding welfare state left me a bit cold. Their solutions were simultaneously too ideological and too technical. There wasn’t nearly enough of MLK’s “beloved community” in that kind of political milieu.

After going to work as a teacher in public schools in my mid-20s, I became thoroughly disenchanted with big government solutions to our social ills, and my politics veered off in a decidedly libertarian direction. I liked to celebrate the linkages between some of the anarchist and other socialist radicals of the early 20th century, and the idea of creating meaningful (and more just) social structures through local, voluntary action rather than the coercive power of government.

Along the way I become a convert to Catholicism, but at first I held a very postmodern, cafeteria-style approach to my faith. It was after my wife and I started a family (our kids are 5 and 2) that I got much more serious about my faith life, and have come to really appreciate the wisdom and discipline of traditional Christian doctrine and liturgy. I started to think of myself as a conservative in the more classical, T.S. Eliot/Russell Kirk sort of way. The exuberant, life-is-all-about-personal-fulfillment ethos that my libertarian friends celebrate seems more of a grave threat to the way I’m trying to raise my children and lead my family.

The Obama years have led me to a place of real disenchantment with politics. This regime has demonstrated the outright hostility the modern Democratic party has for traditional values, and for genuine democratic processes, for that matter. The Tea Party has brought a kind of anti-establishment spirit that resonates for me, but still leaves me dissatisfied. My own senator, Rand Paul, says many things that I like but I can’t help but feel that Tea Party pseudo-libertarianism is still rooted in the same Lockean anthropology of political rights that feeds the narcissistic individualism of both the Big Government Left and the Big Business Right.

And then here we have the crunchy cons. It was so terrific to be affirmed in the things I’ve been struggling with and yearning for in recent years. Along with the distributist writers I’ve been studying, I can now see a logical and necessary connection between the kind of communitarian radicalism of my youth and the religious and cultural traditionalism I’ve embraced in my 40s. My intellectual and spiritual world has a coherence that I couldn’t recognize in the polarized, hysterical world defined by Fox News and MSNBC.

I’m trying to apply some of these concepts in my professional life as well as my personal life. These days I train teachers who aspire to be administrators in public schools. This is an awkward place to be since I’ve become extremely dissatisfied with traditional pedagogical methods that still predominate in both public and parochial schools. I’ve come to have a radical confidence in families and the communities they voluntarily populate to shape the learning experiences of their children, and I write about this sometimes on my blog: http://schoolleader.typepad.com.

For me personally this means that I’ll probably be sending my kids to the local Catholic school, at least while they are still young, but I’m also constantly reflecting on the possibilities of homeschooling them at some point, and how I could do that effectively, and that what means for someone who works within the institutions of traditional schooling. I don’t know if what I’m doing really qualifies as the Benedict Option, since I remain deeply immersed in the world of public schools, but it feels nevetheless a kind of prophetic calling to be in this world, but not of it, and witness to a different set of values and assumptions.

Sorry for the long message. I just want to say thanks for the book, and for the ministry of your writing in general. I feel like I know you and your family through your public writing and have a great appreciation that you have shared so much of your own personal journey with the rest of the world so that we might be blessed by it and find echoes of our own stories.

May God richly bless you and whatever comes next in your journey. I look forward to reading about it.

Gary W. Houchens, PhD

Dr. Houchens, your senator, Rand Paul, self-identifies as a crunchy con. He seems to believe that a crunchy con is a conservative who loves the great outdoors. It’s a lot more than that, but I’m happy to have Sen. Paul sign on.

How gratifying it is that the vision of that book still reaches people. Have you read it yet? Here’s a link to the Kindle edition.

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Juno Open Thread

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Hey readers in the Northeast, if you have power, check in here and tell the rest of us what’s going on with the blizzard at your place. Send photos if you like (rod – at – amconmag.com), and I’ll post them if I can. I’m going to be out of pocket much of Tuesday on business, but I’ll update the blog when I can.

UPDATE: That’s an image of Providence, RI, that Chris sent.

UPDATE.2: 

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The reader writes:

We are in South shore of Long Island, NY. We haven’t gotten anywhere near as much as anticipated. But it’s still a healthy amount of snow. With any luck we won’t lose power and the wind will die down enough for the kids to play outside a bit.

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The reader writes:

It’s 15 degrees and snowing sideways with 24 m.p.h. winds gusting to 32 here in my town (Agawam) in Western Massachusetts. With such high winds it’s hard to get a read on how much snow has fallen but the picture is of a small table on my patio with a standard 750ml wine bottle placed for perspective. The storm started later than expected but it’s been steady throughout the night and all this morning. My flight to Ft. Lauderdale (scheduled last month) leaves at 8:05 Saturday morning.

KIMG0008 KIMG0008

The reader, from near Boston, writes:

Hey Rod, Here is the view from my 2nd floor front porch.

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How Stable is Saudi Arabia?

Crown Prince Salman, left, confers with King Abdullah in 2012. Now Salman is the Saudi king (Photo: Tribes of the World/Flickr)
Crown Prince Salman, left, confers with King Abdullah in 2012. Now Salman is the Saudi king (Photo: Tribes of the World/Flickr)

King Salman inherits a mess, says the WaPo:

No king of Saudi Arabia has ascended the throne amid more regional turmoil than King Salman, who was crowned Friday upon the death of his brother King Abdullah.

With war raging in Syria and tensions with Iran increasing, Saudi Arabia is threatened by a disintegration of the national government in Yemen across its southern border and by the Islamic State militants who are dominating the Iraqi desert just over its northern border.

Salman indirectly mentioned the threat of rising violence and regional instability on Friday in his first speech to the Saudi people, saying that “the Arab and Islamic nation is in dire need today to be united and maintain solidarity.”

Militants have staged four attacks inside the kingdom in the past six months, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, 11 police or border guards and 13 militants, according to Saudi officials.

As in the recent attacks in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket, most of the Saudi attacks have been carried out by homegrown radicals influenced or trained by the Islamic State, al-Qaeda or other extremist groups. Saudi authorities said that they have arrested 293 people in connection with the incidents and that 260 of them are Saudi nationals.

Germany has reportedly just ceased selling hundreds of billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia:

Germany has decided to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of “instability in the region,” German daily Bild reported on Sunday.

Weapons orders from Saudi Arabia have either been “rejected, pure and simple,” or deferred for further consideration, the newspaper said, adding that the information has not been officially confirmed.

The decision was taken on Wednesday by the national security council, a government body that includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and seven other ministers, it said.

“According to government sources, the situation in the region is too unstable to ship arms there,” added the daily.

Military analyst John Robb continues to argue that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a lot more vulnerable than many of us seem to think. Excerpt:

  • ISIS is an aggressively expansionist fundamentalist jihad.  It kills, enslaves, or routs unbelievers, moderates, apostates, etc. wherever it finds them, which is the ultimate manifestation of Wahhabi fundamentalism.

  • Unfortunately for the KSA, this is the same belief system underlying the legitimacy of the House of Saud and the same fundamentalism the Kingdom has spent the last century beating into the heads of their subjects.

  • This means that ISIS is moral kryptonite.  A kryptonite built specifically to kill the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  A kryptonite that breaks down the moral cohesion that binds the KSA together.  A kryptonite that creates competitive centers of gravity that will rip the country apart.

    Did you know that half the Saudi population is 25 or younger? Did you know that the youth unemployment rate in the Kingdom is staggeringly high, with little realistic prospect of that changing? You can buy people off for a while, but they’re not going to be willing to live like that forever. It’s insane, of course, to think that an ISIS-ruled Saudi Arabia would be better for people than the fundamentalist al-Saud regime, but people don’t think rationally in these situations.

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Gay Bob & Christian Bob

Mike Cosper has a parable about tolerance and understanding between traditional Christians and the LGBT community:

There once were two neighbors, both named Bob. One is an evangelical Christian, the other is gay and agnostic. They’ve lived next to one another in a duplex for several years, and have been good neighbors: getting one another’s mail when the other travels, hauling each other’s garbage cans to and from the curb, and have occasionally had a cookout together. They are friends, but they’ve never really had a discussion about their differences.

One day, during March Madness, a stiff gust of wind knocked a tree limb into their power lines, and they found themselves without electricity, five minutes before the U of L game. They wandered out onto their respective porches and decided to go to a nearby pizzeria to watch the game.

Somewhere before the end of the game, this conversation began:

Bob 1: Isn’t it surprising that we’ve become friends?

Bob2: What do you mean?

1: Well, one of us has a rainbow sticker on their bumper, and the other has a Jesus fish. According to most folks, we shouldn’t get along.

2: Yeah, I’ll admit it’s crossed my mind once or twice. Does it bother you?

1: Does what bother me?

2: Well, that I am who I am?

1: Hmmm… I don’t know how to answer that. Does it bother you that I am the way that I am?

Read the whole thing to see how the conversation continues.  It’s a Rorschach test: which Bob is the gay agnostic, and which is the traditional Christian? Cosper’s point is that Bob 1 can be the gay agnostic, or the traditional Christian, and the same moral would apply. If you can’t see how either one could play either role in the conversation, perhaps you need to work on your empathy.

Interesting piece. Made me think of Pink John.

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Francis: Pope of the End Times?

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (Image by Zach Brissett/Flickr)
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (Image by Zach Brissett/Flickr)

John Allen’s report on Pope Francis’s apocalyptic taste in fiction is making the rounds. The media, Allen writes, focused so much on the “breed like rabbits” quote from his airplane press conference that they missed a couple of interesting things. Excerpts:

There were two other tidbits, however, that have been somewhat lost in the shuffle, both of which are important for understanding what is more and more a defining trait of this pope — his sense of urgency.

One of those nuggets is about a book; the other, a trip.

As he has before, Francis went out of his way to invoke an apocalyptic 1907 novel by an English convert from Anglicanism called “Lord of the World.” The novel lays out a dystopic vision of a final conflict between secular humanism and Catholicism, with the showdown taking place on the fields of Armageddon.

Author Robert Hugh Benson depicts a world in which Marxism and secularism have run the table, culminating in a charismatic “savior” figure, increasingly recognizable as the Anti-Christ, who arises to lead a one-world government. Attacks on Christian symbols and believers mount, and euthanasia is widely practiced.

More:

That’s not to say Francis believes doomsday is around the corner. However, his fondness for the novel seems to track with his belief that humanity is making some definitive choices today, from the economy to the environment, and that if we get those choices wrong, the consequences may be far worse than we realize.

Read the whole thing. 

Again, you don’t have to believe that there is any such thing as the End Times, in the Christian sense. But if the pope does, and if he believes they might be imminent, then that could explain some of the things he does.

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‘American Sniper’: Everybody’s Iraq War Film

John Podhoretz has a very fine review of American Sniper. I think he’s hit on why the film has been so successful. I hadn’t thought of it this way. Excerpt:

American Sniper bowls you over because it succeeds dramatically in making Chris Kyle’s story a parallel of the American experience in Iraq. The mission we see Chris embark upon is both practical and idealistic. The insurgents and their leaders are dreadful and monstrous and deserve their fates. The men on the front lines show resiliency and fortitude and immense seriousness of purpose. But the cause runs afoul of realities far above the pay grades of Kyle and his brethren. They did everything they were asked to do and more. Yet they would never taste victory.

This is the bitter truth about Iraq for all of us—whether you believe fighting the war was a mistake in the first place or you view the ultimate failure to have come about as a result of the political mishandling of the turnaround in the war’s fortunes after the 2007-08 surge. In this way, American Sniper is not only apolitical, but also antipolitical. It is the story of the effect of the war on the people who fought itand those they love—not on the country, not on Iraq, and not on America’s position in the world.

And that is one of the key reasons for the film’s astonishing and unprecedented success.

Read the whole thing. I dissent from its final line, not quoted here — and fair warning, readers: I’m not going to let the comments section on this post become another familiar argument about the Iraq War, neocons, etc. — but this review really does say something important about this movie — a film that both liberals and conservatives should see. There’s something in it to discomfit everyone, in the right way.

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