On Trump, His Supporters and Isolationism

Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings isolation. Result: Loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.

~ Dalai Lama

July 27, 2016

Earlier, I wrote about Donald Trump and the nationalism that he inspires in his followers. Tonight, I want to write about that other word we’re flinging around without defining. That’s isolationism.

Isolationism: The belief that a country should not be involved with other countries: a policy of not making agreements or working with other countries.

As I watched the Republican National Convention last week, I wondered over its many “themes.” “Make America Safe Again”, all right, I get it. People are afraid, shit looks like it’s really out of control, and I don’t blame anyone for his or her fear, I feel it too. I can think over that fear, which I will probably touch on at some other point, but I can understand it. “Make America Work Again”. Again, I can see that. Even though unemployment is under 5.0%  some people aren’t working and many more are underemployed and that’s a deeply personal issue that hits a lot of sensitive spots. Then, on the third night, we get “Make America First Again”. This one threw me for a loop. What exactly was that even supposed to mean?

At first, I thought it must mean something similar to the generic “Make America Great Again”, that it meant retaking our place on the global stage and winning back a right to call ourselves a superpower. But as the night went on, I began to understand that that was not, in fact, what “Make America First Again” was intended to mean. What “Make America First Again” was intended to mean was isolationist in nature. It means, “put America and American citizens first, above all other nations and peoples.”

To be fair, this doesn’t actually sound like such a bad idea. I mean, this is America, we should put our own citizens first, right? What could possibly be wrong with putting our own people first? I can relate. I’m tired of war, that’s how this whole blog came about. I grew up completely touched by war, totally immersed in it. I completely understand being exhausted by war after war after war and having the desire to just say to hell with it all, but I also understand that even though it looks like it, global politics is not made up solely of wars and attempting to remove ourselves from global politics is both futile and unethical.

When I ask Trump supporters how they can possibly defend a man who says we should ban all Muslims from entering the country, I get a seemingly innocuous response, “Well, it’s just for a little bit, just until we get our own shit figured out.”

Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen, and therein lies the problem.

Here’s the thing. We are NEVER going to get all of our own shit figured out for everyone all of the time. It is NEVER going to happen. Anyone who believes that has his or her head buried in the damn sand. It is absolutely impossible to please everyone in a country that has almost 320 million people. I’m sorry if I’ve somehow burst your bubble, but this is reality.

If you look at the basic facts, we actually do have a lot going for us. Despite Donald Trumps’ apocalyptic rhetoric, things are going relatively well. Unemployment is down, the stock market is up. We’re lucky.

Syria is not lucky. 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid. 6.6 million people are internally displaced (meaning they are in Syria but not in their homes) and 4.8 million people have left the country. 2.7 million of those 4.8 million people are in Turkey, which isn’t doing so great itself. Perhaps you’ve heard that they’ve recently had a coup?

Turkey is a NATO country. An ally. Not that that matters much to Donald Trump as he’s recently said that he would have to consider whether or not to defend a NATO country in the face of Russian aggression.

See how everything is connected? Seven degrees of separation and all that.

But let me expand on that NATO point for a minute. Specifically, Trump was asked about three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These countries are right on the border of Russia though I doubt many of us would be able to point them out on a map. Here’s a map, for your reference.

map-new-europe-map-1000

You’ll see the three countries in question on the right just below Finland, next to Russia, and just above Poland and Belarus.

Now, back to Trump. What he said in the same interview with the New York Times in which he says he would have to consider whether or not to defend these nations is as follows:

Trump: I would prefer that we be able to continue [upholding our alliances and defending those we have decades-long treaties with], but if we are not going to be able to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth – you have the tape going on?

Interviewer: We do.

Trump: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations you will be defending yourself.”

Countries that are “massive” and have “tremendous” wealth. On its face, this looks like an almost reasonable argument, if you take into consideration that we are in fact dealing with a man who will choose economics over morals every single time. The argument goes like this: You don’t pay your bills, you’re big and wealthy and mighty and thus could have paid your bills, sorry, we’re not showing up. We’re going to Make America First Again.

Except that’s not actually the situation we have here. Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million people, Lithuania is at just about 3 million people while Latvia has a population of right around 2 million people. That means that Estonia has a population equivalent to Maine’s, Lithuania has a population equivalent to that of Iowa’s and Latvia has a population about the same as New Mexico’s. In terms of size, Estonia is 17,505 square miles, Lithuania is 25,212 square miles, and Latvia is 24,938 square miles. That means that Estonia is bigger than Maryland but smaller than West Virginia while Lithuania and Latvia are about the same size as West Virginia. So…not “massive” at all, as it turns out.

In terms of wealth…well…the GDP per capita for the United States is $55,836.80 according to the World Bank. So what about these tiny Baltic countries with “massive wealth”? Estonia’s GDP is at $17,295.40, Lithuania’s is $14,172.20 and Latvia’s is a WHOPPING $13,664.90. (As a side note, the world’s GDP is reported to be $9,995.60 and Syria’s hasn’t been reported in awhile but the last available data has it at $2,065.54).

Wait…I’m confused then. Trump said if the country is “massive” and has “tremendous” wealth and didn’t pay its bills he wouldn’t defend them. But these countries are not massive and do not have tremendous wealth. Actually, WE’RE the ones who are massive with tremendous wealth. So…why might we not show up again?

Well, because Trump is an isolationist. He doesn’t want to interfere in world politics because he allegedly wants America focused on America. But what he’s not saying is this – we are a global society. The internet has made it so. We have a global economy. We have military personnel in over 150 countries across the globe. We have allies and enemies all over the world. We cannot just shove our heads into the sand and hide because Donald J. Trump doesn’t understand how to deal with globalism.

And that’s really what we’re talking about – isn’t it? He doesn’t understand how to deal with foreign policy. He doesn’t understand foreign affairs. He likely doesn’t know what the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite Muslim is. Hell, he probably doesn’t even know what the difference between a “radical Islamic terrorist” and the Muslim grocer down the corner is. He isn’t equipped to handle foreign relations. He doesn’t understand Japan’s policy on nuclear weapons (which is wholly developed around the fact that we nuked them by the way). He doesn’t understand the delicate relationship between Turkey and its Kurdish population. He doesn’t understand the implications of Brexit. He doesn’t understand what NATO does to protect us. He just doesn’t get it.

His solution? Blather, noise, yelling, ban everyone, break all our ties, hide, then yell again. God bless America. I mean, even before he wanted to refuse entry to all Muslims as a “solution” to home-grown terrorism, he wanted to ban all American doctors from returning to the United States after treating Ebola victims.

Seriously. This guy? This is the guy you actually want to be president of the United States? And to all of you who say that Donald Trump “has a pair” and that’s why you like him, think again. Isolationism in our global world is nothing but a cover up for cowardice.

Advertisements

Believe in Something, Be Open-Minded to Everything

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in

~ Isaac Asimov

November 12, 2014

While I was sitting at home, watching TLC’s My Five Wives (please, no judgment, I find it really fascinating), the thought floated into my mind that these people were bat-shit crazy. Cult crazy. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it basically is a reality TV show that follows the lives of a man, Brady Williams, and his five wives, Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie and Rhonda and their cumulative 24 children. It’s reported that the family came from a fundamentalist Mormon sect that believed in polygamy, but the family split with the sect over core principles. The family still prays and believes in God and continues their polygamist ways, but incorporates Buddhism into their prayer and tells their kids that they can marry and love whomever and however many people they want (including supporting gay marriage).

My_Five_Wives_family_photo_all

(c) in Photograph, courtesy of TLC

This all comes in correlation with a new posting from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the official name for the Mormon church). According to the Church, Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, had somewhere between 30-40 wives. In the essay, it’s stated that the belief of Mormons is that marriage is between one man and one woman, but sometime while studying the Old Testament, Joseph Smith prayed to know why some of the prophets in the Old Testament were permitted multiple wives. God responded to Joseph that He had instructed these men to take multiple wives. He later sent an angel instructing Joseph that he too, should bring back the old practice of plural marriage. Joseph allegedly struggled with the notion, because he knew that it would devastate his wife, Emma. However, God sent an angel again, commanding him to wed multiple women. Again, Joseph vacillated until an angel appeared a third time, wielding a sword. The angel threatened to kill Joseph unless he obeyed God’s commandment. Thereafter, Joseph began “sealing” women (i.e. wedding them) according to God’s command.

Yeah. I know. I thought it sounded crazy too. Cult crazy. But then, while watching My Five Wives and contemplating how one could believe this whole ridiculous scenario and how did these wives not just kick Brady in the dick every time he opened his mouth, I thought to myself – well, it’s not like my version of the Bible doesn’t have its crazy moments. Take Genesis, for example, you know, the whole, beginning of the world story. God creates man and rips out one of his ribs and creates woman. Woman eats some tasty fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (*gasp* a woman cannot have knowledge) because she was tempted by the Devil, who was dressed as a snake. Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden even though Adam’s all, “Well wait a second, I didn’t do anything, therefore I’m going to blame women for everything and strip her of all her power for the next bazillion years”, and the world is created through incest, basically. Massive, massive incest.

Because that’s not crazy right? And it’s not like the crazy is relegated only to the Old Testament – it’s not. In both the books of Matthew and Mark, there’s a story where Jesus is walking from Bethany, and he gets hungry. He sees a fig tree which unfortunately has no fruit. Despite the fact that it was not fig season (as noted in Mark), Jesus apparently gets angry and tells the tree it shall bear no more fruit and the tree withers away. Don’t believe me? Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14.  A simple Google search for “crazy stuff that happens in the Bible” will give you plenty more fodder where that came from as well.

So what does any of this have to do with war and why am I ranting about the crazy stuff in religious texts?

Well, because as I contemplated how crazy it all seemed, I thought to myself: If I believe in something, I should be open-minded to everything. I can’t dismiss polygamy in Joseph Smith or an angel threatening his life and then say but it’s completely legitimate that the holiest person in my religion (Jesus) killed a tree, because he was pissed it didn’t have fruit during non-fruit season. That’s just not very fair.

Which somehow, because my thoughts always tend to spiral into this abyss, brought me to thinking about war. Specifically, the kind of war we have going on the most lately, religious based wars.

In Deuteronomy 13:12-18 there is a commandment from God that says that if you come upon a city where other people are worshiping another god, you should kill everyone (and all their cattle) in the city and burn it down so it can never be built again. That’s not in the Qur’an, that’s in the BIBLE. There are passages like this in the religious texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are the passages that most people pass over, and they’re also the ones that religious extremists latch onto as justification for their religious wars. It’s not just Islam that can be corrupted, it’s Christianity too.

It’s easy to live in a bubble of ignorance. It’s easy not to think too hard, but it also causes wars. People get tunnel-vision over the rightness of their religion or their interpretation of religion and the wrongness of everyone else’s. And it’s because the “other” is different. Like the polygamists. My gut instinct is to assume they’re crazy, but when I think about it, there’s a lot of crazy shit going on in my version of the Bible too. And it’s not like all the Catholic rituals are completely sane (think: exorcism).

If we believe in something, we have to be open-minded to everything. I’m not saying that we have to be open-minded to the extreme violence that is being perpetrated in the name of religion all over the world, or that we have to feel it’s right, but we should avoid gut reactions like labeling people “crazy” or the “other” or “right” or “wrong” or “just” or even saying that we have some kind of absolute “Truth” (and yes, that’s Truth with a capital “T”). Because we don’t . I don’t, you don’t, ISIS doesn’t, Hamas doesn’t, the Israeli government doesn’t, the Pope doesn’t. No one does. It’s the human condition.

I don’t look at the polygamists in My Five Wives under the same scope anymore. Who am I to judge? And I don’t look at religious wars under the same scope anymore either. Killing innocent people is wrong, but it is only by being open-minded to the reasons why it’s happening that we can find a real solution for it. And maybe that starts by taking a deeper look into our own religions and finding what violence could be done with them as well.

 

The True Red

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in

~ Graham Greene

November 6, 2014

On Tuesday night, the Empire State Building turned red to symbolize a midterm win for the Republican party.

On Thursday, thanks to US air strikes in Northern Syria, the desert turned red as well – with blood. More blood. This time, two children are expected to have died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a UK-based organization). You won’t read about the children on CNN, however. There, you’ll read about how the strikes probably, maybe, sorta, we think, killed a suspected French jihadist and bomb maker working for Khorasan, David Drugeon (who changed his name to Daoud after he converted to Islam at the age of 14).

You can learn all about his radicalization in the CNN article. The “key” jihadist bomb maker was born in 1989. He was a year younger than me. You can learn about his parents’ divorce and how he took odd jobs driving to pay for trips to Egypt to learn Arabic and then slipped off the radar when he went to Afghanistan to fight Americans there.

What you can’t learn about is the identity of the two children who died in pursuit of ending David/Daoud’s life.

Who were they? What did they want to be? Did they aspire to be bomb makers too, or were their childhood dreams for more peaceable things – a doctor, a teacher, a mother? What were their names and what were they doing there? Who were their parents and what choice did they have about where they lived or where they just happened to be passing through?

The more cynical among us may say that it is “collateral damage” and that if they were hanging out near a bomb maker they were likely already radicalized or well on their way and maybe we did the world a favor by snuffing their little lives out.

I disagree.

Innately, I believe that we are all children of God. We all deserve a chance to overcome the obstacles thrown in our way. None of us is perfect. We are all dealt a hand that we must play. It isn’t right to push the hand down and force a fold because someone else has played their cards wrong.

Although I doubt 25 year old Daoud thought he had played his cards wrong. He obviously thought we, the United States, are wrong.

And maybe we are. It’s not like our society couldn’t take a good, hard, long look at itself and find some room for improvement. As a whole, we’re material, we’re selfish, we’re vain, we don’t listen, we’re arrogant, egotistical, divisive, combative, and not always bright. Of course there are some gems among us, a lot of them, shining brightly and hopefully they will eventually outshine the lot of carbon beneath, but every society is the same at its core in this fact. Every society has its problems but there are always, always gems. That’s what makes humanity so beautiful. And those two children that were murdered – were they gems? Could they have been? Does anyone care about them or to even ask who they were or what they wanted out of their lives? Could they have grown to be a better person than any of us?

I guess we’ll never know. That’s the real tragedy. The true red.

 

Five Reasons To Love the Peshmerga

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why

~ Mark Twain

October 17, 2014

It’s recently come to my attention that the Kurdish Peshmerga are the most bad ass people around. And I want to be friends with them. I can’t believe it took the US so long to become friends with them. They’re super bad ass. And here are just five of the many reasons why:

1. The Peshmerga stayed to fight when the Iraqi army totally bailed

_75470627_022635065-1

(c) 2014 Reuters

How seriously bad ass is that? An entire army, which was trained and equipped by the most powerful and largest army in the world (ours) bails, and the Kurdish Peshmerga say whatevs, we didn’t need them anyway. We got this whole ISIS thing.

2. The Peshmerga helped out the Yazidis despite their religion

yazidi-stretcher_3002606k

(c) 2014 Rodi Said/Reuters

Okay, to be fair, the Yazidi people are technically Kurdish, because Kurdish is an ethnicity, not a religion. However, a lot of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are Muslim, and the Yazidi faith is a little bit dodgy with just about everyone else. Probably because the sacred angel that they worship, Melek Taus, has some striking similarities to…you know, Satan. He’s not Satan, for the record, but he did some bad stuff for which he was kicked out of Heaven and eventually repented and that’s part of the reason ISIS was trying to wipe the Yazidis off the face of the earth. Well, that and ISIS is pretty much just evil. But despite their somewhat questionable angel, the Kurdish Peshmerga stepped in and saved the Yazidis from what would unquestionably have been a genocide. And that’s pretty freaking fantastic in my book.

3. They have an all-female fighting force which is super awesome at what they do

kurdish-peshmerga-female-fighters-09

(c) 2014 Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Cosmic justice anyone? I love the fact that the Peshmerga has a female fighting force battling it out against ISIS, a group who recently “justified” enslaving women they’d captured and selling them or marrying them off as sex slaves. This elite group of women are known as the Women’s Protection Unit and are informally called “lions.” The reason, you ask? Because there is a common Kurdish phrase which translated means, “A lion is a lion – be it male or female.” Boo ya.

4. Even non-Peshmerga want to be Peshmerga

ap282059692764_custom-182bdf618f937c1522317e0f7e7d6665303c1ce9-s40-c85

(c) 2014, Leftenis Pitarakis/AP

While Kobani still remains under siege, Turkish Kurds are looking for a way into Syria to help join the Kurdish fighters there in their battle against ISIS. They’re stalled by Turkey right now because Turkey is afraid of their bad-assery, I mean, afraid they might be going to join ISIS and not the Kurdish fighters.

5. In some ways, they’re a little bit like us, in the beginning

Think about it, they’re a militia, a banded together with duct tape and bailing twine type of army. But they’re tough as nails. They’re forward thinking, relatively moderate, and they want the same things we wanted when we were just a bunch of colonies the British could steal shit from – a home. They want a state that they have control of. They want to be free from exploitation. They want liberty. But they also recognize that they first have to kick ISIS’ ass. And after they do that, maybe we should all sit down and have a civil conversation about giving them their state. Because if they keep on keeping on, they will have more than earned it.

 

 

Kobani, a Lesson of History Repeating

The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations

~ Kofi Annan

October 10, 2014

Kobani is a small town on the border between northern Syria and southern Turkey. In 2004, according to the Syrian census, it had a population of 44,821. Now, Kobani’s population is unknown. It has been estimated that approximately 700 elderly citizens are still trapped inside the town while the Kurds take on ISIS and another 12,000 civilians have fled but have not made it across the border into Turkey.

Kobani is going to fall.

In 1992, during the Bosnian War, thousands of refugees fled outlying villages and towns in eastern Bosnia. They fled to a city called Srebrenica, on the border between eastern Bosnia and western Serbia. Srebrenica was declared a UN “safe zone.” The population of the small city swelled to 50,000 or more. In early July, 1995, while UN peacekeepers looked on, Srebrenica fell.

Beginning on July 11, 1995 and the days that ensued, over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian-Serb forces. Not because they had done anything wrong, but simply because they were Muslim. Thousands of women and girls were loaded onto buses and sent to neighboring Tuzla. The roads were filled with landmines. Some never made it.

I knew a survivor of this massacre. He and his four other brothers (one an infant at the time) made it. Their father, grandfather and uncle did not. Their mother died shortly after seeking asylum for herself and her children in the United States. He was not any different than you or me, except he had lived through this. He was handsome, charming, charismatic; he liked to dance and go to the beach. He had a penchant for odd home remedies, including gurgling vodka for a sore throat. He loved his family, and they were all he had left. His prized possession was his second-hand Mercedes Benz, and he used to tell me his father once drove a Mercedes for Tito, the old Yugoslavian dictator. He cooked amazing food and for a time, he loved me, and I him. He was a hard worker who put in massive amounts of overtime, lived in a small apartment with his brother and didn’t own a bed frame, because he thought they were a waste of money. He appreciated American life, especially fashion, but he missed Bosnia. He identified as Muslim, but he didn’t believe in God, not anymore, not after Srebrenica.

Now UN staff members are calling on this history, the history of genocide, to urge us all that Kobani must not fall. We must not allow another Srebrenica.

Do you remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we never forgave ourselves.

~ UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura

When I was at school at UNC, I had a friend who was studying international law in the US for a semester. She was from Holland, and she was Muslim. She was older than me, and she kindly snuck me into a bar one night with some of her other international law friends. After we closed down the bar, dancing all night, one of her other friends, a second generation Arab immigrant to Holland, escorted me home. While he tried to woo me, I explained to him that I had a boyfriend. I loved him. He was from Srebrenica.

The wooing immediately stopped and the man’s eyes sharpened. The melancholy seemed to darken his already dark eyes and the frown lines cast a shadow over his olive complexion, “Tell him we are sorry. We are so sorry for standing by and doing nothing.”

I smiled and pet his hand and said thank you, I would tell him. I later found out from my friend that the man who had been trying to win me over was actually won over by me, “That girl has the most integrity of any American I met while I was here, and she’s only 20 years old.”

That stays with me. It meant a lot to me, and still does. What also stayed with me was the guilt that the Dutch still feel over the events of Srebrenica, an occurrence most Americans don’t even know about. It has stayed with the Dutch people. Neither they, nor the Bosnians, have forgotten.

If the same results in Kobani, I fear the Turkish will be imposing the same guilt on their future generations.

Because ISIS is as brutal, if not more brutal, than the Bosnian Serbs. They will not stop at simply winning the city. They will execute anyone there who remains, a punishment for their rebellion. Hundreds, if not thousands, will die, and Turkey, with its tanks and its army sitting on the border, will stand by like the UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica, bearing silent testimony to the atrocities that will likely follow.

Turkey believes that we should intervene; they say that they will not go it alone. They want us to target Al-Assad as well as ISIS, but we are leery of another war in the Middle East. We could not stand by and watch the Yazidis murdered, so we began to strike. We are trying not to stand by and watch the Kurds in Kobani be murdered, but who better to defend Kobani than the Turkish? It is, after all, their doorstep that ISIS is creeping up on. Fighting for Kobani would be a good political move as well, it would help to solidify the tense relationship between Turkey and its own Kurdish minority, who feels that they have been subjected to rampant discrimination and have protested Turkey’s reticence to act. The Turkish Kurds feel an ethnic alignment with their Syrian brethren and the failure of the Turkish government to act makes the Kurdish feel abused, unwanted, mistreated. They feel like Turkey wants ISIS to execute them.

It’s hard to blame them.

For the United States, it’s a precarious balance. We cannot be expected to be the world’s peacekeeper. Turkey is a NATO member as well. It’s not reasonable for Turkey to say to us, “Don’t worry, ISIS is knocking on OUR door, but you got this, right?” We should all be in this together, to prevent another massacre.

At the end of the day, people are people. And those people trapped in Kobani could have been you or me, or your grandfather/grandmother/mother/father/sister/brother if only they had been born in a different part of the world. If Turkey does not act, however, it cannot be said that the blood of the citizens of Kobani is on our hands.

Turkish soldier on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background, stands guard near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

A Turkish soldier sits on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background (c) 2014 Reuters/Umit Bektas

 

Oh Yeah…North Korea

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

~Charlie Chaplin

October 8, 2014

When I was growing up, North Korea was scary. North Korea was perhaps scarier than Russia. There were some places that were bad in my mind. I don’t know if they were bad because the media told me so or my parents did, though I suspect it is because the media told my parents. North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, they were all lumped together in this giant group of places “that might nuke us.”

To my young imagination, Kim Jong-il looked more like a raving mad scientist than a leader of a country. I visualized him as someone like Mr. Hyde. Whenever I heard anyone talk about him I saw a hunchback figure in a black cape hovering over his cauldron of boiling puppies and laughing maniacally. I should also note that he was never Asian when I pictured him. So I got some things wrong.

When Kim Jong-il died and Kim Jong Un took over, I remember being told by someone that Kim Jong Un was worse. While Kim Jong-il just presented a threat of nuclear attack on the United States, Kim Jong Un would do it.

Apparently though, whoever told me that was wrong and Kim Jong Un is not actually doing much of anything, either to attack the United States or to improve the terrible quality of life his people face. [Side note: to read more about this, check out this blog by someone who visited North Korea. I will add that it’s humorous but there is some foul language].

As a matter of fact, no one really knows where Kim Jong Un is right now. Huh?

In this age of technology and information buzzing by us at one million miles per second, how can the leader of an entire nation go missing and us not have any idea where he is?

Well, as it turns out, North Korea is super good at one thing – hiding.

There’s a lot of speculation about what is really going on with him. I’ve heard the word “coup” come out a few times. His number two and three in command recently popped over to South Korea for a little chat about “talks” and still the leader of the country is nowhere to be found. He’s been missing for over a month. In North Korea, where the media lies far worse than they do here, he is apparently suffering some “discomfort.”

I wonder though, if Kim Jong Un has been overthrown – what does it mean for his country? Life can’t possibly get any worse, right? And talks with South Korea have to be a good sign. But then again, if he dies, there is no one to replace him because he doesn’t have an heir, which could send the country into political turmoil. War could result and then, well, us being us, we’d be right back where we were in the 50s.

Good times. In a world where Ebola is raging through Africa, ISIS is marching onto new territories, Russia is invading Ukraine, Palestine and Israel are at a tentative (but likely short-lived peace) and we are stretched too thin, is it wrong of me to say I hope Kim Jong Un really is just undergoing some “discomfort”?

North Korea at night

The bottom half which is lit up is South Korea at night, the top half is North Korea. (c) Department of Defense, 2011, source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/dprk/dprk-dark.htm

 

Fear as a Weapon

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both

~ Niccolo Machiavelli

September 23, 2014

Last night, the U.S., along with a coalition of Middle Eastern countries, began bombing ISIS targets in Syria. I saw the rockets glaring across the sky and the F-22 fighters shooting off of aircraft carriers on the TV this morning. And all I could do was shrug and pick up my bagel.

Another day, another war.

Back at home, the media hype has me worried. The politicians scare me more. Bipartisan support for the actions in Syria, President Obama said, and I can only chuckle disdainfully. Yes, of course, the only bipartisan support this Congress has offered in 4 years it seems. We’re American though, and we can always get behind a good bombing. We can’t agree on immigration reform, welfare reform, healthcare reform, educational reform, gun control, climate change issues or even a budget, but a bombing, well, we can agree on that. Bombs away.

It’s not that I don’t think we should bomb ISIS, and it’s not that I don’t think they’re awful, I do, but it’s the way I just shrug when I see it, sigh, and carry on about my day. It’s the way that something so serious can slide off like rain on bare skin. What have I become? What has war done to my generation?

We know what it’s done to the thousands coming back. Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day – that’s one suicide every 65 minutes. But we don’t talk about it much. Our troops suffer higher PTSD rates than any of our allies and perhaps that’s because they never get a break. How can you get a break when you’re a soldier for a country that’s constantly at war?

I know that this war has me afraid. And let’s not beat around the bush and try and call it anything except a war. I can’t help but look around me when I walk to my car at night, wondering if someone is going to pop up, grab me and behead me on the internet. That’s what ISIS is calling for now, the deaths of western civilians in public places. Lovely. But I’m afraid too, for my friends who are Muslim. There’s a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric going around. The politicians who play to the least educated of us are making egregious comments. These people are our leaders, they should be educating us, not feeding into our fear. It’s a rallying cry that makes no sense.

But there’s not a lot of sense going around these days.

Islam is not the first religion to be perverted in the name of power and greed. It’s just the one that’s “hot” right now. So because our politicians are failing to do it, let me give a brief (and ridiculously incomplete) historical overview of how Islam is not the only religion to be radicalized and used as a weapon.

Christianity was in fact sprung from a religion killing for power. The Jews, along with the Romans, saw Jesus as a political threat because of his radical ideology and had him murdered. The Romans then labeled Christians a “cult” and tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. In 1095, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade where hundreds of thousands of Catholic “warriors” invaded the Middle East. Besides stealing a ton of valuable art and relics (a lot of which has yet to be returned), they also raped Muslim women and killed untold numbers of “non-believers.” This went on for about 200 years. And let’s not forget the religious wars in Europe which were basically Christians fighting Christians over the “rules” of Christianity. In more recent history, we all know that WWII was a crusade of sorts to wipe out the Jews, during which over 6 million lost their lives. The Eastern Orthodox Serbians committed mass murder and genocide of the Bosniak Muslims in the early 1990s. In one day at Srebrenica alone, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were executed while the UN stood watch. And of course, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been at near-constant war for over 50 years.

The list goes on and on, this is only a sampling. Islam is not unique, it’s not special and in terms of being used in religious extremism, it’s not even that interesting. ISIS is using a formula history has seen time and time again. A charismatic man hell bent on obtaining as much power and wealth as he can, enlists a bunch of desperate, mistreated, misguided cast outs to do his dirty work. Their leader uses the promise of salvation combined with just enough of a promise of revenge to draw them in, and uses fear to keep them in line.

What’s interesting to me is not really ISIS as much as it is the leaders in the United States who are starting to parallel them. And yes, I’m looking at you John Bennett.

We’re better than this, we have to be better than this. Because if we’re not – how are we any different than ISIS?

AP501396429679-638x424

Photo (c) AP Photo/Eric Garst, U.S. Navy