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Dissecting President Obama’s U.N. speech

September 26, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — His was an odd speech for a President. He stood before the world and trashed the United States. “The blocks and neighborhoods of this great city tell the story of a difficult decade,” he said of New York, beginning with the attack on the World Trade Center and through the economic collapse that “devastated American families on Main Street.” And he worried that, “Underneath these challenges to our security and prosperity lie deeper fears: that ancient hatreds and religious divides are once again ascendant; that a world which has grown more interconnected has somehow slipped beyond our control.”

America has had a bad decade. We’re devastated. We may turn to ancient hatreds. The world is beyond our control. Is that what Barack Obama thinks of us?

We expected the president of Iran to start his speech with, “President Obama admits his country is on the skids.” He did. “The system of capitalism and the existing world order has proved to be unable to provide appropriate solution to the problems of societies, thus coming to an end.” He noted the horrors of Western colonialism and two World Wars. His take on the September 11th bombings it that there are three theories – all of which implicate the government of the United States.

Read more…

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Mitchell: Mideast talks ‘serious and substantive’

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (Press Release) — U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell met with journalists on Wednesday, September 15, in Jerusalem, and provided the following information:

MITCHELL: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I apologize for the delay, but it’s the result of the fact that a serious and substantive discussion is well underway. The trilateral discussion this evening lasted for about two hours. Present were Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, Secretary Clinton, and myself. We’re grateful to the prime minister and to the Government of Israel for hosting the meeting.

Prior to the trilateral, Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu met bilaterally. She will have a separate bilateral meeting with President Abbas tomorrow in Ramallah. Earlier today, the Secretary also met with Israeli President Peres, Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, and Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad. Her discussions were productive and focused on ways to support the complementary political and institution-building tracks that are both necessary to achieve a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Read more…

Everyone’s offended, but watch and be angry and proud

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment
By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –After the 9-11 ceremonies, commentaries and protests, it hardly seems necessary to suggest it – everyone is already angry, right? 

 
No, everyone is offended: offended by plans for “Cordoba House,” a mosque within the World Trade Center damage zone; offended by how offended mosque supporters are with what they think is the offense taken by the rest of us; offended about where the money will come from; offended by being asked where the money will come from; offended to be asked to prove you’re an American; offended by being called Islamophobic; offended by Democrats; offended by Republicans.

(Mayor Bloomberg and the President, among others, might have said that at some point, rather than denigrating people whose views differ with theirs.) But reasoned anger is an appropriate response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and to the unfolding of our national life thereafter.

One of the mysteries of American life is the disappearance of the images of 9-11. We, who sat glued to our TV screens for countless hours that day, remember them – the planes, the fire, people crowded by the windows of the upper floors and the single man appearing to float on his way down a hundred stories. The crushed police cars and fire trucks – the wreckage of the protectors. The Statue of Liberty lifting her lamp to the disaster. The satellite photo that captured the smoke. The crumbling of edifices that helped to define America for Americans and for the world – the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The crumbling of our innocence. Read more…

Ideological war pits U.S. against more than Al Qaeda

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM –It is customary to invest little in a serious reading of politicians’ speeches at long standing national holidays, like the 4th of July or Thanksgiving in the United States, Independence Day or Rosh Hashana in Israel. 

What about presidential statements at occasions where the feelings of those who have suffered are still fresh?

September 11, 2010 was such a time. 

*There was still a gaping hole in place of the World Trade Center

*alongside the ongoing construction was a platform where surviving family members recited the names of those killed

*close by were demonstrators with respect to Cordoba House
 
*supporters claimed it as an expression of religious freedom and accommodation

*opponents said it would mark one more stage in an Islamic plan of conquest

*back and forth pronouncements of a Florida pastor who leaped from nothing to a world figure on the basis of saying that he would or would not burn the Koran

*his daughter has said, “Papa, don’t do it,” and “I think he’s gone mad.”

*whether that particular pastor burns it or not, he has produced anti-American demonstrations by hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan 

*and whether the Florida pastor burns it or not, a Tennessee pastor has burned it, but not with the same attention by the media

*anonymous others tore pages from the Koran in public demonstrations, without even having gotten their names in a newspaper.

How should we take President Obama’s remarks that the United States is not at war with Islam, but only with al Qaeda?

With at least a pinch of salt.

He has to say something like that. Not all Muslims have taken upon themselves the task of replacing Western Civilization with their own faith and values. President Obama wants to limit those recruited to the cause.

However, it is more than al Qaeda. Just how much more diverse, and how likely to expand is beyond me. Most likely the details are also beyond the President of the United States, his agencies and advisors.

Remember how the French welcomed Allied soldiers liberating them from the Nazis? If you are not old enough to have seen it as a newsreel along with a double feature at a local movie theater way before the multiplexes, you have probably seen films on television of the parades, flowers, and kisses.

That is not happening in Afghanistan. Westerners have applauded the liberation of Afghan women, but the ladies said to be liberated are not burning their burqas.

The latest news:

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war . . .

Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters.

As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east.
It is possible to defeat the armies of an organized state and celebrate a conquest with a formal ceremony. Defeating terror is like more like combating road accidents. One or another tactic might limit the carnage, but victory is something else.

Religion is stronger than political ideology. God is greater than history or nation. Who knows how many individuals are willing to sacrifice their lives for a place in paradise? Attacking the fighters of today helps their preachers recruit others. And there are countries helping with money and the stuff that does the damage.

This wave of violence might not last forever, but the Islamic genie is out of the bottle, and it is bigger than al Qaeda.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

ZOA: Koran-burning ‘offensive, wrong and counter-productive’

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)–The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned the planned 9/11 Koran burning event organized by Pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.

 ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “We condemn this proposed Koran burning. The ZOA has not and will not support or condone burning religious scriptures of any faith.

“This proposed act of Koran-burning is not only offensive and counter-productive, but a diversion from real issues that concern us regarding extremism in the Muslim world.

 “The ZOA has countless times articulated its genuine and substantive concerns about Islamic radicalism. We must combat jihadists as well as other Muslim extremists who legitimize, rationalize or seek to dishonestly sanitize violent, totalitarian doctrines that involve the murder and subjugation of non-Muslims and moderate Muslims. We oppose tirelessly Islamist terrorism and those Muslims who work for the subjugation of America, Israel and indeed all non-Muslim countries, whether this is attempted by immediate, violent and blatant means, or by gradual, non-violent and covert means.

“We should be seeking out, promoting and working with moderate Muslims. It will not be possible to do so if we support or fail to criticize Koran-burning events such as the one proposed in Florida.

“It has been argued, including by General David Petraeus, that this proposed Koran-burning will serve as a pretext for Islamist assaults here and overseas. His statement is misconceived. These are not the grounds on which we oppose and condemn this event. 

“Burning the Koran should be opposed because it is offensive, wrong and counter-productive, not because it can be used to justify Islamist violence. If we take that approach, we will soon find that all efforts to oppose or challenge radical Muslims will be quickly condemned on the same grounds. This will morally and physically disarm us and encroach on our ability as a free society to challenge dangerous enemies.

“Radical Muslims need no pretext to attack us, so it is wrong to suggest that we are specially endangering ourselves by doing something, whether proper or offensive, to challenge them. Tragically, the attacks would come anyway, regardless of what we say and do today.”

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Preceding provided by the Zionist Organization of America, which in its news release used the alternative spelling of ‘Quran’ for Koran.

ADL condemns proposed Koran-burning

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release) — The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has condemned plans for a Koran burning in Gainesville, Florida and a rally in lower Manhattan featuring anti-Muslim speakers timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“The Dove World Outreach Center’s threat to burn thousands of copies of the Koran is outrageous and horrific and must be forcefully condemned by all Americans,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “The tragedy of September 11 should never be exploited, and we should not let bigots defile the memory of the victims of 9/11 with offensive rhetoric and hate speech. That stands against everything this country and our long tradition of religious freedom represents.”

In Florida, with the message of “We Will Not Remain Silent in the Face of Religious Intolerance,” the League spearheaded an interfaith coalition against religious intolerance in response to the threatened mass burning of thousands of copies of the Koran by Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center. In an advertisement in the Gainesville Sun, the coalition stated, “There is no room for hatred in our society.”

“As ardent advocates of religious expression and freedom for all Americans – whether in the majority or minority – we firmly reject anti-Muslim bigotry,” the ad read. Signatories to the ad are the Rev. Dr. Michael Collins, University Lutheran Church and Campus Center; Keith Dvorchik, Executive Director of the University of Florida Hillel; the Rev. Meredith Garmon of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville; Father Roland Julien of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church; Rabbi David Kaiman of Congregation B’nai Israel; Pastor Gregory C. Magruder of Parkview Baptist Church; the Rev. Jim Merritt of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church; the Rev. Larry Reimer of The United Church of Gainesville; and Rabbi Andrew L. Rosenkranz, ADL Florida Regional Director.

The League has spoken out strongly against the planned Sept. 11 protest of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero sponsored by Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), which is slated to include remarks from the outspoken anti-Muslim Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, and others, calling the rally “un-American.”

“This is not a place for political demonstrations, for advocacy, especially on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks,” said Mr. Foxman. “This is a place for memory, for families to be together and to remember their loved ones on that solemn day.”

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Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League

On clergy who step from pulpits into headlines

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Let me welcome Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida to join Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of SHAS, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the promoter of Cordoba House to the Pantheon of religious leaders whose commotions have ranged beyond local and national borders.

There is no requirement that members of this Pantheon be judged for their wisdom, or even their knowledge of the religious traditions they claim to lead. Enough that they have done something to produce headlines in many countries.
God forbid that I would hint that such distinguished persons do not understand the nature of the religions they claim to lead. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are comprehensive in the ideas apparent in their writings and customs. Love, hate, fanaticism, tolerance, moderation, and lots in between appear in these monotheisms. Jones, Ovadia, and Rauf have provoked sharp criticism from those who share their faith, but distant themselves from what they are promoting.

Jones’ call to burn the Koran reminds me of a personal experience. In 1965 I was teaching at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and signed on to a research project investigating how local governments were dealing with rapid development around Cape Canaveral (or maybe by then it was Cape Kennedy). On several Sunday mornings I made the long drive across central Florida in order to begin interviews on Monday. Looking for something to hear on the car radio I happened on sermons that shocked me for the virulence of their anti-Catholicism. I had read of the Pope being called the devil and whore of Rome, and of his plans to rule the world, but had never heard those things spoken by living preachers. I felt that somewhere between Tallahassee and the Florida coast, perhaps near Gainesville, I had fallen off the edge of civilization.

I see these columns as my part in conversations, rather than one-way reports of truth as I see it.
Comments on the nuttiness of Israeli concerns with Summer Time and Yom Kippur brought me a note from a friend who once worked in the Kansas Governor’s Office, screening the mail from citizens. One letter came from a farmer intense about the damage done by Daylight Savings Time. By his reckoning, the extra hour of sunlight was destroying his crops.
Another friend who gets these notes, along with some of his students, are at the University of Florida. I’ll rely on them to report if they know of anyone joining the burning of Korans, and if there are still preachers burning up the airwaves with curses against Rome. Newspapers report that Jones’ church has only 50 members, but that he is receiving Korans from elsewhere for his pyre.

Jones has received more attention than the fire that destroyed a mosque being constructed near Nashville, Tennessee. Jones is a preacher explaining his intentions, rather than an anonymous arsonist.

We will see the downside of Jones’ crusade–as well as that mosque burning–in whatever is added to attacks against American troops, or by noisy parades and denunciations. Rabbi Ovadia’s call on the Almighty to destroy the Palestinians has brought something between ridicule and protest from Palestinians and others, including Israeli Jews. Rauf’s efforts to create an Islamic Center near Ground Zero has resulted in polls showing a majority of Americans opposed, as well as comments from Muslims divided between those who fear the repercussions, applause for his expressions of multiculturalism and moderation, and from those who admire what they see as his furthering the Muslim conquest of the United States.

Ranking Americans have condemned Jones in the strongest of terms. His feeble gesture may be enough to undue whatever Barack Obama was able to achieve by his Cairo speech and everything else he has done to distance his wars against Muslims from a conflict with Islam.

In these disputes along the borders between religion and politics, everyone can claim to be on the side of God and Justice. Jean Paul Sartre’s description of the God-shaped hole in the human heart alludes to the near universal phenomenon of belief, while leaving room for the hole to be shaped differently in each of us. The Pantheon is ecumenical. It offers a home for those who hate as well as those who love.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.