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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Donald Trump and Counter-Jihad

Donald Trump and Counter-Jihad

Counter-jihadis are frustrated people. We see truths that others ignore. Jihad's death toll increases daily. We hope for a turning point, perhaps a charismatic public champion or a social media icon to propagate our movement.

The perfect public relations gimmick can change the landscape overnight. Relatively few people were thinking about, or donating money to, research to cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in spring of 2014. By summer of 2014, a social media fund-raising gimmick called "the ice bucket challenge" inspired millions to participate in raising $115 million for ALS – five times more than had been raised the year before. Counter-jihad needs that moment: when the landscape changes, and millions join the cause.

One might think that high-profile jihad attacks, such as 9-11, or ISIS' sexual enslavement of girls, might create a public relations tsunami, bringing leaders into the counter-jihad camp. Alas, the opposite has occurred. "Islam is peace," President George W. Bush said six days after 9-11, speaking in a mosque, accompanied by CAIR. "ISIL is not Islamic," said Barack Obama on September 10, 2014.

In 2010, a New Jersey Muslim man who had raped and tortured his arranged, teenage wife was exonerated by a New Jersey judge, on the grounds that the husband's behavior was consistent with Islamic belief and practice. Also in 2010, Derek Fenton was fired from New Jersey Transit for burning three pages from a Koran. In both cases, Americans applied sharia's standards. In spite of these events in his own state, Governor Chris Christie insisted that any question of sharia in the US is nonsense. "This sharia law business is crap. It's just crazy. And I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."

Americans, beneficiaries of the freedom of speech as granted in the first amendment, inheritors of Western Civilization and its emphasis on truth as the highest value, now engage in the same process of decoding of news items that slaves of the Soviet system used to resort to. We hear of an explosion, a stabbing, a plot or a decapitation – the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the 2014 decapitation in Moore, Oklahoma, the July, 2015 shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the November 2015 UC Merced stabbing – and we all wonder when and if we will learn the suspect's name. The name is not released for hours or days. Officials rush to insist that the incident was not terrorism, but, rather, workplace violence.

Tremendous resentment, confusion and frustration are building up. People are angry. People are afraid. People don't know whom to trust.

Wait! There's good news. Very good news. The rhetorical landscape has slowly changed since 9/11.

Fifteen years ago, there were far more people who were eager to play the cultural relativism card and excuse away jihad and gender apartheid. As time has gone on, more and more people, in spite of the PC indoctrination that permeates schools, churches, politics and media, have concluded that there is something about Islam that poses a challenge. People are eager to learn more. When I give talks about Islam, audiences grant me a uniquely intense level of focus and concern. Audiences are much more likely now than in the past to have self-educated, and to know the differences between Islam and other world faiths, and to be able to refute standard-issue apologias for jihad.

The gap still exists, though, between average people's openness and awareness and the elite. Political correctness demonizes and punishes people who speak the truth about Islam. Heroes like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders must wear Kevlar and be surrounded by armed guards. Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller are targeted and slandered by the incorrectly named Southern Poverty Law Center.

Speech could be used to work out solutions the problem jihad and gender apartheid present. Speech could be used to release resentments, frustrations, fear, and rage. But political correctness suppresses speech. Politically correct suppression of the truth about Islam combined with public frustration and fear are tinder, kerosene, and a match, all waiting for the spark. This volatile situation could be exploited by a demagogue.

The freedoms Americans cherish depend on a stable civil society. When people feel afraid, and conclude that there is no one at the steering wheel – that leaders are shirking their duties – people become willing to surrender their freedom and dignity to an authoritarian who will promise them safety and order. Such an authoritarian might target not only low-hanging fruit like innocent Muslims, but non-Muslims, as well. Authoritarians don't like free speech – or freedom of assembly or association. Authoritarians begin by targeting one population as their scapegoats, but they eventually bring the hammer down on everyone. We'd all suffer. The revolution eats its young.

On December 7, 2015, at a rally in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a Republican presidential candidate stated of himself, "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."

At a November 12, 2015 rally, Trump said that his opponents were saying, "Trump doesn't have a plan for ISIS! …I'm gonna win … I said to my wife, I have to tell 'em about my plan, because otherwise I'm not gonna win. They'll think I have no plan … I would bomb the shit out of them." The audience laughed and cheered.

In a March, 2016 debate, Trump said he would torture "these animals over in the Middle East" and "take out" their families. When informed that his plan would require military members to commit war crimes, Trump insisted "They're not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they're going to do it. I'm a leader. I'm a leader. I've always been a leader. I've never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about."

In a March 9 interview with Anderson Cooper, Trump said, "I think Islam hates us. There is something – there is something there that is a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us…You're going to have to figure that out. OK. You'll get another Pulitzer, right? But you'll have to figure that out. But there's a tremendous hatred. And we have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful. And we can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States."

Some counter-jihadis see Trump as our champion and his statements as the "ice bucket challenge" moment when counter-jihad finally goes viral. They are mistaken.

Trump receives a gargantuan proportion of media attention. When Trump opens his mouth about Islam, he becomes the de facto face and voice of counter-jihad to millions of media consumers. Donald Trump's statements about Islam and Muslims have tarred counter-jihad with the mark of buffoonery, intellectual flaccidity, and uninformed xenophobia. That is exactly how Islam-apologists want to depict counter-jihad: as uneducated yahoos eager to hate, without any reason other than their own uninformed bile, the next "other."

Look again at Trump's statement on immigration. Look at the timing. Ask yourself if Donald Trump had made any significant contribution to counter-jihad before that moment.

Robert Spencer is the one indispensable hero of counter-jihad. In a July 30, 2015 essay, Spencer identified Trump as "a blowhard and boor," and "the poster child of American decline." Spencer described Trump's rhetoric as savage, stupid and clumsy. He called Trump "a foe of the freedom of speech." Trump's campaign, Spencer wrote, is "an Oprah show of celebrity worship, lurid grandstanding, logorrheic superficiality, and tabloid scandalmongering." Spencer pointed out that Trump had insulted counter-jihad heroine Pamela Geller.

"I watched Pam earlier," Trump said, "and it really looks like she's just taunting everybody. What is she doing drawing Muhammad? I mean it's disgusting. Isn't there something else they could be doing? Drawing Muhammad? … They can't do something else? They have to be in the middle of Texas doing something on Muhammad and insulting everybody? What is she doing? Why is she doing it? It's probably very risky for her – I don't know, maybe she likes risk? But what the hell is she doing?"

Pamela Geller has shown that Trump has extensive business dealings in the Muslim world. There's nothing wrong with doing business with Muslims; we all do, as participants in the petroleum economy. The problem is this. Trump had not been part of the counter-jihad movement. Suddenly he made his December 7 announcement about Muslim immigration. Why? Because on December 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, California, jihadis Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered fourteen innocent Americans and wounded twenty-four others. Trump made his immigration announcement five short days later. He exploited a tragedy to boost his presidential campaign.

It doesn't matter if he is exploiting a tragedy to advance himself, as long as he is advancing the cause of counter-jihad, you may be thinking.

Look again at Trump's statement on Muslim immigration: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." He actually referred to himself as "Donald J. Trump." That sounds silly and pompous. Trump's verbal faux pas may not matter to Trump's base. Polls have shown that Trump supporters tend to be have less formal education. Trump's "savage, stupid and clumsy" rhetoric, as Robert Spencer called it, does matter to millions of others – other people who could and should be on the counter-jihad team. Trump put his own name first in an important policy announcement. This policy, if enacted, would have an impact on America's character and America's perception around the world. Beginning such a pronouncement with his own name, and never offering any justification or support, sounds like the speech pattern of an egotist, a potentate, a petty dictator, not a serious thinker.

An intelligent case can be made for a moratorium on Muslim immigration. That case can be made with facts. One might simply ask, "How does it benefit America to allow more Tashfeen Maliks, more Mohamed Osman Mohamuds, Tamerlane Tsarnaevs, Faisal Shahzads, and Mohamed Attas to enter the United States? Have a look at the photo of eight-year-old Martin Richard, murdered in the Boston Marathon Bombing. What can you say that justifies his death? We know that most Muslims are not active jihadis, but we have no way of differentiating. Other immigrants from other groups offer all the benefits of immigration that Muslims do without the risks. There is currently a worldwide resurgence of jihad, and there are terrorist groups from Boko Haram in North Africa to ISIS in the Middle East to the Caucasus Emirate in Russia to MILF in the Pacific. During a previous war, Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued presidential proclamation 2525 suspending naturalization based on nationality alone. Let us have a serious discussion on this matter."

Instead of a reasoned argument that might win over those on the fence, Trump issued a fiat, leading with the name of the great man superseding and ignoring all reason. It's a Trump-centric, anti-intellectual, Constitution-is-so-superfluous-we-need-not-mention-it approach. This great-man, fact-free approach does not serve counter-jihad.

Trump's chat with his wife, that ends with his decision to "bomb the shit out of them," is similarly not helpful. Perhaps Trump has not noticed, but we have bombed the shit out of them. A 2013 study estimated that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars would eventually cost the US six trillion dollars. That's a lot of bombs and American blood. Muammar al-Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are all dead. Jihad still menaces.

Trump said, "I would just bomb those suckers. And that's right, I'd blow up the pipes. I'd blow up the refineries. I'd blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left, and you know what, you'll get Exxon to come in there, and in two months, you ever see these guys how good they are, the great oil companies? They'll rebuild that sucker brand new. It will be beautiful. And I'd ring it, and I'll take the oil. And I said I'll take the oil." Is Trump running for president or the latest Marvel Comics superhero?

Note these three words: "I'd ring it." Trump's magic ring would consist of American troops stationed on the ground in the Middle East, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Trump says that he will take the oil. In fact, in this scenario, it would require massive American troop presence to take the oil. Trump's answer to the question of American energy independence is blood for oil. How many American soldiers would die to make Trump's id-fueled fantasy of omnipotent revenge real? Which Trump supporter will be first to volunteer to die to sustain the illusion that Trump is a serious person saying serious things?

Any real approach to jihad must involve two features: energy independence that eliminates our funding of jihad through our petroleum purchases, and vast cultural change. Right now discussion of jihad and gender apartheid is controlled by cultural relativism. This cultural relativism is a religious dogma among politicians, journalists, academics, elementary and secondary school teachers, and even Christian clergy.

Cultural relativism is a cultural phenomenon that has a beginning and that can have an end. A bit over a hundred years ago, an Englishman, Charles James Napier, could say of the Indian custom of sati, or burning of widows, "This burning of widows is your custom … But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property … Let us all act according to national customs." Napier insisted that Western culture was superior to the custom of sati. He insisted on enforcing Western custom on Indians.

That kind of boldness died out in the post-World-War-II era. Nazism, followed by the Civil Rights Movement in the US, overwhelmed the West. Suddenly, Westerners felt an overwhelming sense of shame. Cultural relativism, an idea advanced by anthropologist Franz Boas in the early twentieth century, became dogma.

Of course Nazism and Jim Crow were evil and deserved to die – but they were not the alpha and the omega of Western Civilization. We need to be proud of, and to cherish, what we have gotten right. If Franz Boas were alive today, he would be horrified at how far we have taken cultural relativism.

Young people need to be educated in the gifts of Western Civilization. Our guide must not be arrogant, ignorant chauvinism, but objective reality. Just one such reality: high sex ratios. Throughout the Muslim world, there are more men than women. Females die off at a rate disproportionate to the West. These statistics hold true even in wealthy Muslims nations, and in poor Christian nations. Dead women and girls: that's an inescapable reality. Compilations of the worst countries for women, citing UN statistics on literacy, life expectancy, and safety, generally list Muslim countries as among the worst. That's reality.

The Koran contains many verses calling for jihad. Mohammed was a warrior who ordered targeted killings of innocent people. Islam spread through violent conquest. These are objective facts.

Mention any of these facts on a college campus, or in a church meeting, or in an article to be published in a mainstream newspaper, or while running for office, and risk opprobrium. The schoolmarms of PC insist that you attribute unhappy facts about Islam to the evils of colonialism. Or that you say that Christians are worse. Or that you say that, with time, Islam will "reform." Authentic counter-jihadis are not raving about "bombing the shit" out of the "animals" in the Middle East. Counter-jihadis are changing America so that we can speak the truth. We can't defeat what we can't name; we can't defend what we don't value.

"Islam hates us": Islam is a belief system, and as such it cannot hate. The correct sentence would be, "Islam teaches hatred of non-Muslims." Trump is a billionaire, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Bill and Hillary Clinton attended Trump's wedding to his third trophy bride. Even so, Trump's fourth-grade speaking style convinces fans that Trump is an outsider, a man of the people. Trump's fans also love Trump's egotism. When asked who he consults on foreign policy, Trump replied, "I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things … my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff." People who aren't Trump fans won't take a grown man seriously who can't speak a coherent sentence in his native language about an important topic, and who doesn't take the time to learn objective facts that exist outside his own ego. Human lives are at stake, and Trump can't even be bothered to speak English correctly or consult with an adviser. Why give such a self-indulgent slow learner the nuclear codes?

When Anderson Cooper pressed Trump to support his assertion about Islam's hate, Trump could not. When Trump brings massive attention to counter-jihad and then speaks foolishly, conspiracy theorists can be forgiven for wondering if Trump is not a mole for the other team. Every camera in the world is focused on Trump. Every microphone is pointed at him. What a dropped ball, what a missed chance, what a setback.

In 2013, Robert Spencer was interviewed by the BBC. The interviewer asked Spencer to support his critique of Islam. Spencer immediately, and without hesitation, recited several violent and hateful Koran verses and hadiths. He did so calmly and authoritatively. He did not then – nor has he ever – call Muslims "animals" or recommend that we "bomb the shit out of them."

Anyone listening to Spencer's BBC interview would rapidly learn that the problem is not Western racism or imperialism but jihad, jihad as taught in the Koran and hadith. Spencer's intellectual acumen, his lack of hate, and the courtesy he showed his interlocutors put the focus on jihad, not on any alleged Western racism.

Trump has a huge and unshakeable fan base. As Trump himself said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." Outside the fan base, Trump has the highest negative ratings ever recorded. Now is the time for counter-jihadis to reach out to, to convince and to recruit, mainstream Americans. Now is the time to harness facts to overturn the cultural relativism. We cannot squander this historical moment to allow buffoonery to become the face of counter-jihad.

You can read this article at American Thinker here

Monday, March 14, 2016

London Has Fallen 2016: Popcorn Revenge against Terrorists

"London Has Fallen" is anti-Muslim revenge porn. The words "Muslim," "Islam" and "Allah" are, I think, never once mentioned in the film. Given world events, it's entirely understandable that a studio would want to make, and viewers would enjoy seeing, such a film. Many reviewers have questioned the wisdom of releasing this film. Wise? No. Entertaining and timely? Alas, yes.

Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) must protect American President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) at a state funeral in London. Many world leaders are there, including Germany's Chancellor Bruckner, who is played by Nancy Baldwin made to look as much like current German Chancellor Angela Merkel as possible.

A little girl approaches Bruckner with a flower; security pushes the girl back. Bruckner urges the girl forward. We get the message. Bruckner is ignoring necessary security protocols. She is putting herself at risk.

It doesn't take long for the risk to materialize. Bruckner is murdered. The white rose the girl had handed her is stained with red blood.

In short order, almost all of the heads of state visiting London for the funeral have been shot to death, blown up, or crushed in a spectacular series of explosions and mass assassinations. Blood spatters on white shirts. Flames billow. Bridges collapse. Missiles fly from rooftops. Helicopters crash. Sirens sound. Men in funeral dress shoes outrun armed assassins on motorcycles. Knives and shrapnel plunge into flesh.

"London Has Fallen" gives England its own 9-11. London's towers, like the WTC, are blown up on camera.

Back in the US, Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) watches from a situation room, jam packed with good actors no doubt wishing they were somewhere else, yet eager to cash their paychecks. Jackie Earle Haley is there, looking overwhelmed and sad. Melissa Leo is onscreen for mere seconds. She may have won an Academy Award, but she is still a woman over fifty. There is also a gentleman listed in the credits as Stern-faced advisor (Stacey Shane).

Eventually it comes out that the attack on London is – surprise surprise – a terrorist action carried out by the Pakistani Aamir Barkawi. His daughter was killed in a US drone strike that was intended for him. Barkawi has, with his ample petrodollars, bought off every other person in London. His terrorists have penetrated the Queen's Guard, those guys with the tall, black fur hats and red coats, the police, emergency response personnel, and apparently every motorcycle rider in England.

Barkawi's ultimate goal: assassinate US President Asher on YouTube and stream the assassination live. Obviously this atrocity is inspired by contemporary terrorists.

Banning and Asher run, run, run. Terrorists chase, chase, chase. Banning is superhuman. You get it, after a while, that for all its political and topical trappings, "London Has Fallen" is really just a video game. Banning faces off with endless supplies of armed terrorists. They fire at him directly and somehow he never gets shot, even while he manages to kill every terrorist he wants to, sometimes with only a knife.

In one scene, Banning is talking to one of the chief terrorists on the telephone. Listen to this, he says. He places the phone near the mouth of another terrorist he is stabbing to death. The man groans into the phone as he dies. "Was that necessary?" President Asher asks. "No," Banning says.

There are many such scenes, where the American good guy gets to beat up on the terrorist bad guy.

Showing images of London's landmarks spectacularly succumbing to terrorist bombs strikes me as visual incitement. Why give these monsters ideas?

Even so, I enjoyed the movie because there really was no risk involved. The movie doesn't get you to care about any of its victims. Angela Basset, one of my favorite actresses, is not treated well by the film, and her fate left me utterly uncaring. It was all so cartoonish. I liked the spectacular visuals of London's landmarks and the silly, faux serious tone of the film. I actually laughed out loud more than once.

Fun and popcorn. But the heavy themes are there. "London Is Falling" tells you that Europe has been penetrated by terrorists, their bought-off allies and enablers. It tells you that Europe can't defend itself against this onslaught. It tells you that London is really Londonistan. It tells you that Germany's woman chancellor is especially guilty. It tells you that YouTube can be used to advance terror. It tells you that Americans must save the day. However you feel about these statements, even popcorn entertainment is now communicating them. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Risen 2016: See It for Terrific Fiennes, Affecting Jesus, and Unique Premise

Risen 2016: See it for Terrific Fiennes, Affecting Jesus and Unique Premise

In "Risen" 2016 Joseph Fiennes gives a terrific performance as Clavius, a Roman tribune tasked by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) with investigating the disappearance of the corpse of a crucified Jewish carpenter whose name I think you probably know. Fiennes is so good that if this had been a better-produced film he would have been nominated for an Academy Award.

I like high production values in a film about the ancient world. You won't find that here. No breathtaking views of a recreated first century Jerusalem; no magnificent desert sunsets, no surging crowds.

What you get, instead, is Joseph Fiennes' supremely handsome face, grimacing in the heat of battle, gazing snake-like as he plays power games with Pontius Pilate as they share a tiled bath, and, eventually, awestruck into transcendence. The scene where Clavius confronts the truth of Jesus is one of the best scenes I've ever seen in any movie. It was so stunning that while I was watching the movie I was actively wishing I could "rewind" and watch it all again.

The film opens with Clavius fighting Jewish insurgents. Again, because of low budget, the film can't show you rank upon rank of infantry. What it does show you, instead, is the close-up and personal aspect of combat. You've got a handful of Roman soldiers, full armor, obviously rigorously and expertly trained in the art of war, working out their carefully routinized tactics against a passionate but ragtag group of Jews fighting in fevered frenzy for their homeland and their God. The Jews score a few points. The Romans are better equipped and trained, and they ultimately triumph. Clavius has noted exactly which Jew killed his friend, and he is sure to kill that Jew with his own hands.

"Risen" handles Jesus' crucifixion in a way unlike any I've seen before. Jesus was crucified on Golgotha, place of the skull, meant to be a hill. Usually filmmakers and painters capitalize on the dramatic aspects of hilltops in order to highlight the crucifixion. "Risen" does not.

In this film Jesus appears to be crucified in a dirty little alley, at almost eye level. Clavius uses a terse soldier's purely manual sign language to communicate, above the screams and wails of witnesses, to a foot soldier to break the crucified's legs in order to put an end to their suffering. This sign language is very affecting. It lets you know that these Romans have crucified so many victims that they have developed a code. Clavius notices that Jesus' mother is in agony as she watches her son suffer. He decides that piercing this victim's side will be the more compassionate route. As Jesus is pierced, Clavius looks up at Jesus' face. Jesus' face makes an impression on him. That impression will prove important later.

Romans crucified thousands of victims. That being the case, they would have been able to erect and dismantle crosses quickly and efficiently. That's exactly what happens in "Risen." This is a sort of Ikea crucifixion. As soon as the condemned breathe their last, Romans scurry to dismantle the pre-fab cross into its constituent, reusable parts. They've done this so many times, they don't have to read the printed directions in five languages. Then they unceremoniously dump the corpses into a common grave, and cover them over, shallowly, with lime. Flies buzz loudly.

Joseph of Arimathea (Antonio Gil) approaches and begs for Jesus' body, that he might provide it with a decent burial.

After Jesus' resurrection, Clavius interrogates many in an attempt to discover the truth. Clavius begins in the tomb, where he sees Jesus' burial shroud imprinted with what we now know as the image of the shroud of Turin. Clavius goes on to speak with Jesus' followers. His investigation changes his life forever.

A protest: the film depicts Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto) as a prostitute. She was not. In fact she was a woman of means who used her money to underwrite Jesus' ministry. She was also the apostle to the apostles. She was the first to share the good news, telling others of Jesus' resurrection.

A complaint: Fiennes has a shallow wound on his lip. The scab would have healed much quicker in real life than it does in the film. Also the scab moves to the left as it heals which is a tad distracting.

I wish "Risen" had had a tighter script. There are scenes that just beg to be rewritten. Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan), a follower of Jesus, says he would willingly be crucified for Jesus, and that followers of Jesus are "everywhere." These are beautiful sentiments, but the script in this scene really needed a couple of more rewrites. Mary Magdalene is given nonsense lines, and her scene is merely annoying for this reason, although Botto does her best with the part.

Cliff Curtis, a Maori actor, is terrific as Jesus. He's warm, affecting, offering a sense of depth and complexity, and, blessedly, not the picture perfect pretty boy of too many films. Max Von Sydow has long been my favorite cinematic Jesus, but Curtis is an excellent runner up.

"Risen" isn't the best Biblical epic I've ever seen, but Joseph Fiennes really couldn't be better in it. I look forward to seeing the film again to savor his performance.