Obama and Bush are both right about Islam

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Normally when I compare Bush and Obama, I’m talking about the worst in Obama.  Not this time.  From the moment Obama took office, he has argued consistently that Islam is a religion of peace and that our conflict is with the terrorists.  Obama has pursued terrorists as President and eventually found and had Osama bin Laden put to death.  I’m not singing Obama’s praise, but he does deserve some credit.  Like Bush, however, he was often distracted by other conflicts in the Middle East that ultimately played into the hands of Al Qaeda (and now ISIS, or ISIL if you prefer).  With that said, Obama is certainly correct in asserting that Islam, as a whole, is not the enemy.

Obama takes a lot of flack from certain elements on the right for this.  They love to sardonically refer to Islam as “A religion of peace” while showing, say, a beheading by ISIS, or the Twin Towers crumbling.  However, Bush made the very same such statements, as this article explains, and the right had very little to say about that.  I’m sure they were gritting their teeth as Bush spoke fairly of Islam, rather than fueling their bigotry, but Bush has an “R” next to his name, so they held their tongues.  Obama, however, not only has a “D” next to his name, but speaking of his name, it’s Barack Hussein Obama.

Some of the less extreme critics of Obama’s policy on Islamist terrorism will at least distinguish between “radical Islam” and “moderate Islam”, but even that is misleading.  Even “radical Islam” as a whole is not the enemy.  Saudi Arabia for example is a valuable ally, but their version of Islam is about as radical as they come.  Saddam Hussein was far more tolerant of other religions and allowed far more rights to women than the Wahabi sect that dominates Saudi Arabia.  Iran is a nation with whom we have an antagonist relationship, but we haven’t had any direct conflict (other than threats and sanctions) since the hostage crisis over 30 years ago.  Iran is less radical that Saudi Arabia, as they do at least sanction some non-Islamic religions, mainly Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.  They also fund a terrorist group called Hezbollah.  This is a dangerous and violent group, but they don’t attack us.  They mostly fight against Sunni radicals.  The enemy is not Islam, and it isn’t even necessarily radical Islam, it is specifically Al Qaeda, and the more radical ISIS offshoot.

The truth is that both Christianity and Islam are meant to be peaceful religions.  Both are very idealistic and seek the change the world through evangelism and charity.  However, both have very dark chapters in their history, as well as their religious texts.  It’s easy to cherry-pick and make one religion look very peaceful while making the other look barbaric.  In the end, its people, not religions, who do good or harm.  Individuals decide how they want to see their religious affiliations, and which parts they want to live by.  The non-religious are just as capable.

As I have often contended, however, while religions have dark chapters, there are plenty of examples of great leaders and great nations that have been religiously motivated.  FDR was an Episcopalian who felt his faith motivated him to fight for the poor and disadvantaged.  MLK led us to a new era of racial integration and cooperation, largely motivated by his Christian faith.  Malcolm X is a very interesting case.  He was always officially a “Muslim”, but originally was part of a very hateful fringe group called “Nation of Islam”.  This group was in reality an anti-White group that perverted the Islamic faith.  However, Malcolm X spent some time in Africa and then made his pilgrimage to Mecca as required by the Islamic faith.  As a result, he saw people of all races fighting for a common cause.  He also saw Muslims in Mecca of all races coming together in peace.  He then turned from the “Nation of Islam” and embraced Sunni Islam.  From that time onward, Malcolm X was also an advocate of racial equality and integration.  He has a reputation for violence, but he only supported violence in self-defense (while MLK was a pacifist).  Obama contents that religion can actually help in our fight against ISIS, and I think he’s right.  If human beings are so terrible with religion, imagine how much worse we’d be without it.  Want an idea?  Consider that the few examples of atheistic governments in human history have consistently resulted in massive atrocities and state-worship.  I’m not saying that atheists are inevitably this way, but so far, their track record is terrible.

As Fareed Zakaria explained on his GPS on CNN, Islam has, in the past, been a religion that has promoted science and social progress, and they can be again.  Both Bush and Obama realized this, and both realized that we need peaceful Muslims on our side in order to defeat the cancer that is Al Qaeda and ISIS.  Islam isn’t going away, but if we make Islam as a whole our enemy, that will only serve to legitimize ISIS in the eyes of Muslims everywhere…at least Sunni Muslims.  It will also further agitate Shia Muslims, such as most of Iran, with whom we’ve never had particularly good relations, but with whom relations could improve.

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I miss liking Obama

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In our darkest hour, at least that we millenials can remember, Obama gave us hope.  We had 8 years of fear, debt, a weak economy, and blind nationalism that sickened any of us with even the most basic critical thinking skills.  The Bush era was a nightmare for us.

I admit it.  The neocons had turned me off to America for a while.  To them, that is a mortal sin.  Everyone is supposed to love ‘mer’ca!  If you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.  And to them “America” is whatever they support.  Don’t support the war in Iraq?  Why do you hate ‘mer’ca?!  Don’t want to torture accused terrorists?  Why do you hate ‘mer’ca?!  Don’t like oil subsidies?  Well, you get the idea.

I escaped to England, thinking I would find something better in the land of my forefathers.  Well, it wasn’t England so much as it was London.  I’ll spare you the details, but know that when America suffered over here, I suffered over there.  I suffered over there, so I didn’t have to suffer over here…heh heh heh (Imagine my Bush voice).  When the economy tanked, my own finances likewise tanked.  When I thought all was lost, there was that enthusiastic progressive, multiracial, with and Islamic father and Christian mother, who represented an “America” I found far more appealing.  It was an America where people were free to be different, where hard work paid off.  It was an America of “hope and change”.  It was no longer the America of angry pseudo-conservatives watching endless FOX news, calling food stamps recipients “lazy” while ignoring subsidies for big business, and supporting every war against every nation of brown skinned Muslims since they all look like Osama bin Laden.  That America was dying, and a new one was being born.  That the rebirth was being led by a man who looked Muslim, that was just a plus for me.  Take that neocons!

Due to circumstances, I was moving back home.

When Obama was inaugurated, he declared “Change has come to America”.  To this day, I still think he meant that at the time, but he was wrong.  Change doesn’t come from inauguration.    (I’ve discussed my disappointments with Obama here and here).  Now the Republicans are in control of Congress, and rather than turning over a new leaf, they’re back to the same old tricks.  They are seeking more subsidies, more welfare for big banks, and cuts to school lunches.  We can’t afford decent food for our kids, but we can afford to back risky derivatives trading with FDIC insurance.  (Details in this article).  In all of their efforts to “cut spending”, you will hear no mention of ending oil subsidies, or auditing the Pentagon.  Actually, they will include more funding for weapons that the Pentagon didn’t even request.  But we can’t afford nutritious school lunches – sorry kids.  It’s the same old crony capitalism the Republicans have been pushing since the party was founded.  As the Republicans remind me of why I despise them so much (though I consider myself conservative), I can’t help but miss the Obama I voted for in 2008.  Now, more than ever, we need that Obama.  But he is a broken man now.

We partly have ourselves to blame.  Like Obama, we thought we had won when he took office.  We got lazy while the corporatists on the right and their FOX news viewing grunts got to work.  They obstructed everything, attacked Obama from all angles, and we stuck our heads in the sands.  Eventually, Obama gave in, and now we’ve got an Obama who supports indefinite detention, tolerates oil subsidies, invades countries without Congressional approval, and only faintly opposes torture.  John McCain has done more to end torture than Obama, and McCain is Mr. Neocon!

Still, no matter what Obama has done, I can’t hate him.  In 2008, in our darkest hour, in mine too, he restored my faith in this country.  I’m not an ‘mer’can, but I am a proud American.  But now I know that one man isn’t going to turn it around.  The FOX news viewers may think Obama hates this country because he’s half Kenyan and his father is a Muslim, but I know that Obama loved, and probably still loves, the America that I love.  It’s the America where the poor and downtrodden who don’t stand a chance in Europe can come and have a chance to succeed, and another chance, and another.  It’s the land of opportunity, innovation, and progress.  I have little faith left in Obama, but I’ll never forget what he did for me, and all of us.  Remember what Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over, and over, and over again…and that’s why I succeed.”  We will move this country out of the neocon dark ages, but we will have to fail many times first.

PS  I’m clearly not a typical Rand Paul supporter, but I am a supporter.  I don’t care if it comes from the left wing, the right wing, or a chicken wing on a string at burger king.  I’m not a progressive, but I supported Obama.  I’m not a libertarian, but I support Paul.  I just know that the old left-right paradigm needs to end, and I’ll support any candidate who can make progress towards that goal.

Upworthy – My kind of lefties

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I spend a lot of time bashing the left here, and wherever else.  Even in the classroom I have a more academic, objective approach to critiquing the mainstream left.  With that said, most of my harshest criticisms of the mainstream left (intolerance, suppressive of religious freedom, inconsistent on free speech, race-bating, etc.) are simply inapplicable to this group called “Upworthy”.  I am connected to them through facebook, and they have their own website (www.upworthy.com ).

They usually upload short videos, emails, or social media posts, and comment on them.  Their perspective is best described as liberal, left of center, etc.  They focus heavily on gay’s rights (or should I go with the more pc “LGBT”?).  The last few videos I’ve read have impressed me particularly and convinced me that these lefties are alright.  One was of a lesbian, I think comedian, telling a story of when she was confronted by a little girl with the question “are you a boy or a girl?”  She responded on that little girl’s level, with reason and civility.  I then read a facebook post by a Christian lady who explained how she as a Christian can celebrate all love…you get the idea.  Your typical militant lefty would use that as an opportunity to agitate with comments like, “but yer a Christian, and yer Bible says gays are supposed to be stoned to death.  So you have to believe that or yer a hypocrite!”  Upworthy, on the other hand, was happy to listen to this Christian’s perspective with an open mind, free of judgment.

The last one I saw really won me over.  ABC has a series apparently called “What would you do?”, where they have actors engage in social experiments.  In this segment, there was an Islamic deli employee, and an Islamaphobic customer.  The customer was making horrible slurs and accusing the deli employee of being a terrorist.  Multiple regular customers (the test subjects) stood up for the deli worker.  Thank you Upworthy for having the courage and moral consistency to stand up for Muslims in this country!  I sadly see many on the left selling out their principles to fit in with the Faux News crowd, with comments like, “Muslims oppress women”, and “Well I admit that Muslims are much worse than other religious groups…at least Christians don’t blow up buildings.”  Bill Mayer, one of the most disgusting individuals in mainstream media, has gone this route, and he has the audacity to call himself “libertarian”!  Fortunately, Upworthy is better than that.  In America today, Muslims have become the group for whom it is “OK” to be bigoted against.  Anyone can stand up for gay’s rights – that’s cool now.  But to stand up for Muslims in America, that takes courage.  Just as it took courage to stand up for gays in say, the 1950s, or women’s voting rights in the 19th century.

Even though I’m singing their praises right now, I certainly don’t agree with them all the time, and that’s fine.  They are more PC than I would like, but hey, I did state that they’re left of center didn’t I?  What’s important is having a rational dialogue on these issues between those of us who are past the paradigm (no longer defined so easily by “left” or “right”).  I wish there were more left of center groups that don’t mirror the pseudo-liberal bigotry from their ministry of truth headquarters (AKA MSNBC).  Well, this is one I can recommend.  Check them out!

The lesbian and the 4 year old:

https://www.upworthy.com/a-4-year-old-girl-asked-a-lesbian-if-shes-a-boy-she-responded-the-awesomest-way-possible?c=ufb2

The open-minded Christian, and open-minded libs at Upworthy:

http://www.upworthy.com/a-christian-girl-stood-up-to-anti-gay-church-goers-with-a-sharp-comment-on-facebook-2?c=ufb1

The social experiment with Islam and prejudice:

http://www.upworthy.com/a-boy-makes-anti-muslim-comments-in-front-of-an-american-soldier-the-soldiers-reply-priceless