Monday, May 28, 2007

Achieving victory in Iraq?

As many have predicted the victory in Iraq will be a hand over of much influence on the country to its Shiite fundamentalist neighbor - Iran. The US and Iran ambassadors have just concluded an unprecedented round of talks on the topic of Iraq. This has been predicted on huffpo not long ago by blogger Hooman Majd - I think. He then said that a division of the spoils of sorts in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion between the US and Iran will serve as a basis of cooperation that could stabilize the Middle East. This is not unrealistic - the US should have seen this as a way out long time ago - Iran had served as a stabilizing counterweight to Saddam Hussein before the Iraq invasion.

The US overture toward a mortal enemy will present a quandary to the leadership in Congress - now Democratic and anti-war. As they have failed to cut off funding for the war in Iraq and force the president to accept a withdrawal timetable they will now be met with arguments in favor of military presence in Iraq that would be needed to bolster the US position in negotiations with Iran. And there is much to be gained from such negotiations.

A larger question is whether it is wise to entrust this cynical and secretive administration with this sort of delicate diplomacy while it is clear it should not have been entrusted with initiation and conduct of the conflict in Iraq. Democrats will be embarrassed if Bush really achieves results through this diplomatic initiative. The best thing they could do right now is to pass a law to forbid a US attack on Iran.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Christopher Hitchens' superficial attack on religion

His recent book on "how religion poisons everything" seems to be very needed currently but unfortunately seems to suffer from a certain characteristic superficiality. I have not read it yet but heard some interviews on TV and youtube. Here is a link to youtube of a panel discussion during a bookfest in LA.

Also here is a link to an article I wrote a few days before 9/11 on the fanaticism inherent in religion.

Hitchens managed to courageously and correctly grasp and express the idea that religion can be tremendously detrimental to civilization as it engenders solipsistic fanaticism which says: "we are the ones who have a mission in this world from the absolute almighty and we are going to carry it out with fanatical zeal." In the process the religious fanatic does not notice that we all live in a world created by man.

In my view certain religions have a huge tendency to support this sort of anticivilizational attitude and they ought to be criticized for exactly that. Islam is pretty high on the list of propensity toward fascism while Buddhism would be probably low. Fundamentalist Christianity would be high on this list while Anglicans probably score near the Buddhists.

The other panelists tried to point out the shortcomings of Hitchens' superficiality, but none of them seemed to get to the core of the issue. Hitchens understands religion only in the narrow sense of the word, which understanding is also shared by the fanatical believers, that professes a certain necessity of belief in the unbelievable, in entities and beings beyond experience which then dictate a horrendous moral statute. Religion in broad sense of the term is an expression of our spiritual experience, our human fact of our physical finitude while grasping the infinite with our minds. Religion is a way of dealing with the "ultimate concern" - to use Tillich's words - about our existence in this world - and it does not necessarily imply any belief in things beyond experience.

A similarly superficial essay on religion was written by Bertrand Russell - I am surprised by the reluctance of Anglo-Saxon thinkers to truly examine the depth of the question.