August 13, 2008
August 13, 2008
This year’s Miss World final in Kiev has been cancelled amid fears that Russia may turn its military might on the Ukraine.
The 120 contestants were due to compete at the Ukraina National Palace on October 4.
But the event has been called off and a new host country is being sought, the Daily Telegraph has learned.
In a statement, the organisers said: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, it was with deep regret that the decision was taken to postpone the Miss World 2008 Final. This decision was taken in the interest of contestants and the Miss World Organisation.”
A new venue and date will be announced next week, the statement added. Nha Trang in Vietnam is being considered as a last-minute alternative.
A spokesman refused to discuss the reasons for the cancellation, but staff working on the show were told that the situation in Russia was behind the decision. There are fears in the Ukraine that Russia will shift its attention to the Ukraine, another US ally in the former Soviet Union.
Julia Morley, president of the Miss World Organisation, was unavailable for comment. She is attending the Beijing Olympics with Zhang Zilin, current holder of the crown and a former Miss China.
This is not the first time the organisers have been forced to abandon a venue.
In 2002, plans to hold the beauty pageant in Nigeria led to riots which left 200 people dead. The violence was sparked when a local journalist wrote an article claiming the Islamic prophet Mohammad would have approved of the contest and even married one of the contestants. The ensuing clashes between Muslims and Christians rocked the country and forced the contestants to flee the country. Several competitors also boycotted the contest in protest at Nigeria’s decision to condemn a woman to death by stoning for committing adultery. The venue was switched to London at the last minute
August 13, 2008
The owner of a 1991 Chevrolet Silverado that’s travelled more than 1.6 kilometres, or one million miles, is parting with what he calls his “old girl.”
Frank Oresnik says his pickup will go on sale Thursday night on eBay. The minimum bid is $30,000.
The 58-year-old northern Wisconsin man attracted attention in February when he reached the million-mile mark while doing a live interview on public radio.
He says that the truck has had four radiators, three gas tanks and five transmissions, but the engine is original.
He racked up much of the mileage delivering seafood from a Chicago supplier to Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.
Oresnik says he hopes the buyer will display the truck.
IT’S embarrassing but, yes, some of us need to flush twice when we go to the toilet.
However, regularly ‘making sure’ has meant one 57-year-old woman faces eviction after a neighbour complained about the noise.
Mwynwen Jones’s case reached the High Court, where she admitted the habit but blamed sound insulation ‘so poor that neighbours could even hear her ironing clothes’.
Unmoved, Judge John Behrens ruled Gwynedd County Council had not done anything wrong and allowed it to follow through with a possession order.
‘Whilst flushing a toilet may not be a nuisance, plainly it may be so if it is done repeatedly and at antisocial hours,’ he said.
The rumblings began in December and Mrs Jones – a council tenant in Tremadog for more than 20 years – has been bogged down in county and high court wrangles ever since. A single neighbour complained of a banging door and double-flushing at night.
The council removed Mrs Jones’s status as a secure tenant and, in January, sought to evict her.
Mrs Jones, who has suffered mental health problems, went to the High Court but was told her bid for a judicial review was ‘hopeless’.
The council had to carry out a ‘balancing exercise’ between her rights and those of her neighbours, added the judge.
August 13, 2008
In “Rebuilding Russia,” published as the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that the “awakening Russian national self-awareness has to a large extent been unable to free itself of great-power thinking and of imperial delusions … it has taken over from the communists the fraudulent and contrived notion of Soviet patriotism.” As all prescient statements, it was a shrewd reading of the present, not the future. The Russian invasion of Georgia is a powerful confirmation of Solzhenitsyn’s words.
Of course, one could reverse his argument: Soviet imperialism was a continuation, not an antecedent, of Russian nationalism. Vladimir Putin and his stooge, President Dmitry Medvedev, have revived a tradition of Russian expansionism that dates back to Ivan the Terrible. The invasion of Georgia echoes Russia’s annexation of that country in 1801 and again in 1921, when the Soviets crushed a short-lived Georgian independence.
This has little to do with protecting South Ossetians, who a few years ago were vying for independence from both Georgia and Russia. And it has little to do with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s obvious miscalculation in responding to South Ossetia’s latest provocation by trying to assert military control of that region. Russia had been planning this for some time, as demonstrated by the awesome efficacy of the assault, targeting areas well beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another rebellious region, and mobilizing its Black Sea fleet.
It would also be a gross mistake to think that the casus belli can be traced to Western actions such as the recognition of Kosovo’s independence to the detriment of Russia’s Serbian allies or NATO’s push for an anti-missile system in Central Europe. Those moves, however imprudent given the psychology of Moscow’s leaders, did not precede the emergence of post-Soviet nationalism in Russia. Quite the opposite: Moscow’s foreign expansion is the logical continuation of authoritarian rule at home, which Putin has been consolidating for some time with the help of abundant oil and natural gas money.
First, Putin made sure his country’s feeble democratic institutions were replaced with autocratic rule. Most checks and balances were neutered: the judiciary, political parties, local governments, the media, private corporations, separatist regions. The security forces, the Orthodox Church and the energy industry became the pillars of the new regime. The first two, already steeped in Russian nationalism, required little purging. The energy sector needed some work, which is why the giant Yukos firm was broken up and its oil subsidiary gobbled by the government, as was Gazprom, the world’s largest producer of natural gas.
Once the Kremlin’s control was established, there was little anyone could do about Russian expansionism. Europe imports vast amounts of natural gas and oil from Russia. The threat to reduce or cut off supplies, for instance by ceasing shipments through Ukraine, a major transit route, served to blackmail the European Union.
Russia would like to get its hands on everything that lies between the Baltic and the Caucasus (beyond that, its big southern neighbor, Kazakhstan, ruled by a tyrant sitting on oil, is already a friend of Moscow’s). But there are some hurdles, including the fact that the Baltic and most of the Balkans are part of the European Union and NATO. Which leaves Georgia and Ukraine, whose revolutions in 2003 and 2004 were seen as a powerful assertion of Western values in a region that Russia considers its backyard, as the easiest targets.
Russian nationalists, who are impetuous but not crazy, know well that Central Europe is beyond their reach, but they could seriously undermine those nations if they controlled their next-door neighbor, Ukraine. And Georgia would give them control of the transit route between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, which is to say the Mediterranean.
What we have seen in Georgia these past few days is nothing less than the perfectly rational decision by Russia to take that country’s born again nationalism one step forward. It is important to understand this reality now that the debate about whether to isolate, engage or ignore Russia is about to begin in earnest in the West.
In 1990, Solzhenitsyn, who was himself a Russian nationalist of sorts, wrote that “it must be declared loudly … that … Transcaucasia … will be separated off unequivocally and irreversibly” from Russia. I wonder what he would think of his friend Putin’s decision to prove him wrong.
August 13, 2008
The European Union (EU) is ready to send observers to Georgia as announced after an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers here on Wednesday, despite failure to forge a united stance on how to respond to Russia’s military action in South Ossetia.
Speaking at a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU will “engage in observational activities” and is “preparing for the possibility to send personnel into the field if the UN Security Council passes a political resolution to the problem.”
Kouchner proposed the idea as he told reporters before the meeting that the EU should send personnel into Georgia to help facilitate the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The French minister, whose country holds the current EU presidency, declined to call the personnel “peacekeepers” but rather “monitors, controllers or facilitators.”
He said that many EU nations were ready to join in the mission, but the EU has to wait “for days” for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution on the matter. Maybe “at the beginning of September we will have a result.”
The one-day meeting failed to forge a unanimous response toward Russia.
Some members, particularly those from Eastern Europe, strongly condemned Moscow, while countries having close ties with Moscow, such as France and Germany, were reluctant to do so.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas warned “some consequences” for Russia’s actions in Georgia, describing Moscow’s response to Georgia’s military offensive in breakaway South Ossetia as an act of “aggression.”
Vaitiekunas supported the call for EU troops as part of an international peacekeeping force in Georgia.
Hardliner Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged a reassessment of EU-Russia ties.
“The European Union should be able to address its relations with Russia” at its foreign ministers’ meeting in September and “through decisions about whether or not and how to proceed with the partnership and cooperation agreement,” Miliband said.
Both Miliband and Vaitiekunas expressed support to send EU monitors.
But responses from other EU nations were quite cautious.
“If the EU wants to mediate, it has to remain objective and impartial. We should be careful about what steps we take,” said Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, ruling out the possibility of sanctions against Moscow at this meeting.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “I do not think we should get lost today in long discussions about responsibility or who caused the escalation in the last few days.”
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb also warned of any “blame game.” Stubb has acted as a mediator in the Georgia-Russia conflict, as Finland is now holding the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been trying to broker peace in the region.
The meeting did not issue any statement condemning Russia as Eastern European EU nations asked, but published a conclusion urging both Georgia and Russia to stop fighting and respect international law and UN Security Council resolutions.
The EU ministers gathered here to analyze the situation after the breakout of fighting in Georgia, including the humanitarian situation, and consider the actions to take to promote a rapid solution to the problem.
Georgia launched military actions against South Ossetia’s forces last week in an attempt to re-establish control over the breakaway region. In response, Russian troops moved into the region to fight the Georgian forces.
August 13, 2008
What happened is beyond comprehension,” Gorbachev said when describing Russia’s military move into the South Ossetia region of Georgia, calling Russia’s action a counterattack to Georgia’s offensive.
Gobachev’s comments were made during an interview with British newspaper, the Guardian. But early this afternoon in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had some comments of her own at a live televised press conference at the State Department.
“The Russians need to stop their military operations, as they have apparently said that they will,” Rice stated. Calling on history, Sect. Rice also said that Russia needed to realize “it’s not 1968″, in referring to the former Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, saying, “there will be consequences over Russia’s actions”.
Gorbachev defended Russia saying “The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers. Russia had to respond.”
Gorbachev also said the United States was behind Georgia’s move. Georgian authorities could only undertake the offensive “with the perceived support” of a much more powerful force – an apparent reference to the United States, which has trained Georgian troops and backed the country’s bid to join NATO, Gorbachev outlined in the Guardian story.
Now that the military assault has been routed, Gorbachev said, “the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position.”
Rice confirmed that she would be flying to France where she will meet with President Sarkozy before flying on to the Georgian Capitol of Tbilisi to meet with Georgian President Saakashvili. When asked by reporters why Rice wasn’t going to Moscow, she said that Sarkozy was president of the European Union and that the EU was handling the negotiations so that the United States “didn’t want to interfere.”
Rice also said that President Bush had ordered U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to use the military to transport humanitarian aid to Georgia and that it was not a military, but peace action.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Bush’s earlier warnings saying it was the United States who supplied Georgia with arms and military training.
“We understand that the U.S. is concerned about the fate of this project, but the United States will have to choose between defending its prestige over a virtual project or real partnership which requires joint action,” the Russian Foreign Minister said.
Sect. Rice had words of her own for Lavrov saying, “I want to make very clear that the United States stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia, for the sovereignty of Georgia, that we support its democratically elected government and its people. We are reviewing our options for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Georgia. But the most important thing right now is that these military operations need to stop.
“We will continue to work diplomatically on this matter and will continue our discussions with all the parties involved.”
August 13, 2008
A British couple were buried at church where they married.
The couple were murdered on their honeymoon in Antigua. They were married on July 12, 2008 and shot on the last day of their holiday, July 28, 2008.
They were married for 16 days.
Ben and Catherine Mullany were both shot in the head in a suspected bungled robbery at the Cocos Hotel, on the Caribbean island last month.
Their families said in a joint statement that a funeral service would be held later for extended family members, friends and colleagues.
The newly-weds, both 31 and from Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley, south Wales, were shot on the last day of their holiday on July 27.
Mrs Mullany, a doctor, died instantly. Her husband, a trainee physiotherapist, was flown back to Britain where he died from his injuries at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, on Aug 3.
A statement released yesterday (Wed) by their families through South Wales Police, said: “A private burial service for our children Ben and Catherine was held earlier today.
“It was our wish that the burial was held in private and we thank the media for respecting our privacy.”
It added: “The media are asked to continue to respect our wishes to be able to grieve in private and to try to come to terms with the terrible events of the past few weeks.”
The service was held at St John the Evangelist church in Cilybebyll, near Pontardawe, where the couple married on July 12.
Inquests into the deaths of the couple were opened and adjourned in Swansea on Tuesday.
The Swansea and Gower coroner Philip Rogers heard formal evidence of identification and released the bodies for burial, according to the wishes of both families.
More than 30 people have been questioned in connection with the shootings, but Antiguan police have said there are no firm suspects.
Eight British officers have flown to the island to assist in the investigation.
The couple’s families requested no flowers as details of a memorial fund would be announced later.
August 13, 2008
Russia’s moral standing may have been damaged by its invasion of Georgia but it has shown the inability of Western and international powers to face down the use of force.
The longevity of the heavily multi-ethnic former Soviet Union can be partly explained by a federal system that granted degrees of notional autonomy and status.
The Soviet constitution even permitted secession for the Union’s republics which, of course, included Georgia and Russia.
On the other hand, it was understood that secession of any country could only be undertaken by the appropriate local communist party, which, through the heavily centralised and indoctrinated system, was hardly likely to occur.
As an added measure, this Soviet federal system was also seen as a series of the famous Russian nested dolls – one fitting inside another. In a crisis, a tacit internal balance of power system kicked in, ensuring that a smaller national unit would fear its immediate superior and turn to a larger unit – namely Russia – for protection. The consequences of these almost mythical structures were felt when the USSR began collapsing and most profoundly in Georgia.
That Soviet republic, with an intricately multiethnic population, had not one but three sub-units deliberately created in its territory for the three non-Georgian minorities of the Ossetians, Abkhazia and Adjarians.
Ethnic Russians were few in each of these units but these non-Georgians would have cause for fear in an independent Georgia, and would turn to Moscow for protection. Of the three, only Adjaria, which still has had strained relations with Tbilisi, even prompting a Georgian blockade, has avoided outright war with Georgian authorities in the post-Soviet era
The benefits to the non-Georgian minorities of their autonomy within that Soviet republic included the creation of a national political elite, as such units had some form of local administration, as well as cultural rights which might include education in the language of the titular group.
The small political opening that created Glasnost in the late 1980s allowed various ethnic groups to (re)assert their national identity; Georgians were among the first and the most strident to do so, not least because of enduring resentment at being colonised twice by Moscow in the 19th century and again after the Bolshevik revolution.
As Georgian nationalism increased, Soviet-era concessions made to peoples like the Abkhaz and Ossetians were reassessed as serving to subjugate the Georgians.
Mistrust and misperceptions were thus strong in Georgia in the early 1990s; the counterbalancing of forces implicit in the nested dolls came into full brutal pratice. Little independent reporting was available then, as now, and the exact dynamics of the outbreak of fighting in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain disputed – all parties advance their own accounts to legitimate their subsequent actions. They also seek to strengthen their hands in peace negotiations.
Russia provided military assistance in the early conflicts. A weakened Georgia accepted Russian-led peacekeeping in both republics, which ensured a Russian military presence thereafter on Georgian territory, a factor that played directly into the present violence.
Russian military support, including in the form of ‘peacekeeping’, has ensured that Abkhazia and South Ossetia could continue to exist as de facto states. Not even Russia, however, recognized them. Russian President Vladimir Putin, starting in 2006, warned that recognition of Kosovo could be met with the same by Russia of such entities.
In addition, the distribution of Russian passports to the ethnic Abkhaz and Ossetian population was increased, to the point that some 90 per cent possess them. Russian officials, including the defence minister, stated that Russia had the right and the obligation to defend such ‘citizens’. To others this was both a provocative and a ready excuse for intervention.
Furthermore, after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, Putin elevated Russia’s legal view of the republics; while short of outright recognition, these moves suggested to Georgia that Russia was moving to tear them away.
The Ossetian and Russian view is that Georgia caused the immediate provocation of 8 August using the cover of the opening of the Olympics. There is considerable anger among Russians that Western media coverage first referred not to Georgian ‘mobilisation’ and ‘attacks’ on South Ossetia, but to ‘Russia attacking Georgia’. Western media has since noted such. By contrast, the assertions of Georgia ‘attacking’ and ‘invading’ South Ossetia, which remains part of Georgia, incenses Georgian supporters, not least because it implies South Ossetia’s independence.
Since becoming President, Mikheil Saakashvili has pandered to Georgian nationalism and to the painful collective grievance at the effective ‘loss’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by making statements supporting the territorial integrity of Georgia and even of reasserting control over the breakaway republics.
From their viewpoint, the US-sponsored Georgia Train and Equip sponsorship of the Georgian armed forces was also intended to support Georgian military reconquest. Both breakway territories and Moscow considered other Georgian policies to be confrontational. Tensions on all sides were thus considerable well before the ignition on 8 August.
Russia has called a halt to fighting, but only after having militarily secured South Ossetia and causing fear and destruction more widely across Georgia.
It also took the opportunity to expand its forces in Abkhazia causing concern it was establishing a second front.
Whatever the exact causes of the outbreak on 8 August, Russia will have shown that it is willing to use considerable – and in this case unquestionably disproportionate – force in its surrounding areas. While Russia’s moral standing will have been damaged, it has also shown that inability of Western and international powers to face the use of such force.
The West urgently needs to get tough to contain Russia’s new-found imperialism in the wake of its military action in Georgia, write German media commentators. The problem is that the EU, as usual, lacks the required unity while the US has a lame duck president whose invasion of Iraq robbed him of authority.
(That argument made elsewhere, is absurd:
The clear implication is that what America did in going to war with Iraq is the moral equivalent of what Russia has done to Georgia…is indefensible…
In the situation in Georgia, a lawful, self-governing nation which respects human rights (and happens to be an ally of the United States) is under attack. In Iraq, we deposed one of the most wicked and cruel regimes of modern times. Saddam Hussein committed genocide against his own people; President Mikheil Saakashvili has not. As for the nature of the “invading” nations: one (the U.S.) was performing an act of liberation; the other (Russia) is attempting to crush a newly-liberated nation. As for the legal justification for the war: Russia has none; the United States, on the other hand, won unanimous approval in the United Nations for Resolution 1441, which stated that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations and warned Iraq of “serious consequences” (which all parties understood to mean war) for its continued violations. In addition, Iraq, unlike Georgia, had violated 16 U.N. Security Council Resolutions in the course of a dozen years.
To assert…that the United States has “no moral standing” to criticize Russia because of the Iraq war is silly…)- SC&A)
Russia has shown the world it won’t shy away from using tanks to enforce its geopolitical interests. And the West has shown it doesn’t have any leverage to halt Russia’s new-found imperialism, write German newspaper commentators.
The West now urgently needs to get tough with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, commentators say, arguing that failure to come up with a strong, unified response will encourage the Russian strongman to go on expanding Russia’s sphere of influence.
Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
“The EU cannot accept such developments in neighboring countries and it must not look on without doing something. It must make a clear statement addressed to Russia and in a second step it must think about what contribution the EU could make towards securing the peacefire in Georgia. It’s doubtful whether the EU will be able to reach a consensus on this. But if the required unified action were again to fall victim to the strategic interests of individual EU members, that would be a further victory for Moscow.”
Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
“The West would be well advised to get used to the idea that Moscow no longer shies away from military action in pursuing its interests. That forces the EU to define its foreign policy lines more clearly. Should a country like Georgia that is of strategic importance to the West as a transit country for oil and gas be left to Russia? The EU will have to tackle these uncomfortable questions and even more uncomfortable answers, if it ever wants to be more than a superfluous ‘mediator’ in the step-by-step restoration of the Russian empire.”
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“The battle for a wretched mountain region in the Caucasus has created a new world order. After deluding itself for too long, the West now rapidly needs to find a convincing stance for dealing with a resurgent Russia that no longer just rattles its sabre but makes use of it as well.”
“The West must find a clear language for addressing Moscow. After hesitating for days, George W. Bush found strong words and branded the Russian attack on a ‘sovereign neighboring state’ as unacceptable in the 21st century. But the admonition of the outgoing American president won’t have much impact in Moscow. Firstly, the Russian leadership doesn’t see itself as morally accountable to the Iraq warrior Bush. Secondly, it’s waiting to see who will be moving into the White House: Republican hawk John McCain, who wants to throw Russia out of the G8 group of leading industrial nations, or the young Democrat Barack Obama who has made more moderate noises.”
“There’s a big risk that unclear signals may be misunderstood by Moscow in this situation.”
Business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:
“The world, and that means not just the West, has a choice: It can keep on knuckling under to Putin by just tut-tutting and doing nothing. If it does, it will have to live with the consequences of Putin’s imperialism. Or it shows him a clear stop sign and forces him and his so-called peacekeepers out of Georgia so that an international peacekeeping force can be stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Travel restrictions, economic sanctions or frozen Russian bank accounts abroad are measures that could hit Russia’s economy hard.”
August 13, 2008
Al-Qa’eda is losing support in Iraq because of a brutal crackdown on activities it regards as un-Islamic – including women buying cucumbers.
Besides the terrible killings inflicted by the fanatics on those who refuse to pledge allegiance to them, Al-Qa’eda has lost credibility for enforcing a series of rules imposing their way of thought on the most mundane aspects of everyday life.
They include a ban on women buying suggestively-shaped vegetables, according to one tribal leader in the western province of Anbar.
Sheikh Hameed al-Hayyes, a Sunni elder, told Reuters: “They even killed female goats because their private parts were not covered and their tails were pointed upward, which they said was haram.
“They regarded the cucumber as male and tomato as female. Women were not allowed to buy cucumbers, only men.”
Other farcical stipulations include an edict not to buy or sell ice-cream, because it did not exist in the time of the Prophet, while hair salons and shops selling cosmetics have also been bombed.
Most seriously, Sheikh al-Hayyes said: “I saw them slaughter a nine-year old boy like a sheep because his family didn’t pledge allegiance to them.”
Such tactics have triggered a backlash among Sunnis, whom Al-Q’aeda had claimed to be protecting, the sheikh and military leaders said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Albers, an American intelligence officer, told the news agency: “Al-Qa’eda’s very heavy-handed killing of civilians backfired on them. The Sunnis just wouldn’t stand for it any more.
“The self-described protectors of the Sunni community now kill more Iraqi Sunnis than anyone else.”
August 13, 2008
President Bush’s reaction to the invasion of a pro-Western, democratic nation isn’t going to cut it. This is what he had to say today:
I said this violence is unacceptable — I not only said it to Vladimir Putin, I’ve said it to the President of the country, Dmitriy Medvedev. And my administration has been engaged with both sides in this, trying to get a cease-fire, and saying that the status quo ante for all troops should be August 6th. And, look, I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia.
Disproportionate? Was there some level of aggression that would have been more “proportionate” and hence more acceptable? Strongly condemn bombing outside South Ossetia? Is, then, bombing in South Ossetia OK?
That’s the kind of language the President and his spokesmen use when referring to the latest outrages committed by Robert Mugabe and the Burmese junta. Language like that doesn’t mean much to hardened thugs like them–or like Vladimir Putin. What they understand is action. The question now is whether the U.S. and other Western nations will be willing to take serious action against this outrageous Russian aggression.
What would such action consist of? A demand to Russia that it withdraw its troops from the sovereign soil of another country and end its attacks within, say, 48 hours. If it doesn’t comply, diplomatic and economic sanctions could follow. The Russian elites are particularly vulnerable to having their Western bank accounts–where they stash ill-gotten financial gains–frozen.
It is also important to give Georgia the wherewithal to defend itself. It has a small but capable military which has received lots of American training and equipment in recent years (and has paid us back by sending a sizable contingent to Iraq). But it may not have two key weapons that would enable it to wreak havoc on the Russian advance. I am thinking of the Stinger and the Javelin. Both are relatively small, inexpensive, handheld missiles. The former is designed for attacking aircraft, the latter for attacking armored vehicles. The Stinger, as we know, has already been used with devastating effectiveness against the Russian air force once before–in Afghanistan. The Javelin is newer, and the Russians haven’t yet seen its abilities demonstrated. But there is little doubt that it could do a great deal to bog down the Russians as their vehicles advance down narrow mountain roads into Georgia.
If Russia doesn’t call off its offensive right away, the Pentagon should rush deliveries of Javelins and Stingers to Georgia. If the Russians insist on committing acts of aggression, at least let their victims defend themselves properly–and make the Russians pay the kind of price they paid once before in Afghanistan. As we’ve learned recently, with Iran supporting anti-American attacks in Iraq, proxy warfare is a fiendishly powerful way of fighting. If it is used against us, it should also be used by us.
Some will no doubt object that such actions would be “provocative” and that we should do nothing to jeopardize our “vital” relationship with Russia. Obviously we should tread carefully in our dealings with a country as powerful as Russia still is. But it is not clear what benefits we derive from our current relationship.
On Iran, for instance, Russia has been more hindrance than help. It has helped Iran to develop its nuclear program and it has been selling Iran high-tech surface-to-air missiles. Russia has gone along grudgingly with weak sanctions at the UN but, along with China, it has blocked more robust action. If Russia delivers important aid in the war on terrorism or other areas, I’m not aware of it. Increasingly the Russians have adopted a confrontational tone with the West, and they have backed it up with bullying of our allies. The Bush administration and other Western governments have tried their best to get along with Russia. That has been interpreted by Putin not as a sign of goodwill but as a sign of weakness. It is time to send a different message by making clear that Russia has crossed a red line in Georgia.
I would also like to respond to a legitimate point raised by some of those posting comments on the blog post this piece began life as, who ask me to consider possible Russian countermeasures if the U.S. provides Georgia with Stingers and Javelins. Will Russia send high-tech munitions to insurgents fighting American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq? Will Russia disrupt fuel supplies to the West–in particular the natural gas supplies on which Germany and so many other European nations rely?
Start with the first idea: Russia arming Islamic insurgents. Given the problems that Russia has had (and continues to have) with Islamic extremists within in its own borders, if I were running the Kremlin I would be extremely careful about handing out missiles that could be used to bring down Russian aircraft. Al Qaeda, the Mahdist Army, and the Taliban are not exactly Russian allies at the moment, and it is doubtful that they could ever be reliable proxies. The bigger threat in this regard is that Iran will provide higher-tech weapons to these groups, as it has with Hezbollah, but so far it has hesitated to do so for reasons that remain known only to the mullahs.
The reality, as we’ve seen with proxy wars in the past, is that it is extremely hard for the country on the receiving end to retaliate effectively. Think of Chinese and Russian support for North Vietnam, U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen, or Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise I believe Russia would be hard-put to respond to American assistance to Georgia–of which we have already tendered plenty in the past.
Might Russia use economic pressure even if it has no obvious military answer? Perhaps. It has certainly flexed its muscles in the past by disrupting energy supplies to Ukraine and other customers. The problem with that strategy is that it costs Russia a lot of money and runs the risks that its customers will find alternative suppliers in the future. Russia might well try this tack, but I doubt it would be a long-run success.
August 13, 2008
Opinion is hardening against the Kremlin. For all its bluster, it is weak and vulnerable
Mr Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. Trying to resurrect it could be the greatest folly of the 21st.
Rarely have Russians had such cause to celebrate their hero. One minute Vladimir Putin was in Beijing mixing with Russian athletes on the opening day of the Olympics. Moments later he reappeared in the Caucasus, sleeves rolled up and directing a victorious counter-attack against his arch-rival Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian President. Fleeing refugees and wounded civilians were comforted. Generals saluted smartly as they were sent off to battle. No one was left in any doubt that Mr Putin, rather than the absent President Medvedev, was still firmly in charge of the country.
In the space of only five days the Russian Prime Minister succeeded not only in smashing the Georgian Army but also teaching all those in the “near abroad”, as Russia refers to its neighbours in the former Soviet empire, a painful lesson about challenging Moscow in its own backyard.
The decisive action was in sharp contrast to the response in the West. The war in Georgia exposed deep divisions in the transatlantic alliance and revealed the impotence of the Bush Administration in protecting its closest friend in the region.
Respect is something Mr Putin and many of his countrymen believe they lost when the Soviet Union broke apart 17 years ago. They may now feel that over the past few days some of that loss has been restored.
For Russians sunning themselves on the Mediterranean or enjoying the long summer evenings at their dachas in the countryside, this is the plausible narrative faithfully repeated by the state-controlled media.
Unfortunately, the conclusions they draw are completely wrong. Russia may have smashed its tiny neighbour but victory will come at a heavy price. The war will reduce rather than increase Russia’s stature abroad, where the Kremlin faces growing isolation.
Since the emergence of the modern Russian state during the Yeltsin years in the 1990s, the country has been regarded as chaotic and corrupt but broadly peaceful and certainly no serious threat. Back in 2003 Condoleezza Rice, the Russophile US Secretary of State, famously advised President Bush to “forgive” Russia for its stand against the Iraq war, while France was punished and Germany ignored.
To judge by the language of both US presidential candidates responding to the Georgian war, forgiveness is no longer an option. Democrat or Republican will take a much harder line towards Russia over its aggressive foreign posture, its increasingly autocratic Government and the inescapable conclusion that Mr Putin is determined to remain in power indefinitely.
The Europeans may seem divided, but behind the bland statements calling on both sides to stop the recent fighting something significant has happened. Six European leaders, five of them from the former Soviet bloc, chose to stand side by side with Mr Saakashvili yesterday as he struggled to remain in power. The events in the Caucasus will only serve to harden opinion against Russia at Nato and in the EU.
The mini-war in Georgia may have surprised some Europeans, but it was expected weeks ago by British Intelligence. Thanks to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-KGB officer who was poisoned in London by suspected Russian agents nearly two years ago, Britain has completely reassessed its relationship with Moscow. MI5, which reports that Russian agents in Britain are now back at Cold War levels, regards Russia as the third most serious threat to British security after terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Attempts to rehabilitate relations have faltered and the recent treatment of BP by its partners and the Russian authorities has only reinforced the view that Russia cannot be trusted.
Flush with billions from the sale of oil and gas, the Kremlin may calculate that it does not need allies in the West and would rather be respected and feared than befriended.
That too would be a serious mistake. For all its big-power bluster, Russia is weak and vulnerable. Russian tanks and aircraft may have smashed the fledgeling Georgian Army with ease, but most of the weaponry was Cold War-era and many of the troops conscripts. Anyone who has seen the Russian Army operating in the Caucasus knows that the military will need a generation to modernise. Meanwhile America, and its main Nato allies, are decades ahead in military technology and combat experience.
Russia is also facing a severe demographic crisis. Its population is shrinking by 700,000 people a year. The UN estimates the population will fall below 100 million by 2050, down from around 146 million today.
As for the economy, it is booming thanks to natural resources that account for 70 per cent of the country’s wealth. But the oil price is in a state of flux. Russia has failed to diversify. Should energy prices fall sharply, the economy could collapse, as it did a decade ago.
Mr Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. Trying to resurrect it could be the greatest folly of the 21st.
August 13, 2008
Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:
First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal. We will call the goal a “BA.”
You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that’s the system we have in place.
Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.
Outside a handful of majors — engineering and some of the sciences — a bachelor’s degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.
The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.
The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough — four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you’re a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.
The merits of a CPA-like certification exam apply to any college major for which the BA is now used as a job qualification. To name just some of them: criminal justice, social work, public administration and the many separate majors under the headings of business, computer science and education. Such majors accounted for almost two-thirds of the bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2005. For that matter, certification tests can be used for purely academic disciplines. Why not present graduate schools with certifications in microbiology or economics — and who cares if the applicants passed the exam after studying in the local public library?
Certification tests need not undermine the incentives to get a traditional liberal-arts education. If professional and graduate schools want students who have acquired one, all they need do is require certification scores in the appropriate disciplines. Students facing such requirements are likely to get a much better liberal education than even our most elite schools require now.
Certification tests will not get rid of the problems associated with differences in intellectual ability: People with high intellectual ability will still have an edge. Graduates of prestigious colleges will still, on average, have higher certification scores than people who have taken online courses — just because prestigious colleges attract intellectually talented applicants.
But that’s irrelevant to the larger issue. Under a certification system, four years is not required, residence is not required, expensive tuitions are not required, and a degree is not required. Equal educational opportunity means, among other things, creating a society in which it’s what you know that makes the difference. Substituting certifications for degrees would be a big step in that direction.
The incentives are right. Certification tests would provide all employers with valuable, trustworthy information about job applicants. They would benefit young people who cannot or do not want to attend a traditional four-year college. They would be welcomed by the growing post-secondary online educational industry, which cannot offer the halo effect of a BA from a traditional college, but can realistically promise their students good training for a certification test — as good as they are likely to get at a traditional college, for a lot less money and in a lot less time.
Certification tests would disadvantage just one set of people: Students who have gotten into well-known traditional schools, but who are coasting through their years in college and would score poorly on a certification test. Disadvantaging them is an outcome devoutly to be wished.
No technical barriers stand in the way of evolving toward a system where certification tests would replace the BA. Hundreds of certification tests already exist, for everything from building code inspectors to advanced medical specialties. The problem is a shortage of tests that are nationally accepted, like the CPA exam.
But when so many of the players would benefit, a market opportunity exists. If a high-profile testing company such as the Educational Testing Service were to reach a strategic decision to create definitive certification tests, it could coordinate with major employers, professional groups and nontraditional universities to make its tests the gold standard. A handful of key decisions could produce a tipping effect. Imagine if Microsoft announced it would henceforth require scores on a certain battery of certification tests from all of its programming applicants. Scores on that battery would acquire instant credibility for programming job applicants throughout the industry.
An educational world based on certification tests would be a better place in many ways, but the overarching benefit is that the line between college and noncollege competencies would be blurred. Hardly any jobs would still have the BA as a requirement for a shot at being hired. Opportunities would be wider and fairer, and the stigma of not having a BA would diminish.
Most important in an increasingly class-riven America: The demonstration of competency in business administration or European history would, appropriately, take on similarities to the demonstration of competency in cooking or welding. Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best.
Here’s the reality: Everyone in every occupation starts as an apprentice. Those who are good enough become journeymen. The best become master craftsmen. This is as true of business executives and history professors as of chefs and welders. Getting rid of the BA and replacing it with evidence of competence — treating post-secondary education as apprenticeships for everyone — is one way to help us to recognize that common bond.
…an Egyptian proverb warns: “In his father’s home a boy’s chastity is safe, but let him become a dervish [Sufi adept] and the buggers will queue up behind him.”
In contrast to the Judeo-Christian West, where marriage has been a metaphor for God’s love since the Biblical Song of Songs, homosexual pederasty was normative for the Sufi philosopher-poets of Islam’s golden age…
The Hebrew Bible abjures pagan practices, just as Mohammed inveighs against the pagans… Classic Persian and Arab literature ooze with it [celebrating homosexuality]. Islam could not extirpate a pederastic culture including virtually all the leading poets of the high Middle Ages except by suppressing the Sufi cults. There were a number of reasons that both the Sunni and Shia mainstream persecuted Sufism, but a prominent one was the cited practice called “contemplation of the beardless” in which the dervish sought communion with the eternal by immersing himself in the beauty of adolescent boys.
Sigmund Freud thought that everything was about sex, and he was half right. Rarely is love so spiritual that it does not also stir the loins, for human beings are creatures not only of soul but of body. Although it is thought rude to say so nowadays, different kinds of love belong to different kinds of sex. Not even Hell can resist divine love, J W Goethe showed in the funniest vignette in all literature: his devil, Mephistopheles, is disabled by an obsessive lust for the cherubs sent to claim the soul of Faust in the drama’s penultimate scene. Heavenly beauty, that is, reduces the crafty demon to a pathetic old pervert, in a tableau not fit for a family newspaper.
Goethe’s creepily convincing portrait of a pederastic devil in Faust (1832) drew on the poet’s earlier study of Persian love poetry of the High Middle Ages, where “as a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man”, according to the leading Persian historian Ehsan Yar-Shater. Islamic mysticism (Sufism) of the High Middle Ages is the only case in which a mainstream current of a major world religion preached pederasty as a path to spiritual enlightenment. A vast literature documents this, and a great deal of it is available online.
Sufi adoration of pre-pubescent boys “persisted in many Islamic countries until very recent times,” according to the Orientalist Helmut Ritter. The Afghan penchant for dancing boys in female costume, shown in the 2007 film The Kite Runner, is the last vestige of a Sufi practice that has been long suppressed by both the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam. Sufism has a reputation in Western pop culture as a kinder and gentler branch of Islam. It is not a different kind of Islam, but rather Islam’s mystical practice, to which the adage applies, “by their fruits shall ye know them.”
Controversy persists over what is “authentic Sufism”. The Turkish organization of Fethallah Gulen claims millions of members and doubtless is the largest self-styled Sufi organization in the world. The American Sufi convert Stephen Schwartz has dismissed it as a “cult”, while Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute warns that Gulen may become the Turkish Khomeini. Given Turkey’s turn towards political Islam (Turkey in the throes of Islamic revolution?, Jul 22, 2008), the world is likely to find out a great deal more about Sufism in the near future, and well may be dismayed by what it learns.
In contrast to the Judeo-Christian West, where marriage has been a metaphor for God’s love since the Biblical Song of Songs, homosexual pederasty was normative for the Sufi philosopher-poets of Islam’s golden age in Central Asia. For Christians, the earthly adumbration of God’s love was nuptial, but pederastic in Muslim Persia. The classic Persian poets, including Hafez and Rumi, pined for beardless boys while their European contemporaries wrote sonnets to women. Some apologists claim that the Sufi practice of “contemplation of the beardless” was a chaste spiritual exercise, but an Egyptian proverb warns: “In his father’s home a boy’s chastity is safe, but let him become a dervish [Sufi adept] and the buggers will queue up behind him.”
Sufi pedophilia cannot be dismissed as a remnant of the old tribal practices that Islam often incorporated, for example, female genital mutilation. Genital mutilation is a pre-Islamic practice unknown in the ancient and modern West. Even though some Muslim authorities defend it on the basis of Hadith, no one has ever claimed that it offered a path to enlightenment. Sadly, pedophiles are found almost everywhere. In its ascendancy, Sufism made a definitive spiritual experience out of a practice considered criminally aberrant in the West. But pederasty as a spiritual exercise is not essentially different in character from the furtive practices of Western perverts. As the psychiatrists explain, pederasty is an expression of narcissism, the love of an idealized youthful self-image.
Sufism seeks one-ness with the universe through spiritual exercises that lead individual consciousness to dissolve into the cosmos. But nothing is more narcissistic than the contemplation of the cosmos, for if we become one with the cosmos, what we love in the cosmos is simply an idealized image of ourselves. An idealized self-image is also what attracts the aging lecher to the adolescent boy. That is the secret of Sufi as well as other pederasty, for pederasty is an extreme expression of self-love. That is the conventional psychiatric view; Freud for example wrote of the “basic narcissism of the vast majority of pederasts … proceeding as from narcissism, they seek their own image in young people.”
Sufism enjoys a faddish ripple of interest in America, where self-admiration is the national pastime. As opposed to the Biblical God, the cosmos is an unthreatening thing to worship. The universe, after all, is no one in particular, and those who seek to merge their consciousness with no one in particular at the end are left alone with themselves. Worship the cosmos, and you worship yours truly; worship yourself, and it is not unusual to adore your own idealized image.
I do not mean to suggest that Sufis today are more likely to be pederasts than members of any other religious denomination. Sadly, there is brisk competition in that field. Karen Armstrong, the popular writer on religion, claims to be a Sufi, and I have it on good authority that she is not a pederast. Non-Muslims who embrace Sufism view it as a generic form of “spirituality”, like Madonna’s dabbling in what she thinks is Kabbalah. That recalls the joke about the Chinese waiter in a kosher restaurant who speaks perfect Yiddish, of whom the owner says, “He thinks he’s learning English.” No one should blame Hafez or Rumi for the casual interest of American spiritual tourists.
Nonetheless, it is not entirely by accident that Sufism holds a fascination for self-absorbed young Americans who dislike the demands placed upon them by revealed faith. Mysticism of this genre provides a pretext to worship one’s self in the masquerade of the universe. As Rumi (1207-1273), the most revered of the Sufi philosopher-poets, said of his own spiritual master,
Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!
I do not speak Persian and cannot comment on the aesthetic quality of Rumi’s verse, which connoisseurs hold to be elegant. Its content, though, reduces to the same God-is-everywhere-and-all-I-have-to-do-is-look-inside-myself sort of platitudes of pop spirituality, for example, I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not. I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.
Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there even. Turning to philosophy I inquired about him from ibn Sina but found Him not within his range. I fared then to the scene of the Prophet’s experience of a great divine manifestation only a ‘two bow-lengths’ distance from him’ but God was not there even in that exalted court.
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else. If the point of love is to dissolve one’s self into the All, then there is no difference between the self and the All; the self and the All are the same, and one loves one’s self. There is no Other in Sufism, only your own ego grinning back from the universe. To embrace the cosmos implies the destruction of individuality. In Goethe’s drama, Faust conjures up the personification of the cosmos, the Earth Spirit, and cannot bear to look upon it; the Earth Spirit dismisses him with the epigram, “You are like the spirit whom you comprehend – not me!” Woe betide the adept who succeeds in merging his mind with the universe: he would become a monster, like Mephistopheles, the consummate nihilist.
Love of the cosmos reduces to idolatrous love of self. It is a radically different sort of love than the love of YHWH or Jesus, who are distinct beings with a personality, even if incomprehensible in their totality. The Judeo-Christian God is known to humankind by revelation, and specifically self-revelation through love. The revealed God seeks the love of humankind as an Other. Revelation does not reassure us that the Divine was in our hearts all along. It is not always a pleasant experience. It burns our lips like the kiss of a seraph, and casts our heart into the refiner’s fire. It shatters, burns, overwhelms and transforms us – but it does not dissolve us into a cosmic soup. On the contrary: it enhances our individual personality. Precisely because it reinforces our individuality, love in the Judeo-Christian world can be a very painful experience.
To Christians and Jews, God reveals himself as a personality, and through acts of love – the Exodus and the Resurrection. There is no such event in Islam. Allah does not reveals himself, that is, descend to earth; instead, he sends down from heaven his instruction manual, namely the Koran. Allah remains unknown, and ultimately indistinguishable from the nature in which he is embedded. Confronted by this absolutely transcendental entity the individual human personality shrivels into insignificance.
Mystical communion with an unrevealed and unknowable God demands the sort of star- and navel-gazing that brings the communicant right back to good old number one. Just as Rumi said, it’s all inside you, like the self-help books say. And that brings us back to the matter of pederasty.
Men and women are so different that the experience of heterosexual love is analogous to the spiritual encounter with the divine Other. Love is as strong as death, says the Song of Songs:
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
It is not only the passion of love that challenges death, but the fruit of love, the birth of children, that keeps death at bay. Nature appears to have arranged matters so that these two presentiments of immortality occur together. The Judeo-Christian God becomes the partner of human lovers: “Lovers could not love if they did not have an ally against death, if the only certainty were the grave and silence,” writes Michael Wyschogrod. Anyone who has been in love with someone of the opposite sex knows precisely what I am talking about.
Those who have not may consult the Song of Songs, for example:
The love of bride and bridegroom is not quite the same thing as the love of God and his congregation, but the passion as strong as death that unites men and women is analogous to the encounter with the Other in the person of God.
On the extreme opposite of the spiritual spectrum, we encounter pederasty as the foundational experience of Sufism. According to Wikipedia,
As a Sufi practice of spiritual realization and union with the godhead, the meditation known in Arabic as Nazar ila’l-murd, “contemplation of the beardless,” or Shahed-bazi, “witness play” in Persian has been practiced from the earliest years of Islam. It is seen as an act of worship intended to help one ascend to the absolute beauty that is God through the relative beauty that is a boy.
The medieval Persians were not the first to practice the higher sodomy. The Greeks of the 6th century BC preferred young boys, procreating out of patriotic habit while their women closed their eyes and thought of Athens. Adoration of youth is a very different way to capture from love a sense of immortality. In Greek legend the gods turned Narcissus into a flower to punish his pride in refusing male suitors. Pederasty thus was present at the origin of the concept of narcissism.
The medieval Persians surpassed the Greeks in enthusiasm. Hafez, widely considered the greatest Persian poet, wrote such verses as
My sweetheart is a beauty and a child, and I fear that in play one day
He will kill me miserably and he will not be accountable according to the holy law.
I have a fourteen year old idol, sweet and nimble
For whom the full moon is a willing slave.
His sweet lips have (still) the scent of milk
Even though the demeanor of his dark eyes drips blood. (Divan, no 284)
And about the Magian baccha:
If the wine-serving magian boy would shine in this way
I will make a broom of my eyelashes to sweep the entrance of the tavern. (Divan, no 9)
Hafez is typical of the Muslim philosopher-poets of the epoch. Ehsan Yar-Shater wrote:
As a rule, the beloved [in medieval Persian poetry] is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and body-guards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal.
As noted, it is tempting to dismiss the pederasty of the Sufi philosopher-poets as a cultural artifact of traditional society, along with the mystical practice of “contemplation of the beardless”. This would obscure rather than shed light, however, for three reasons.
The first is that traditional society is precisely what revelation seeks to temper. The Hebrew Bible abjures pagan practices, just as Mohammed inveighs against the pagans. Yet we do not find a single instance of a Hebrew poet celebrating homosexuality until, of course, late 20th-century Tel Aviv. Classic Persian and Arab literature ooze with it. Islam could not extirpate a pederastic culture including virtually all the leading poets of the high Middle Ages except by suppressing the Sufi cults. There were a number of reasons that both the Sunni and Shia mainstream persecuted Sufism, but a prominent one was the cited practice called “contemplation of the beardless” in which the dervish sought communion with the eternal by immersing himself in the beauty of adolescent boys.
Second, the same sort of people who reject the demands of “organized religion” in favor of “free spirituality” have made the defense of homosexuality the Shibboleth of their generation. Speak out against gay marriage in the United States, and you have made yourself a pariah in any of the strongholds of liberalism, especially university campuses. I do not believe in criminalizing adult homosexuality, any more than I believe that a heterosexual chosen at random is necessarily a better person than a homosexual chosen at random. But the experience of divine love reflected in the love of men and women and their children is the foundation of society, and gay marriage would have dreadful consequences.
Third, pederasty has become a plague in parts of the West, and widespread abuse of children has occasioned a crisis in the Catholic Church. It is hard to avoid the impression that sexual misbehavior is associated with a retreat from faith in a personal God, namely the Jesus who lived on earth and was crucified and was resurrected, in favor of a mushy and unspecific spirituality – something like Sufism, in fact. Perhaps the same link between spiritual and sexual narcissism is at work in the West.