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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

March 2017

Sweden Does Have an Immigrant Problem.


President Trump's recent comment about "Sweden, Sweden is a disaster" met with pushback when he cited a Muslim riot that actually did not happen that weekend. It happened the next week. Wrong details, right issue. This was like his comments about the Bowling Green "Massacre," a massacre that could have been, had it not been foiled by the FBI. He is sometimes on the right track, but with the wrong facts. Sweden is in trouble, despite the protestations of outrage by Swedish officials.
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December 2016

Who Are Americans? Multiethnic or Multicultural?

The populist resurgence around the world, including our own country, is about identity crisis. Belonging to a "nation" is only a few centuries old. Before that, people identified with their clan, village, or town. Educated and city people identified with their empire, the oldest form of human civilizational organization. But as empires fell, nation states rose.

The nation states were an improvement in some ways over empires in that more people were involved in governance and share more...

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August 2015

What if the 30-Year Religious Wars Prediction Is Wrong?

Yemen, once a backwater that nobody much cared about, is now a failed state that has inflamed an entire region. The Saudis, who have spent obscene fortunes on defense toys that they have never used are now tentatively using them and are rallying other Sunni Arabs to join them. For all their decades of bluster about Israel, they were never this serious before. This time, they are really frightened and their fear is directed at a rag-tag terrorist group that has taken over the government of Yemen. more...

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The Nation-State Idea is Not Cast in Stone.


I remember trying to explain to my small children what a "country" is. They understood neighborhood because we could walk around those streets. They even understood city because we could drive around such a recognizable entity. It was a little more difficult to understand state and really difficult to understand country. When they were a little older, they played with geography puzzles and learned to recognize the states that made up "the United States" and later "the world" and eventual more...

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"Clash of Traditions" Offer Glimmers of Hope


Samuel D. Huntington warned in his landmark book Clash of Civilizations (1996) that we were headed for stormy times when the largest civilizations would not meet peacefully. His views were met with torrents of argument by most scholars who, upon the end of the Cold War, were convinced that the world had globalized; that the United States and its values had dominated all others, and that there was nothing really left to fight about. War was no longer really conceivable. We had every insti more...

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While Europe Slept: Denial of the Islamist Threat


Winston Churchill wrote a book in 1938 called While Europe Slept that impressed young John F. Kennedy so much that he made it his senior thesis in school in England while his father was US Ambassador there. His thesis was published as his own book in 1940. Both books were intended to rouse both countries to the threat of Nazi Germany that pacifists were determined to resist.

Europe lost an entire generation of young men in a meaningless fratricidal war between 1914 and 191 more...

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July 2014

The Borders in the Middle East are Changing.


A century ago, the First World War broke out and at its conclusion, the political geography of the world changed. The Ottoman Empire fought on the wrong side of that war and it dissolved tumultuously, with all its colonies ?liberated? and the Turks reduced to a new and exclusively Turkish country. At that empire?s height (15th - 20th centuries), it ruled over Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Levant (Syria), Egypt, and across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic. Its European holdings includ more...

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November 2013

Iran Has Reasons for a Deal.

That the sanctions against Iran have brought the economy close to collapse is well known. I heard from one friend recently returned from a visit that some people are buying pistachios by the piece! Probably a joke, but maybe not.

A much more serious issue facing Iran has just emerged, without much world attention. The country is in grave danger of running out of water. Lake Urumia (Orumiye in Persian), the country's largest lake and third largest in the world, is drying up. Half t more...

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December 2012

Peace On Earth Is a Real Challenge.

American foreign policy has almost always been bipartisan. Responsible Democrats and Republicans faced the contentious Cold War together for half a century, successfully, as the outcome illustrated. But foreign policy is always the most difficult of issues for the American public to fully understand. It is difficult to deal with countries that we really cannot like, but must deal with anyway.

o Europe. Despite the efforts of elite Europeans to create something like a United State more...

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Peace On Earth Is a Real Challenge.

American foreign policy has almost always been bipartisan. Responsible Democrats and Republicans faced the contentious Cold War together for half a century, successfully, as the outcome illustrated. But foreign policy is always the most difficult of issues for the American public to fully understand. It is difficult to deal with countries that we really cannot like, but must deal with anyway.

o Europe. Despite the efforts of elite Europeans to create something like a United State more...

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The Russians Are Looking Like Their Old Selves Again.


Russia before the Communist Revolution in 1917 had conflicting cultural characteristics: a relatively small educated class and aristocracy undergoing a European-style renaissance; and the vast peasant and village population, dirt-poor, superstitious, and ignorant. Geography plays a role in shaping a culture. Russia’s vast size and wide-open plains left it vulnerable to invasions by such brutes as the Mongols and later the Nazis. Violence, characterized by the whip (the Russian knout, a more...

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Morphing to Murder


It is a mystery how decent, ordinary people can become murdering savages. Most human beings on a daily level just struggle to keep their families fed and are usually benign to their neighbors. But throughout history, perfectly ordinary people have been turned into rampaging mobs. Furthermore, clearly psychotic leaders can enchant otherwise rational people into following them. I have never understood the appeal of psychotics (such as Hitler) or fanatics (such as Osama bin Laden); but then more...

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March 2012

More Electoral Fraud in Egypt? What a Surprise.


In our enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its promise of democracy, we now watch elections and parliaments in Egypt and Tunisia with some concern. How did we get so much wrong?

First, we never talked about “liberal” democracy, the system used in the West that provides checks and balances and protects against abuse of power. We just talked about elections, and they have indeed had those.

All Egyptian players have a stake in the outcome. The military esta more...

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Attacking the British Embassy is an Iranian Rite of Passage.


On December 1, Iranian thugs attacked the British Embassy in Tehran in hours-long violence. This recalled the Iranian seizure of the American Embassy in 1979, holding American diplomats hostage for 444 days. When the 1979 assault happened, right after the Iranian Revolution, the Revolutionary Government initially denied complicity (which may have been true). However, in short order, the Ayatollah decided to take credit for this act.

This time, the Iranian press claimed tha more...

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July 2011

Heavy Lies the Saudi Head That Wears the Crown.

Although the King of Saudi Arabia does not wear a crown, his head is heavy. His country has problems that may bode ill for the survival of the Saudi royals.

I have written before about cultures that embrace patterns that do not have long survival value. Arabia has many such patterns, starting with the unyielding form of Islam that was part of the deal that won the country’s rule for the Ibn Sauds. Nothing is more at war with the currents of modernity than Salafi Islam (Wahhabi more...

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After Arab Spring, Then What?


I was in College (UCLA) during Prague Spring, the peaceful demonstrations by the Czechs against their Soviet occupation. We cheered them on—and then saw how the Russians dealt with it—tanks and executions. The West looked the other way and the rebellion was crushed.

Now we have seen another round of “springs,” this time roiling the Muslim Arab world. Iran (non-Arab) was the first to stage such youth-based protests against their fraudulent election in 2009. It was more...

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Does the Bin Laden Decapitated Snake Still Have Life?


Was the killing of Osama Bin Laden “justice,” as President Obama has said, or was it “vengeance,” as both critics and admirers claim? Justice, technically, could have been served by putting that monster on trial—or a succession of trials everywhere he had ordered mass murders (Kenya, Yemen, Bali, Mumbai, London, Spain, and the United States). Taking him out, the way we did, where he was confined to the house just like his women, could be said to be vengeance, but I don’t thi more...

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Tunisia Is Not the Model For Other Arab World “Revolutions”

Tunisia, one of the more stable dictatorships in the Arab world, has erupted into what looks like a revolution. While this may remind us of the failed revolution last summer in Iran, the Tunisian dictator and his wife have left the country after a 23-year run. In Iran, the dictators are still there—barely holding on.

What makes this particular revolution significant is that it is not happening in a vacuum. Tunisia is a small country (10.6 million) in North Africa, close to south more...

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Why Do We Hate Government?

Democrats and Republicans have different ideas (in theory) of what government should do. Both believe that, as our founding father James Madison noted, if men were angels, they would need no government. But since they are not, they need government to control the unangelic among us---and government needs to control itself as well. Government is not given a free hand to rule. In our system, we have multiple checks and balances so that no one sector of government can become a dictatorship of unlimi more...

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Arab Spring Is a Conflict between Religion and Nationalism.

The enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its birth of democracy in the Middle East gives me heartburn. What we hoped is not what we got. Now, as disillusion sets in, not only ours, but also that of the young demonstrators (particularly young women) who shed their own blood in Tahrir Square and Tunisia, we need to see what the optimists missed.

We have again mistaken voting for democracy. Although people who have never had choices love to vote, they really do not like choices that th more...

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December 2010

What is National Security?


The first duty of a government is to keep its citizens (or subjects) safe. Safe from what? We live in such relative safety that most of us have forgotten what the world was like for our ancestors—and what it is like for too many people around the globe today.

Many governments in history that kept their subjects safe were dictatorial and monstrous. Yet the devil they knew (the local tax collector or executioner) were better than the other devil they remembered all too we more...

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June 2010

Europe has an Identity Crisis.

There is an old Persian tale about a man who went up to a palace gate, banging on it and demanding entrance. The guard asked what he wanted. “I want to stay at this inn!” he said. “This is not an Inn,” said the guard. “It is a palace of the Shah.”

“Who lived there before him?” asked the man. “His father,” said the guard. “And before that?” “His grandfather and great-grandfather.”

“This sounds like an inn to me! People coming and going. more...

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Whose Ally is Turkey Today?

Register Pajaronian

In my college Sociology text (decades ago), was a surprising survey asking who would American fathers most object to their daughters marrying. At the top of the list came Turks—yet few of these fathers had ever met one. This reflected a fear so old that it was buried deeply in the western memory bank.

In 1452, the Ottoman Turks conquered the old Byzantine Empire, that eastern part of the Roman Empire that had been a great power for a thousand more...

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October 2009

Can Too Much Freedom Destroy Democracy?


We have just gone through a summer of obnoxious free speech—which the First Amendment of our Constitution is designed to protect. But there is one caveat in our protection of free speech: it must not pose a public danger (rousing a mob to violence, encouraging assassination of public officials, or falsely shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater).

I would say we are getting close to that caveat—and have been teetering on this brink for some time.

The more...

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September 2001

Janus Blindsided: The Islamic Revolution


Comparative Civilizations Review, No. 45, Fall 2001

I. Introduction
The Islamic Revolution of Iran has had spillover effect throughout the Middle East and the world. In the intervening two decades since that cataclysm, many scholars have attempted to analyze the causes and to speculate why a modernizing revolution turned into a backward march. Although scholars generally agree on the basic events of the monarchy's collapse, there is no agreement on the causes and more...

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