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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  

October 2018

The History of the US Justice System


One of the key benefits of a representative governing system is that it provides justice---fairness, something that autocracies do not provide. Populist systems do not provide justice either; they offer the passions of the mob. The American system (derived in part from the British system, part of Anglo-Saxon law that mandates a jury of one?s peers in a criminal case) has always been an evolving institution. We have evolved from exclusively White Male juries to those today that permit wom more...

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June 2018

Core Values In Immigration Policy


The issue of how much and what kind of immigration we should allow in this country has fluctuated from generous to xenophobic. From our beginnings and during the 19th century, we needed workers, farmers, and pioneers. The Chinese were welcomed to build our railways but then hunted down and murdered afterwards, culminating in barring them completely until their survivors were once again welcomed after the war. Hordes of other displaced survivors of World War II were welcomed, as were the more...

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Why Populism is On The March Everywhere


Recently, I heard a TV discussion between Fareed Zakaria and Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the UK, about the puzzling rise of anti-democratic "populism" around the world.

Populism does not just mean "popular," but is a movement in which the institutions of democracy (press, courts, congress) are declared "corrupt" and the solution is a "strong" leader. Throughout history when legitimate rulers ignore current problem, people could be roused to try another form o more...

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Three Countries Turn 70: Comparisons


Seventy years ago, the United Nations recognized the birth of three new nations: Israel, India, and Pakistan. All three had just been given their independence from British colonialism: the Palestinian territory under British "mandate." India had been the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire for 150 years. Pakistan was a brand-new country that was formerly north-eastern and north-western India. All three began their new lives with similarities and differences, the latter accounting more...

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Public Education and Democracy

The recent widespread teachers? strike was the first time in years that we had to think of public education in terms other than cutting taxes. The teachers in many states are terribly underpaid, and the strikes gave them the first pay boosts in decades. But the teachers were striking for more than their own wages: they wanted funding restored for infrastructure, books, and materials. Strikers showed us outdated textbooks held together by tape, and no money for paper and pens.

Asi more...

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Russia?s Foreign Policy

"Russia," as Winston Churchill once noted, "is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." They are not so mysterious if we understand what Russia is, what its internal problems are, and how they have had a consistent foreign policy for the past century.

Russia?s emergence as a country only began in the 10th century, making it far younger than the rest of Europe, starting with Greece 2500 years ago and the Roman Empire about 2000 years ago, bringing its laws, urban life, and more...

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June 2017

How Islamists Select Targets

Every time Islamists select a target, such as the recent attack in Manchester, handwringers come out with the usual nonsense: "These attackers are not acting in the name of Islam," according to mainstream Muslims and well-intentioned journalists. I sympathize with Muslims who quietly practice their faith (or not practice it if they choose), and nice people do not want to tar all Muslims with the same brush. However, Islamists are not outliers, but are ready to die for fundamental demands of th more...

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Where are the University Grownups?



For some years now, we have seen a transformation in university life that does not bode well. These changes are in line with changes in public behavior in our society at large, a general coarsening of language, ideas, and actions.

The university world provides the next leaders, experts, and supposedly informed citizenry. At U. C. Santa Cruz recently, Black students occupied the Administration Building until the university authorities knuckled under to their demand more...

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The Arc of History


As a historian, I share with former President Obama the idea that there is such a thing as "the arc of history." What is meant by this is that human beings have very gradually changed over the centuries from small clans and tribes who had to fight tooth and claw to survive to a global society, much of which has common (and largely American) values.

We no longer throw our adolescent girls into a volcano to calm the rage of the volcano god. Most of us no longer regard women more...

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December 2016

Tradition!

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya, the milkman, a poor Jewish villager trying to survive in Tzarist Russia, is faced by societal changes that he resists with all his might. Tradition is his shield and protection from what he sees as chaos.

Of course, there are limits to how much one can resist the present. Around the world, and even in our own country, there are people who resist the present, or, rather, resist some of the changes of the present. They cherry pick.

The more...

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September 2016

Why Is Georgetown University Rewriting History?

Cherry-picking is no way to benefit from historic insight. Suddenly, it has become chic to revisit history and try to undo what was done. There is no way we can undo slavery, and this mode of rewriting history is of no benefit to the descendants of a very bad institution.

Georgetown University was financed in 1789 by the sale of slaves owned by the Jesuit fathers. The university wants to find descendants of those slaves and give them special access to attend Georgetown. Put them more...

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Profiling the Muslim Community


What is so dangerous about Donald Trump is that he sometimes, quite by accident, takes a position that has some merit. He recently talked about "profiling the Muslim community," but, as always, with very little supporting data. If he were not so shallow and glib, he might have said: "There is a cult living in the Muslim community that advocates a most violent form of Islam." This is certainly true, but the notion of a blanket profile of all Muslims is a waste of resources because there a more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 2 of 2)


A country as insignificant as Saudi Arabia before oil would have mattered little to the world. In the 1950s, as oil wealth began to pour in, the Saudi princes wanted the same sorts of conspicuous consumption enjoyed by other world millionaires. When they first brought in automobiles (for themselves), the Wahhabi clergy were outraged, considering camels good enough for pious Muslims. Cameras and, later, television, were also on their list of harmful items for Saudi culture.

more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 1 of 2)


Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of how complex our alliances can be. I have heard from quite a few people that we should dump them as an ally. In the past, even I have muttered that after 9-11, we invaded the wrong countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) and should have taken down Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Of course we could not do this in a world of complex issues and even more complex relationships. We have needed each other for certain things over the past 60 plus years more...

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Political Parties Are Not Permanent.

That the Republican Party is heading toward a demolition is no surprise by now. This is not the first time a major American political party fell apart. In the 19th century, between the 1830s and 1860, the Whig Party was the political rival to Jefferson?s Democratic Republican (Democrat) Party. The Whigs ran candidates every election, but elected only two to the presidency.

Political parties are not cast in stone; they change over time. The Jeffersonian Democrats began as an elite more...

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October 2015

Say Goodbye to Clock Boy!


From the moment the news swept the nation that a 14-year-old Texas Muslim boy, Ahmed Mohamed, had been arrested in school for bringing a suspicious device, I smelled a rat. On the face of this issue, it seemed that a very nice nerdy kid had assembled a Radio Shack digital clock that he brought to school to "impress his teachers." He did not impress his engineering teacher, nor several others to whom he showed his handiwork, but he did at last find a teacher to frighten, one who reacted w more...

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Afghan Problems


With so many urgent events around the world, Afghanistan is not one we wanted to see again. But its problems do not go away, nor can they with Pakistan next door. We are still there, 10,000 to remain, but with an essential task of trying to train a national defense force so that Afghanistan will not revert to its failed Muslim state position under the Taliban.

Training the Afghan army is much like rolling a rock up a hill. Not only are a majority of soldiers illiterate, b more...

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March 2015

Poor Jihadi John: People Picked on Him!


"Jihadi John" has been identified as Mohammad Emwazi, a young immigrant from Kuwait, welcomed and reared as a privileged Englishman with a college degree in computer science from the University of Westminster in London. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

But let us look at the surprise that so many people express that this "nice, gentle boy" should turn into the monster whom we all saw taking pleasure in decapitating people (who had done him no harm) in a most the more...

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Victimization Has Become Chic---Diluting the Message.

Our country is wallowing in the blame game with endless demonstrations protesting injustice. It is said that Black youth are being unfairly persecuted by police---and too often becoming victims in police shootings. Nobody is protesting the murder of Black youth by Blacks.

That we have had 300 years of injustice to Blacks through slavery and after that Southern Jim Crow and northern inner cities cannot be denied. However, the past fifty years has produced a revolution in race relat more...

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It is Not Smart to Take Rule of Law for Granted.


We take "rule of law" as much for granted as we assume that our supermarkets will not run out of food. It is part of modern society that these things work. Most of us drive our cars on the right side of the street, stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and generally drive with consideration of traffic flow and other drivers whether a police car is patrolling or not.

When we are stopped by a highway patrol officer for something we might have done, the exchange is usually more...

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May 2014

What is Boko Haram and Why Should We Care?


An army of dirt-ignorant terrorists has been running rampant in Africa for the past few years. They call themselves ?Boko Haram,? which has been liberally translated as ?Foreign Education is Sinful.? But this is as misleading as when the Taliban first appeared on the scene in Afghanistan. Their name was translated as ?students,? a strange term for phenomenally ignorant rote memorizers of the Koran in a language few of them understood.

Boko Haram is just what its words say more...

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The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost in Pakistan.


Muslim governments always blame “foreign meddling” for all their ills The once great Muslim world has been on the skids since 1200, when it encountered three disasters: the Bubonic Plague, the Mongol attacks cutting off old trade routes and killing as many as half the population in Persia and Byzantium, and Muslim clergy blaming lax religious adherence for these disasters. From that time, Muslim intellectual life went dark.

These disasters also opened the door to a ne more...

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December 2013

India and China Are Not in the Same League.


Much of our foreign policy, as well as that of Europe, has to do with the rising powers of India and China. These are two of the most populated countries in the world, and for the past few decades, they have been attempting to catch up with the developed world. China is doing better than India, and it may clarify our policies to understand why.

The late Shah of Iran once made the comment that backward countries must get their economies in line before political liberalizati more...

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September 2012

What Does “Educated” Mean?


The newly elected president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which should alarm us a bit. But we are being reassured that he has a Ph.D. in Engineering from an American university---USC.

Iran’s president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, also has an Iranian Ph.D. in Engineering. Syria’s dictator has a degree in ophthalmology from England. We will find leaders from all over the developing world with such degrees. How “educated” are they?

The UN’s more...

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Who is attacking Science?

The world we now live in is largely the product of science. Thanks to science we have doubled our life spans over just one century: the result of clean water, antibiotics, birth control, and the medical care that keeps women in childbirth (and their babies) alive. We have become so accustomed to this that many people do not even think about such a wonder.

Instead, far too many people are ignorant of how science works, convinced that science is in competition with religion. Thes more...

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Does Equality Mean “The Same?”


“All Men are created equal,” said Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We Americans, who are the first to try to live by this idea, have had nothing but trouble with it. The very idea is fraught with problems. If it means that God has created all men (never mind women or slaves) equally, how can we explain babies born with dreadful defects that prevent them from ever being “equal” to the able bodied? And if we look around at the distribution of mental, p more...

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What Has Become of Academic Critical Thinking?

When I was in college, I could not tell you how my professors might vote. They were, as were my elementary and high school teachers, resolutely apolitical. We were taught to think, debate, and even act out in mock political conventions and model United Nations conferences.

This is no longer so in many American and European universities. Despite the avowed liberal values of support for the underdog, rights of women and minorities, and distaste for violence, there is an almost univ more...

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