We Do Not Understand the Middle East

That’s a pretty obvious statement, but Michael Totten’s article about the End of Hezbollah (his lips to God’s ears) underlines it wonderfully:

Part of Hezbollah’s support used to come from the fact that they were perceived as not being corrupt, but that’s over now, too.

“Even my family members who are big Hezbollah supporters are talking about the corruption,” she said. “One of my relatives told me she hates them now. And she has always been a huge resistance supporter.”

A large number of Lebanon’s Shia may not like Hezbollah so much anymore, but the support is still there because they feel like they don’t have any choice. They are afraid. Every sect felt this way during the civil war, when even people who are natural cosmopolitan pacifists supported one of “their own” sectarian militias because they were afraid of the others. It would happen to you, too, if you lived in an environment with a weak and dysfunctional state that can’t provide security while your neighbors are trying to kill you.

We discuss the Middle East in simple, monochrome terms, because drawing a distinction between radical Muslims seems like angels-on-pinheads territory. They all want to kill us, so what’s the difference?

But the Middle East is rife with faultlines and divisions: Shia, Sunni, Salafist, Alawite:

The Alawites—Bashar al-Assad’s minority sect—are not actually Shias, not really. Washington thinks they are, but that’s because back in the 1970s the Lebanese cleric Musa Sadr issued a fatwa declaring them Shias. For a thousand years before that, no one thought of the Alawites as Shias or even Muslims. What they are is a secretive and closed heterodox minority that fuses Christianity, Gnosticism, and Twelver Shia Islam together into something else entirely. Muslims have always considered them infidels.

I consider myself reasonably well-versed on the subject of basic Islam, and I’ve never heard of these people. I’d always assumed Assad was a Sunni Muslim, because I always figured the Tigris-Euphrates was the faultline between Sunni and Shia.

Until we learn these things institutionally — until the State and Defense Departments, the CIA etc. develop policy that exploits the complexities of the Middle East — we will make no headway.

Fortunately, it’s going to be a Long War.

Kermit Gosnell and the Holy of Holies

Abortion is not new. It did not spring fully-formed from the head of the Supreme Court in 1973. It is as old as civilization itself, and the controversy surrounding it is just as old:

“Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevent its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?”

That’s St. John Chrysostom, one of the Doctors of the Church, writing in the 4th century AD, damning men for seducing women and abandoning them, forcing abortion upon them (just in case you thought that those old unmarried men had no idea what made babies happen). This argument has been going on for a very long time, and it’s going to keep going on. Nothing that has happened recently is going to change that.

It’s safe to say that the dam is bursting on the Kermit Gosnell story, as it inevitably must have. Nothing as lurid and horrifying as the prosecution alleges could have truly failed to escape the public consciousness, no matter how much certain circles would have preferred it.

I am late to this story, not because I didn’t know about it, and not because I haven’t been reading up on it (Stacy McCain in particular has been all over it from the beginning). I haven’t wanted to write about this for the same reason Megan McArdle didn’t: sheer revulsion and horror. What this bland, grandfatherly-looking man of 72 – a poster-boy for “the banality of evil” if ever one existed – created in his Philadelphia clinic amounts to an infant-sized Auschwitz, a crime against humanity. And even generically pro-life people like myself dont’ want to realize that it exists, for to do so would be to violate a polite taboo.

In ancient Israel, the sanctorum at the center of the Temple in Jerusalem was called the Holy of Holies. As the home of the Ark of the Covenant, it made incarnate the presence of God in Israel. Only one man – the High Priest – on only one day – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – could ever enter the Holy of Holies. Anyone else (such as the sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10) who entered died. The presence of God was not for the unworthy to look upon.

If modern feminism’s obsession with “reproductive freedom” has something of a religious character (and there are those that say so), then the birth control pill is its Eucharist, and abortion its Holy of Holies. It is Between a Woman and Her Doctor: mere mortals are not supposed to know what goes on. When anti-abortion activists take to the streets with pictures of mutilated fetuses, we are angry at the makers of the pictures, not the makers of the content. This is true even of pro-life people, such as myself. We don’t want to see this. We don’t want to know. Witness Roger Simon:

The trial of Dr. Gosnell is a potential time bomb exploding in the conventional liberal narrative on abortion itself.  This is about the A-word.

No feeling human being can read this story or watch it on TV without being confronted with the obvious conclusion — like it or not — that abortion is murder.

It may be murder with extenuating circumstances (rape, survival of the mother, etc.) but it is murder nonetheless.  Dr. Gosnell — monster though he is — has accidentally shoved that uncomfortable truth in our faces.

Pushing this case front and center in the media would change the national narrative on this subject.  (The current stats are here, via Rasmussen.)

I can give you two guinea pigs to prove this point — my wife Sheryl and me.  We were in the kitchen last night, preparing dinner, when we saw a short report of this story on the countertop TV.

Both lifelong “pro-choice” people, after watching only seconds, we embarked in an immediate discussion of whether it was time to reconsider that view.  (Didn’t human life really begin at the moment of conception?  What other time?) Neither of us was comfortable as a “pro-choice” advocate in the face of these horrifying revelations.  How could we be?

Yes, Dr. Gosnell was exceptional (thank God for that!), but a dead fetus was a dead fetus, even if incinerated in some supposedly humane fashion rather than left crying out in blind agony on the operating room floor, as was reportedly the case with one of Gosnell’s victims. I say blind because this second-trimester fetus did not yet have fully formed eyes. (Think about that one.)

So I don’t think I’m “pro-choice” anymore, but I’m not really “pro-life” either.  I would feel like a hypocrite. I don’t want to pretend to ideals I have serious doubts I would be able to uphold in a real-world situation.  If a woman in my family, or a close friend, were (Heaven forbid) impregnated through rape, I would undoubtedly support her right to abortion.  I might even advocate it.  I also have no idea how I would react if confronted by having to make a choice between the life of a fetus and his/her mother.  Just the thought makes my head spin.

And there it is. We are compromised. We see murder and we pretend not to. We call it something else. We treat it as magic, as though a first-trimester abortion mystically removes the unwanted-abstraction-which-is-not-alive-shut-up, transubstantiates the woman from “pregnant” to “not pregnant” and sends her heroically on her way. The death, the blood, the humanity-reduced-to-laboratory-specimens (I have seen them), we doublethink these messy realities away. And we tell our young (and ourselves, truth be told) that they may fornicate freely, without consequence, because “protection” exists, and if “protection” fails (or they fail “protection”) we have this Serious And Important Issue to Pontificate and Philosophize About, which will unmake the the consequence.

We call this “Love”. We call it “Modern.” We call it “Necessary.” We call it “Woman Retaking her Power from the Patriarchy.” We call it “Free of Medieval Moralizing.” We call it “Rational”. We don’t call it “Infant Girl Decapitated With Scissors.

We don’t want to see it. We don’t want to know.

Self-Hating Honkies and the War on Easter

Apparently referring to Easter by name is an offense to those who are not Christian. I should like to find a logic to this that is not racist at root. But I can’t:

  1. If even the mention of Easter is offensive, then non-christians must be kept in a protective bubble from any knowledge that anything called “Easter” exists and is celebrated by Christians. Because they cannot be expected to tolerate such a thing, because . . . they don’t have to.
  2. “Diversity” is an essential component of a pluralistic society, and we must strive to respect the traditions of everyone. Except the traditions of the dominant culture, because they are objectively evil, because, white people.

Elizabeth Price Foley, writing at Instapundit:

Funny how those who cry the loudest about preserving and loudly celebrating various cultures– in the name of “diversity”– are always the first to condemn mention of all things Christian, Western, or (gasp) white.

They’ve been honkified by the fanatic disciples of egalitarianism, who are busy in other areas as well.

Mid-Way on Our Life’s Journey…

…I found myself overladen with Things to Do. You know the story. Blogging will be light for the forseeable. Right now, enjoy some Dante:

I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
about those woods is hard – so tangled and so rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
the old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well,

I’ll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter
I cannot well say, being so full of sleep
Whatever moment it was I began to blunder

Off the true path.

The only way out is through…

Happy Meat Thursday!

If you are Catholic, and like me, you ended yesterday, shall we say, gastronomically unsatisfied. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is a day both of abstinence and fasting. Abstinence means refraining from something, and Lenten Abstinence is the “no meat Fridays” rule that Catholics routinely remember to forget to remember. But fasting? That brings up a whole new set of images….

“My abs are rockin’…”

Canon law defines fasting as eating the equivalent of one full meal over the course of the day. You can either space out small snacks over the course of the day or have one meal all at once. I chose the latter out of simple convenience: had a cup of coffee to power me through the day, and then fasted until I got home from work, when I made myself an open-faced tuna sandwhich on toast, which was the greatest tuna sandwhich I had ever eaten.

That’s the beauty of fasting and abstinence, it makes you appreciate things more. On your average day, stuffing a hamburger into my mouth would have been a nothing; I’d chorf it down and forget about it five minutes later. But after a day of not eating, and specifically avoiding meat, a Five Guys burger would cause tears of joy. Which makes today — the Thursday after Ash Wednesday — a special opportunity for us carnivorous types.

Because Lent ends on Easter Sunday, it always starts on a Wednesday. But the no-meat-on-Fridays rule kicks in immediately. Thus, two days after a day of fasting and abstinence, we have another day of abstinence. So today, the Thursday between – is a day to get some meat-eating in.

Obviously we shouldn’t gorge ourselves. That’s what Mardi Gras is for, and feasting rather violates the Lenten spirit. But we should think of today as a day of appreciation for meat, the pleasure it brings us, the way that it satisfies, the blessing that there are so many animals out there which are so delicious.

This may sound silly, but it’s a plain fact that most of us eat meat at least once a day. We come to think of it as normal, and not as the result of numerous people working very hard at jobs most of us would blanche at. So today, tip your cap to the beef rancher, the hog farmer, the butcher. And appreciate, in the most humble and devout of ways, the repast which appears at your table. Be thankful for all who had a hand in it, especially Him to whom the breath of cattle and the breath of men alike return.

[Dear Vegans, Locavores, and Others Who Are Offended: I respect your right to eat what seems the most healthful diet to you, and your not entirely unjust call to reconsider how food is raised, grown, and sold. So please don’t pester me with comments about how I’m killing myself or ruining the environment or causing human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, etc. I’m not interested in having that argument today and will studiously ignore it.]

So, Happy Meat Thursday everyone! (Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, too, which you may enjoy without guilt.)

Yes, Popes Can Resign

Just as any king can abdicate, Popes can vacate the Papal office. And just as with kings, such abdications are rare.

How rare?

The last time the leader of the Roman Catholic Church resigned his office was almost exactly 600 years ago in 1415, and that was to end the Western Schism and reunify the Pontificate.

…the last time this happened, Gutenberg hadn’t yet invented the printing press.

Pope Gregory XII‘s resignation was a brokered political settlement: the competing claimants to the papal throne were irreconcilable, so Gregory promised that if the Avignon anti-Pope would resign, he would as well, so that an ecumenical council could elect a new man, acceptable to the Roman, Avignon, and Pisan factions. That man was Martin V.

Before that, you have a few popes forced into exile by Kings and Emperors (Gregory VII was so treated by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in 1078), but that doesn’t count, for Vatican purposes, as a resignation or even a de jure end of a pontificate (“Clement III”, the guy Henry had elected to “replace” Gregory, is today counted as an anti-Pope).

There was one surprise papal resignation, in 1294. Pope Celestine V had been elected five months previously, to end the longest papal vacancy. For two full years the college of cardinals could not agree on a pope, and so kept adjourning their duties (after this, Popes were elected in conclaves, “with key” meaning they could not leave Rome until a Pope was elected).

Celestine, a Benedictine monk and ascetic, accepted the Papal office reluctantly, carried them out reluctantly, and then resigned, citing the desire to return to an ascetic live and an assessment of his own abilities. Afterwards, Celestine was imprisoned by his successor Boniface VIII, and may have been murdered. He died in 1296 and was canoninzed in 1313.

Two other popes that resigned: John XVIII in 1009 and Benedict IX in 1045. As this was during the  papacy’s nadir in the tenth-eleventh centuries, they reflect the chaos of that time. The ninth Benedict in particular was a thoroughly bad hat: he was expelled from the papal office twice and resigned it once, only to return, like a bad penny. He was eventually excommunicated and his eventual fate is unknown. Current Vatican Law does not have a means for a Pope to be impeached or otherwise forced from office.

And now you know…


Arabia Before Islam at Medieval Musings

Medieval Musings is the kind of blog that I would like to write, if it didn’t already exist. The Middle Ages continues to fascinate, both for its seeming atavistic structure (men who work, men who fight, men who pray!) and the constant, chaotic change. Western Civilization went from seeming collapse to being poised to take over the world in those thousand years. Multitudes of things to be learned remain, even for the amateur medievalist.

There’s a similarly evocative post there about pre-Islamic Arabia, which points out some interesting, if not entirely surprising things:

It is evident from these finds that ancient Arabia was not only politically and linguistically, but also religiously diverse. Artefacts such as the al-Hamra cube (perhaps a pedestal or an altar) display religious motifs shared with Egypt and Mesopotamia, such as the bull-god Apis, while a large number of incense burners and altars evoke the sacrificial spirituality which characterises the old Testament. This plurality continued well into the Christian era, with the Byzantines exerting their influence from the north and a number of Jewish communities noted throughout the peninsula.

Like many places on the fringes of more powerful civilizations, Arabia was a mishmash. Which parts of that mishmash influenced and survived Mohammed is a damned interesting question to nerds like me.


Retired Cardinal “Stripped of Duties”

He spent decades shielding priestly molestors. He deserves no less.

A Church expert said the “very unusual” punishment showed how seriously the US Catholic hierarchy was taking the case.

“To tell a cardinal he can’t do confirmations, can’t do things in public, that’s extraordinary,” said Jesuit scholar the Reverend Thomas Reese, a Georgetown University fellow, told the Los Angeles Times.

His judgement cometh, and that right soon.