July 01, 2006

Moderate Islamists Found

I wrote a shorter version of this piece for one of the largest American newspapers, one that gets a hefty dose of criticism almost every day. The editor rejected it because it wasn’t “groundbreaking enough.” I wish he would have been honest with me. Genuinely moderate Islamists are about as hard to find as Zoroastrians in Nebraska. So I rewrote the piece - in blog narrative style instead of newspaper style - and published it here. I don't have time to submit it to other editors right now, but I do think it should get out into the world rather than languish unread on my computer. Please hit the Pay Pal link at the bottom so I can justify my decision to give it to you for free.

SULEIMANIYA, IRAQ - When I went to the Middle East for a six-month extended visit I wanted to see if I could find a genuinely moderate Islamist political party, one that not only practices democracy but also believes in it. There was a slight chance Hezbollah might fit that description. Lebanon’s Party of God has mellowed somewhat with age and participates in elections. But Hezbollah, unfortunately, is psychotic as ever. Hassan Nasrallah and his goon squad are instinctively belligerent and authoritarian even if Lebanon’s post-war democratic culture keeps them in check. Hezbollah is liberal and even pacifist compared with Hamas and Al Qaeda, but they nevertheless are a violent warmongering proxy militia for two despotic regimes in the Middle East.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is better. They aren’t armed, they don’t even try to kill Israeli soldiers (let alone civilians), and they at least pretend to be opposed to terrorism. But they are only moderate compared with their violent fellow Islamists. Ideologically they don’t differ much.

The Kurdistan Islamic Union, though, does seem to be genuinely moderate. Its leaders appear to have more in common with conservative Christian Democrats in Europe than with any terrorist organization or Middle Eastern religious dictatorship.

I met with Ali Muhammad, Director of the Suleimaniya bureau of the KIU, Iraqi Kurdistan’s third largest (and growing) political party, in his office. He provided his own in-house translator, a plump woman in a dark brown abaya. My own translator, because he was a stranger, was not to be trusted.

Ali looked to be in his sixties. He wore a trimmed beard, glasses, and a distinctly unfashionable Western suit and tie. He greeted me warmly in English. I greeted him and thanked him in Kurdish. Then we spoke to each other through our translator.

"How do you feel about the U.S. occupation of Iraq?" I said.

“We blame Saddam for the occupation," he said. "Life is much better here now. But of course no one wants his country to be occupied.”

"Do you think the U.S. soldiers should leave now?" I said. "Or would it be better if they waited until later?"

“It is better to wait until the Iraqi army is strong and the country is calm," he said.

"What do you think of the West in general?" I said.

“The West is a successful civilization," he said. "But we think it is too materialistic and technological. If the Islamic East united with the civilized West, all of humanity would benefit.”

Isn’t materialism a problem in the Middle East, too? Saddam’s palaces, the skyscrapers and malls in Dubai...

“When I talked about materialism, I did not mean wealth," he said. "I mean that humans need both the material and spiritual sides of existence. Each civilization has a material side and a soul side. Western people are missing parts of the soul side. But the soul side in the West isn’t zero. Human rights are much more respected there than here." His translator spoke slowly and gave me time to write everything down. “Islam is the medium between socialism and capitalism. In socialism everything is soulless. In capitalism there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. In Islam we can possess things, but not with such a huge distance between the rich and the poor.”

One of Ali Muhammad’s office assistants brought me hot milk in a Turkish coffee glass, a tall thin can of 7-UP with a straw, and a plate of fresh fruit.

Ali Muhammad wanted to keep talking, so I let him.

“In the West there is absolute freedom,” he said. “In Islam there is not. Our freedom as individuals is combined with the freedom of the whole society. General customs must be regarded in Islam. Our families are stronger than yours. There are many problems in the West when young people leave home at 18.” (Middle Easterners tend to leave home when they are closer to 30.) “You have unmarried mothers. Abortion. Crime. Gay marriage. These things are completely against the soul of human beings. They reduce the brightness of the West.”

"Are you opposed to Western culture then?" I said.

“The West is not an enemy," he said. "We think about Western Civilization as part of the whole human experience. We would like to help you reform it, but we do not want to destroy it. We are not violent. We support civil mechanisms for change.”

"What do you think about Sayyid Qutb and the Hideous Schizophrenia?" I said. Sayyid Qutb is considered the founder of modern Islamism and the intellect behind Al Qaeda theology. He believed - until he was executed by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the dungeons of Egypt - that the liberal post-Christian West threatens Islamic civilization because it promotes, among other things, the separation of religion and the state. Qutb believed this separation triggered an epidemic psychological breakdown in the West that he dubbed the Hideous Schizophrenia, and that this breakdown is spreading to the Middle East.

"Qutb was wrong," he said, parting ways with Osama bin Laden on the most elementary level. “Compare Islam and Christianity. In the Middle Ages, Christians were burning scientists. Then Muslims had a great civilization. The Christians were theocratic then. Muslims were not. We do not believe in a theocratic government that rules the people in the name of Allah. Power should come from the people. Christianity wasn’t weakened because it was separate from the state. Christianity was weakened when it supported oppressive states. The same thing is happening in Iran. Iranians are turning against the religion itself along with the theocratic oppressive state."

“Are you opposed to theocracy then?” I said. “If you win power in Kurdistan will you not govern according to Islamic law?”

“In Islam we have stable things and changeable things,” he said. “80 percent of Islam is changeable things.” Say what you will about Islamists. Ali Muhammad’s religious-political ideology is a long way from the iron rule of 7th Century Taliban.

“Should alcohol be legal or banned?” I said. When I asked this question of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essem El-Erian he refused to give me a straight answer.

“In Islam it is prohibited to drink alcohol in public,” Ali Muhammad said. “Drinking at home is fine. If someone wants to buy alcohol and drink it in his house, we should not chase him. We prefer to treat alcohol the same way we treat cigarettes when we create non-smoking sections.”

“Should women be required to wear the hijab over their hair?” I said, referring to the modest Islamic headscarf worn by conservative women in public.

“We don’t force people to wear the hijab,” he said. “There are two types of Islamic rules: personal and general. Individual matters are advised, not required. Advisements by Islam should not be imposed. Islam prohibits only things that harm an entire society.”

Ali Muhammad believes this is the right balance, that Islam is therefore superior to Judaism and Christianity.

“The Koran includes both regulation and advice,” he said. “The Torah included only regulation. The New Testament included only advice.”

Whether the Koran advises certain behaviors or imposes them is a matter of debate within the Islamic world. Most Kurds are conservative compared with, say, Lebanese, Turks, and Tunisians. But their religious tradition, the thing they are conserving, is more lenient than the traditions in some parts of the Middle East. Kurdistan is a blessedly undogmatic place. My translator Birzo Abdulkadir seemed to speak for many when he explained why, despite Kurdistan’s conservatism, it isn’t a backwater like some other places I’ve been: “I have read the Koran in its original language. I know it’s more flexible than most Arab imams admit.”

“There is nothing about Islam that we should be afraid to talk about,” Ali Muhammad said. “It is the best system. But there are and have been problems. We don’t deny that.”

I started to ask another question, and he changed the subject. He wanted to make sure I heard the following and wrote it down:

“We have five members in our leadership committee who are women,” he said. “They were elected, and we do not use quotas. We also have a woman in our political bureau. Women and men work together. Below the leadership level, the numbers of men and women are the same.”

I looked at our translator, a woman, in the eye. There was no need for me to say what I was thinking, to ask the obvious question. She knew. And she nodded. What Ali Muhammad just told me was true.

Assuming Ali Muhammad was honest with me, the very existence of the Kurdistan Islamic Union is a relief. Osama bin Laden will never calm down and become a mainstream religious conservative. He will be a radical and a fascist until somebody punches his ticket. But if the KIU can find a way to reconcile an authoritarian religion with modern democracy there is no reason other similar moderately conservative political parties can’t form elsewhere to compete with the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the theocratic Iranian state.

I do believe Ali Muhammad was sincere in his moderation, that he wasn't just jerking me around for good press. It was painfully obvious that Essam El-Erian of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was concealing his real opinions from me so I wouldn't expose him and his organization as radical nutjobs.

As a reality check, though, I asked my translator Alan Atoof in Suleimaniya about the KIU. Alan is a secular liberal whose family is from the part of Iraqi Kurdistan that was besieged by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam until U.S. Special Forces and the Peshmerga drove them into Iran three years ago. You have to look long and hard to find someone more opposed to violent jihadists. He simply will not put up with these people, and I wanted to know what he thought of the Kurdistan Islamic Union. Do they practice taqiyya? Are they Salafists or Wahhabis in moderate drag?

Not according to Alan, they aren't. His uncle is a member of the KIU, and he knows them well and in person. He confirms that they are genuinely moderate and reasonable people who don't pose a threat to Kurdistan's secular culture and politics.

Before leaving his office I asked Ali Muhammad if he could recommend a nice restaurant for dinner. He suggested what he thought of as a “Western” restaurant (it wasn’t) in suburban Suleimaniya. And he sent his son Iqbal Ali Muhammad to pick me up at my hotel, take me to the restaurant, and continue discussing religion and politics.

So Iqbal met me in the lobby of the Suleimaniya Palace hotel, a shabby place whose name is a ridiculous lie. At first Iqbal was fantastically uptight and humorless, a grim caricature of an Islamist in a blue suit and tie. He was Scandinavian in his stiffness and in his unwillingness to smile or laugh or show human warmth. Most Kurds are outgoing and gregarious, but this guy acted like he was dropped from outer space. Well, I thought, he is an Islamist.

As it turned out, though, he wasn’t uptight at all. He was just a bit shy. He drove us to the restaurant in his SUV, ordered us fresh fish from one of Kurdistan’s lakes, and loosened up as though we were sharing a bottle of wine. We did not share a bottle of wine even though it was available. He would have said nothing if I ordered a glass for myself. But I did not wish to be rude so I ordered a soft drink instead.

He was less interested in politics than his father. Mostly we talked about more casual matters. It was a conversation, not an interview, so I didn't bust out my notebook and grill him. But he was a smart young man - a lawyer - and I did jot down a few things he said.

“We will go to war with Christians against Muslims if the Muslims are on the wrong side," he said. That’s exactly what the Kurds did when they sided with the United States against Saddam Hussein, just as the U.S. sided with Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims against Slobo and his exterminationist regime in Belgrade. This casual comment by Iqbal, a self-identifying Islamist, was perhaps the most poignant refutation of the "clash of civilizations" idea I have yet heard.

Iqbal did turn out to be a bit of a bigot, but not in an anti-Western or anti-American way. “The Arab, he is wild,” he said. “He is not a civilized person.”

I tried to defend Arabs generally. He knew I lived in Beirut at the time, that I had experienced a different side of Arab culture than he had. He smiled patiently while I sat there picking the bones out of my fish and sounding like a self-conscious politically correct American naif. But I wasn't naive. I knew very well what Saddam Hussein and his Baath regime did to the Kurds. Iqbal Ali Muhammad was born in Halabja. He was six years old when the Anfal Campaign reached his home town, when Saddam Hussein doused him and his family with chemical weapons. He still has a hard time breathing when walking up stairs. And he would not let me convince him that most Arabs are more civilized than those who nearly killed him.

Just as I was beginning to think he and his father had no good reason to refer to themselves as Islamists, that the Kurds therefore really - truly! - are different, out came the sadly typical (for the region) paranoid comment: "I think America let Osama bin Laden go free on purpose."

Look, I said. He killed thousands of Americans. We don't let a guy like that get away. Just because we have not killed or captured him yet doesn't mean that's by design.

So many Middle Easterners think the United States is so all-powerful that we can do anything at any time, that nothing is beyond our capabilities, that everything wrong is therefore designed to be wrong on purpose.

I explained to him that the U.S. is a powerful country, but it's still just one country. Americans are flawed and limited humans just like the Kurds. He took me seriously, and he was willing to climb down from his crazy position much faster and more completely than I expected.

“It is good that we are having this conversation,” he said. “We can tell each other when we are wrong.”

Iqbal Ali Muhammad.jpg
Iqbal Ali Muhammad

If all the world’s Islamists were like these mellow Kurdish Islamists there would be no Terror War and there would be no talk of any clash of civilizations. It’s no accident, nor is it merely a convenience, that the Kurds of Iraq are American allies.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, obviously. Most people in the world know that much at least. It’s also apparently true that not all Islamists are terrorists or even extremists. These guys made me rethink my idea of what an Islamist even is. Call me foolish if you like. But Iqbal repeated the same refrain I heard over and over again in Iraqi Kurdistan, something I almost never hear in Arab countries: “Extremes are bad. The middle is better.”

Postscript: Please don’t forget to hit the tip jar. I went all the way to Iraq to get this interview and - let’s be honest - you probably never would have heard of these people if I hadn’t done that.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

Michael Totten
P.O. Box 312
Portland, OR 97207-0312

Thanks so much to all of you who encouraged me to get a PO box. And thanks once again to everyone who helps out through Pay Pal. Your donations are the only reason this kind of blogging is possible.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 03:30 AM

Thanks, Michael. If the papers printed this kind of stuff, maybe I'd still be a subscriber.

Posted by: Michael at July 1, 2006 06:54 AM

You're doing a good job, Michael. Excellent story.

Posted by: Daniel Markham at July 1, 2006 07:42 AM

Ali Muhammad believes this is the right balance, that Islam is therefore superior to Judaism and Christianity.

“The Koran includes both regulation and advice,” he said. “The Torah included only regulation. The New Testament included only advice.”

i.e, "We have the answer. you don't."

Posted by: pacific_waters at July 1, 2006 07:45 AM

“Are you opposed to theocracy then?” I said. “If you win power in Kurdistan will you not govern according to Islamic law?”

He didn't answer your question, now did he, Michael? He merely responded that islam is flexible. But if things would be flexible in an islamic theocracy (which he believes in), they would only be flexible on islam's terms.

You got had a little bit. And easy to see why. He's a likable moderate compared to what we've come to expect from that part of the world. But he's not a moderate by our Western standards. By our Western standards he's an extremist.

Having said that, he does seem to be the kind of people we can do business with. There would be no war on terror if they all came like he does.

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 08:11 AM

You missed this part, Carlos:

"We do not believe in a theocratic government that rules the people in the name of Allah. Power should come from the people."

He sounds more like Thomas Jefferson to me than someone like Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan.

But then, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and their ilk, grew up under conditions which give them the luxury of taking democracy for granted.

Posted by: Mizgin at July 1, 2006 09:51 AM

Power should come from the people."


it seems you don't believe that Pat Robertson, Buchanan and their "ilk" are included among "the people", and that they should just shut up and let the "real" people (you Libs) do the governing.

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 10:08 AM

Carlos, It's not that Robertson, Buchanan, etc. are not included among "the people." Just that they are far, far from being the totality of the people -- no matter what they would like to think. They don't need to shut up and let liberals govern. But neither should they be allowed to take over and just run things to suit themselves.

Posted by: wj at July 1, 2006 10:54 AM

But neither should they be allowed to take over and just run things to suit themselves.

I don't believe your average Liberal should be able to take over and run things to suit themselves either. So your opinion about "Robertson" is neither here nor there. His voice in the national discussion is no less legitimate than Jesse Jackson's or Howard Dean's.

Re Thomas Jefferson, I suspect that even Robertson or Buchanan transplanted to the middle east would sound Jeffersonian. The only difference between Robertson and this "Jeffersonian" islamist is that one causes a visceral reaction in you Libs, the other one doesn't. It's purely emotional. Much of Liberalism is feelings-based in that way.

An example? If this Kurdish islamist where white and christian-- but uttering exactly the same words-- rather than brown and muslim, hell would freeze over before some Lib called him "Jeffersonian". lol!

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 11:09 AM

I can't believe the LA Times, I mean some major newspaper, rejected this as not groundbreaking! They always report the same stuff over and over. This is totally new. Of course the real problem is that it doesn't fit their world view.

Charles Darwin understood very well the importance of finding unexpected information. It's extremely valuable. If you make an observation that goes completely against your internal model of the world, you should write it down before your mind glosses over it. When, after a major earthquake in Chile, Darwin stumbled into shellfish attached to a rock that was clearly above sea level (causing the recent death of the shellfish), did he throw the information away? No. This was the key to explaining why he had just recently found seashell fossils thousands of feet above sea level.

If you want to understand the world, you focus on objective observation and use the accumulated observations to piece together an explanation of reality. If you want to practice a religion, you ignore observation and stick with a defined dogma. Our news media (and our education system) have clearly drifted into the realm of religion.

I dropped a little something in the tip jar. Hopefully others will, too.

Posted by: Bruce at July 1, 2006 11:20 AM


Posted by: twolaneflash at July 1, 2006 11:30 AM

How much more "extremist" is he than, say, bloody drug warriors -- of both parties -- here in America? Are you people reading Radley Balko these days? While we've got SWAT teams kicking down innocent peoples' doors just about every damned day, I, myself, am not disposed to listen to complaints about what Islamists might do, in power.

You go, Michael This was a very valuable report.

Posted by: Billy Beck at July 1, 2006 11:48 AM

Ps.-- I'm about as broke as I can be, but I'll see if I can get a money order out next week.


Posted by: Billy Beck at July 1, 2006 11:53 AM

Carlos, I didn't notice anybody (certainly not a conservative like me!) suggesting that liberals should be allowed to just take over and run things either. But unless the rabid right gets another couple of terms to finish alienating all the moderates in the country, I can't see that it is all that likely to happen either.

As for a Kurd sounding like Jefferson, consider what Jefferson was saying in the context of his place and time. Then take the same look at Ali Muhammed. Does the latter look like a modern American Jeffersonian? Not quite (to my extremely limited knowledge). But for his place and time? Definitely.

Would Robertson or Buchannan look Jeffersonian in Kurdistan? IF, and I think it's a huge if, they said identical things there: maybe, maybe not. If, and I have to say I think it is more likely, they took the same relative position in their local polity -- they would be giving the local Islamists a run for their money. Consider, for just one example, Robertson's urging that an elected head of a foreign government (admittedly one who is a disaster for his country and his neighbors) be assassinated -- not the sort of thing one would expect of a Jeffersonian. Sounds a lot more like the Middle Eastern terrorist leaders to me....

Posted by: wj at July 1, 2006 11:53 AM

Thanks for the post, Michael (yes, I tipped in a moderate amount too, from my _52 account). Good stuff.

...and a relief, really: first moment I've felt I should perhaps pull my finger away from the button, sadly enough.

Posted by: brdavis at July 1, 2006 11:54 AM


People like Robertson and Buchanan would be far more recognizable to Thomas Jefferson than today's crop of Leftists. They would seem like aliens from another world to him. When Jefferson launched his war against Barbary terror, these same Leftists currently invoking his name would instead be calling him names like fascist and "hitler." He was your original warmonger.

Re assassination, George Stephanopolous also suggested assassinating Saddam while serving on Clinton's staff, which is far more significant than when a civilian like Robertson suggests it. Did it makes the news? Of course not. Because it's not news. And neither is it news that Robertson suggested assassination. It's politics posing as news. If you're actually a conservative as you claim, you sure don't sound like one. Or maybe you just haven't figured Libs out yet.

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 12:06 PM

wj: Would Robertson or Buchannan look Jeffersonian in Kurdistan?

No. They might in Baghdad, though.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 12:19 PM

"We would like to help you reform it, but we do not want to destroy it."

The reformation would destroy it. Still sounds like my enemy, moderate or not.

This is just a theory, but, maybe one of the reasons so many people in that region are bat-fucking crazy is that they have to live with their parents until they are thirty.

Posted by: Mike at July 1, 2006 12:34 PM

Does nobody else see the irony that Leftists who insult and demean conservatives as "originalists" (including Robertson and Buchanan) then turn around and wrap themselves in the mantle of "Jefferson"? lol! Outrageous.

If you took that Kurd and put him in a Midwestern church instead of a Kurdish mosque he would be vilified by the Left as a theofascist of he highest order, not a "Jeffersonian". Get a grip people.

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 12:35 PM

Carlos: If you took that Kurd and put him in a Midwestern church instead of a Kurdish mosque he would be vilified by the Left as a theofascist of he highest order, not a "Jeffersonian".

Definitely. But in the Middle East he is "authentic." It's all about the authentic for some people.

Liberal Iraqis (and liberal Lebanese) are "sell outs" and even "possible CIA agents" according to some people. Bah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 12:42 PM

Certainly Jefferson would find Robertson or Buchanan recognizable -- Puritan fanatics were a feature of his time as well. And you are absolutely correct that the current Leftist fanatics would be trashing him over his reaction to piracy. After all, they are incapable of recognizing the fault in anyone from outside the United States (except, of course, if the foreigners are supported by the American government, or at least by American conservatives).

And for figuring out Libs, may I suggest that I did so long ago. Spending the late 1960s in Berkeley (and in ROTC by conviction, rather than for draft evasion) gave me a long close look. But recognizing their short-comings does not preclude recognizing the short-comings of those they oppose. In fact I find the far left and the far right almost indistinguishable, as their views of anyone who disagrees with their theology (and the far left ideology acts like a theology, even if they purport to be atheists) and their willingness to destroy most of the world in order to save it for their beliefs overwhelm the details of their opinions. Perhaps that is why there are so many cases of individuals who go from one extreme to the other over the course of their lives, without ever finding anything that might be described as moderation or tolerance -- still looking for the magic answer to everything.

Posted by: wj at July 1, 2006 12:45 PM

It's not difficult at all to spot moderate Muslims. They're the ones who haven't blown themselves up . . . yet.

Posted by: HSD at July 1, 2006 01:33 PM

1) The best moderate Muslim I know, and I know him personally, is Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi of Rome. Check him out at http://www.amislam.com/ .
2) The Torah does not contain only regulations to the exclusion of advice. With all respect to Mr. Muhammed, I as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi ought to know better. I often tell my colleagues and teachers, to say nothing of students, don't try to say something about which you know little or nothing.
3) The statement about Bosnia seems to be another throwaway remark. Please check out (critically) Prof. Francisco Gil-White's interesting website at http://www.hirhome.com/

Posted by: Yehoshua Friedman at July 1, 2006 02:28 PM

and michael you beleive them? i do not

Posted by: joe at July 1, 2006 02:31 PM

Yes, Joe, more or less.

Just because some extemists pretend to be moderate does not mean moderates do not exist. Try to be a little discerning instead of assuming everyone in the Middle East lies all the time.

I get tired of the crazies in the Middle East who assume Americans lie when they say reasonable things and only pretend to support freedom and democracy. Don't be like that.

My conversation with Ali Muhammad was longer than this published interview suggests. So I'm working with more information than you have, much of it non-verbal.

His points about Sayyid Qutb, Christian theocracy, and Iranian theocracy is not at all what fake moderate Islamists say when they try to sound more reasonable than they are. He thought all this through very carefully. A Salafist does not even know how to pretend to argue with Sayyid Qutb. Fake moderate Islamists are pretty easy to spot when you have met and interviewed both kinds in person, as I have.

I also checked with non-religious Kurds to make sure the KIU wasn't jerking me around. I asked if the KIU practices taqiyya, and the atheists said no, they do not. I got the exact opposite response when I asked secular Egyptians about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 02:46 PM


Pat Robertson may be a "puritan fanatic" by today's secularized standards, but by the standards of Jefferson's times he would have been considered no more fanatical than the majority of Episcopalian or Presbyterian Congressmen that served with Jefferson. They were his colleagues, and if anybody was the anomaly, it would have been him, not them-- and certainly not Pat Robertson. So I'm not impressed by your labels.

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 02:48 PM

Also, Joe, there is another very small Islamist party in Kurdistan (I forget the name) that is more extreme than the KIU. That faction is the non-violent group that splintered off Ansar Al Islam. There is a full spectrum of Islamist opinion there. The KIU are by far the largest and closest to the political center.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 02:49 PM

I hit the tip jar because I could not disagree with your PS. And the last four paragraphs were worth it. And since they're reasonable and hopeful, that may be the reason the article won't get in the MSM.

Thanks for a very interesting article.

Posted by: Jim C. at July 1, 2006 03:15 PM

This is very encouraging.

Michael, you are fond of pointing out how common moderation is in the Muslim Middle East. Perhaps it is true, but outside of Kurdistan and Turkey, it doesn't seem to have any representation at the societal level. You point out that the Palestinians had a horrible choice, between Hamas and Fatah, but surely this choice is created by society, it's not just bad luck. In Egypt the situation is similar, but the Egyptians really do have some good choices. The problem is that nobody is choosing them.

There's a huge disconnect between what you are telling me, and what I see at the societal level. If you can reconcile this for me I will be more open to your message.

(BTW, I trust you 100% as far as telling the truth goes, I just have trouble believing your conclusions about moderation in the Middle East. Kurdistan seems to be the exception that proves the rule.)

Posted by: Yafawi at July 1, 2006 03:21 PM

I also hit the tip jar (which I only mention to encourage others to do the same).

Posted by: Carlos at July 1, 2006 03:22 PM

Michael, I'm glad you checked with your friend Alan Atoof. I admit I was a bit suspicious of taqqiyah myself, although maybe less than I would be with an Arab. I was stationed in Turkey when I was in the military, and the best two weeks out of that period was when I was in Northern Iraq (of all places!) because of the Kurdish people. That experience had a profound effect on me. They ARE different, and with the positive view given by an avowed secularist, I believe what Ali Muhammad says. I'm usually one of the first to have the knee-jerk "taqiyyah" reaction, too.

Re the other party in Kurdistan: are you thinking of the PKK? They are a bad bunch (not that I'm a fan of Turkey, mind you--especially in recent years), but I don't know if they're even still around (?).

Honestly, if it wouldn't create yet another huge regional war, I'd totally support an independent nation of Kurdistan, to include Kurdish Turkey and Iran. You said if there were more like them, there wouldn't be a war on terror, and I agree. It's unfortunate (understatement of the year) that they're so outnumbered.

Hitting the tip jar...be safe!

Posted by: Beth at July 1, 2006 03:29 PM


As far as moderation goes, it really just depends on where we're talking about.

Moderation is rare in Egypt and Palestine. But it's the norm in Turkey, Lebanon, Kurdistan, and Tunisia.

Egypt is totally whacked, and Libya is so oppressive it's hard to get a read on what people really think. From what I can gather, Syria is pretty off the wall too. And so is Jordan. Morocco, Dubai, and Algeria all seem to be pretty reasonable these days, but I cannot (yet) speak from any experience about those three.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 03:38 PM

Beth: Re the other party in Kurdistan: are you thinking of the PKK?

No, they are Marxist-Leninist, and they are based in Turkey not Iraq. The name of the other party is buried in my notes somewhere. I'll see if I can find it...

Thanks for hitting the tip jar!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 03:39 PM

"In the Middle Ages, Christians were burning scientists."


as the historian Thomas Woods has said: "Frankly, anyone who still believes such nonsense in the face of modern research is either a liar or a moron."


"Sometimes the most obvious facts are the easiest to overlook. Here is one that ought to be stunningly obvious: science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose only once in the history of Earth. Where was that? Although other civilizations have contributed technical achievements or isolated innovations, the invention of science as a cumulative, rigorous, systematic, and ongoing investigation into the laws of nature occurred only in Europe; that is, in the civilization then known as Christendom. Science arose and flourished in a civilization that, at the time, was profoundly and nearly exclusively Christian in its mental outlook."


Posted by: taba at July 1, 2006 03:54 PM

Through in a brief link here, Michael, at the bottom.

Posted by: Gary Farber at July 1, 2006 03:58 PM

So many Middle Easterners think the United States is so all-powerful that we can do anything at any time, that nothing is beyond our capabilities, that everything wrong is therefore designed to be wrong on purpose.

Wow, they sound like American "Liberals". Esp. the ones who believe thta it's impossible for us to lose the War on Terror, so therefore it's perfectly ine for them to sabotage our military and government's ability to fight the War.

Posted by: Greg D at July 1, 2006 04:12 PM

Very interesting post; the newspaper should've taken you up on it, but of course this goes against their agenda.

Posted by: La Ventanita at July 1, 2006 04:38 PM

The funny thing about this being rejected for (most likely) ideological reasons is that I can see reasons why both a liberal and a conservative would reject it. And the reasons are completely different.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 1, 2006 04:55 PM

"It’s no accident, nor is it merely a convenience, that the Kurds of Iraq are American allies."

It's also no accident that the Kurds are positive towards Israel.

Posted by: Yehudit at July 1, 2006 05:21 PM


Really a superb report, and very heartening to know that people like your subjects still exist.

I sent you a substantial contribution through PayPal.

Jamie Irons

Posted by: Jamie Irons at July 1, 2006 05:30 PM

Thanks again for the 'news'. I hit the tip jar because you were rejected by what sounds like the NYT idiots-in-charge.

I despise that agitprop operation so much that you could have blogged a blank space and it would have worked for me.

Rejected by the Times is always sufficient cachet. That you are giving me a valuable insight I otherwise would not have had is just icing on the cake.

You do great work and it is my good fortune to help out in some small way.


Posted by: dougf at July 1, 2006 06:36 PM

The report is interesting and informative as usual Michael.

I guess, if i were the type to make excuses for major newspapers, it could be argued that your article would be more appropriate as a feature in a magazine like Time or Newsweek or Atlantic Monthly, with a wider focus on political parties in the Middle East as a whole and geared to which ones are most compatible with western style democracy, and how predominate they are. I am not really that type of person and find the fact that your story was rejected to be disheartening to my hope that newspapers will "turn it around".

I also see your point about media with left or right bias finding ample reason to reject the story. I find this a most depressing realization that good information has such a low market value in our media industries. To state it another way, that truth has such a low market value. The predominance of activist jounalism is incredibly detrimental to informative journalism. Journalism should not be judged by its' effects on domestic politics, but by its effects on the objective knowledge and/or wisdom it creates. Perhaps if the consumers were more discerning, this would be less of a problem.

Posted by: Joel Mackey at July 1, 2006 06:39 PM

the torah contains lots of advice in addition to law.
though maybe some things that fall under the law in judaism are only mandated as advice in this interpretation of islam, dunno.

Posted by: anon at July 1, 2006 07:13 PM

Hello Sir.

This piece was worth reading, I think; but not for the purpose for which your wrote it - from my perspective. I think it betrays a misunderstanding on your part. This story is indeed not groundbreaking because it is the Kurdistan Islamic Union. Of course they will be relatively moderate having been persecuted by several Islamic regimes due to their ethnicity. This is as remarkable as finding moderate Jews, on the question of Zionism, in the United States of America.

Muslims and Palestinians have been rooked ignomiously by the West; definitely. This is not an anti-Israeli statement. Israelis know this to be true, too. The question is how to resolve the facts on the ground as they are now. Just as Amerinds were rooked by the West and have to make the best of it, Palestinians have little choice but to make the best of it. The longer pro-Israeli advocates deny the West and Israel's exploitation of the economic and military weakness of the Palestinians and the longer the Palestinians deny their few viable options given that exploitation, the more children will be harmed.

But I digress; the point is that non-Kurdish Muslims and those similarly situation, i.e., non-intra-Islamic exploited ethnic minorities, will remain militantly opposed to the West and Israel because their militancy is JUSTIFIED; it is also SUICIDAL.

We as a people owe it to the innocents at risk to try to help those who would employ violence in this conflict find a viable peaceful solution. But in the end, Israel and the Muslim/Arab world will decide how this plays out.


Posted by: The Objective Historian at July 1, 2006 08:27 PM


I think you may want to rethink your name, as your post objectified many things, but objectivity was not among them.

I find it curious that those such as yourself find much fault with the Israeli's treatment of the Palestinians, a treatment which is motivated by an instinct to defend themselves from the violence visited upon them by radical elements within the Palestianian population, but you ignore the Egyptian's treatment of the Palestinians. You and your type also seem to ignore the Syrian's treatment of the Palestinians.

The fundamental reasoning of your post, that disadvantaged populations are mistreated by Israeli's and "the west" (read America, and not Europe, Canada, or South America) is flawed because you seem not to care to take into account all the factors which lead to the treatment of the populations which you characterize as justified and yet suicidal in thier actions.

I am mystified as to why on the one hand, people such as what I percieve as yourself will diefy Ghandi and his ability through non-violent protest to gain independence from the British Empire for India, and yet you make excuse after excuse for the Palestianian's violent attacks on the soft civilian targets in Israel. Please feel free to address this incongruency.

Posted by: Joel Mackey at July 1, 2006 11:36 PM

Thanks very much for the fascinating article. You are doing great work. If I could ask a question it would be whether you discussed with Ali Muhammad and his son their views of Kurdish political identity, specifically on the independence of Kurdistan in Iraq and the politics of Kurdish identity in Turkey.

Posted by: Tom at July 2, 2006 12:34 AM


Thank you for the answer to my previous comment. What you say conforms to my impressions. However, I cannot help but feel that the extremists are accepted as the norm even by the moderates. I mean, the extremists make a lot of noise which is not countered by the moderates. It seems like the moderates just keep their heads down and try to get by, while the extremists take over the public discourse. In this sense, those who stereotype Islam are not far off. If terrorist attacks were heart attacks, Islam would be a major risk factor.

Posted by: Yafawi at July 2, 2006 01:12 AM

Michael, I think the split from Ansar al-Islam that you are thinking of may be Ansar al-Sunna.

Wrong again, Carlos. I am not a liberal from the American frame of reference. Neither am I conservative. There is only one thing that matters to me, and that is freedom for all of Kurdistan.

I suggest that you give Jefferson another read, especially some of his remarks on religion. From a Jeffersonian perspective, Robertson and his ilk are not far removed from bin Laden.

Posted by: Mizgin at July 2, 2006 01:40 AM

"...I can see reasons why both a liberal and a conservative would reject it."

What do you imagine those reasons might be?

As I read the piece I tried to guess what could be the parts spurring a rejection - - initially I thought it would be too declarative for a typical mainstream newspaper: e.g., "Hezbollah, unfortunately, is psychotic;" "Al Qaeda, ...nevertheless are a violent warmongering proxy militia;" "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood ... organization as radical nutjobs."

Posted by: johnny eck at July 2, 2006 03:57 AM

A very nice article in a long series of great articles.

I've long believed that Muslims and born-again Christians (I am one) have a huge amount in common (such as, as a rule, being chaste, modest, moral, temperate, tolerant and reasonable). Likewise Islamo-fascists and PC 'neo-commies' are twins under the skin.

The Islamic world has a whole lot of problems, but the Islamic religion is not one of them , nor (despite the propaganda) the reason for them.

Posted by: Kip Watson at July 2, 2006 04:02 AM


Are you sure about the Muslim Brotherhood?

Wasn't Sayyad Qutb in this back in the 50's?

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is better. They aren’t armed, they don’t even try to kill Israeli soldiers (let alone civilians), and they at least pretend to be opposed to terrorism.

Moderate? I think not

More than 3,000 protesters at the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo called for holy war against Israel on Friday. The mosque is the most prominent instituation in the Sunni Arab World. The event was organized by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted by: jdwill at July 2, 2006 05:47 AM

The article is good, but somewhat unsatisfying. It is mostly an interview of a father and his son. It is somewhat unsatisfying, as it leaves me yearning for more.

If MJT had interviewed a third unrelated person and canvassed a little outside of the local mosque, café, or bakery, this piece would feel more representative and I'd like to believe the article would have been snapped up by any reputable American newsmagazine. It is the difference between travelogue and journalism.

Posted by: Solomon2 at July 2, 2006 05:58 AM

Yehoshua Friedman,

You seem so reasonable in your comment, then provide the link to www.hirhome.com where I find (among other conspiracy theory items):

George W. Bush attacked Iraq in order to ensure the continued growth of Islamist terrorism in the Middle East. … I will argue that in order to understand Bush Jr.’s war on Iraq, one must first understand Bush Sr.’s 1991 Gulf War against the same country. And that war was not fought for oil; rather, it was launched to protect Islamist Iran.

As Ricky would say, "Lucy, you got some ‘splaining’ to do".

Posted by: jdwill at July 2, 2006 06:15 AM


I didn't say the Muslim Brotherhood was moderate. I only said they are moderate compared with Hezbollah. Compared with the KIU, they aren't.

Johnny Eck, don't try to figure out why this piece as written was rejected. This piece, as written, was written for the blog. The style, adjectives, flow, etc., are completely different on a blog and in a newspaper.

It was for the op-ed page in any case. And the op-ed page of a different newspaper just bought the rights to it. So it worked out in the end.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at July 2, 2006 07:21 AM

Wrong again, Carlos.

Keep dreaming. I wasn't wrong the first time. Your comment that this islamist fellow is "Jeffersonian" is still laughable. He's no more Jeffersonian than Pat Robertson is, and probably a hell of a lot less.

Posted by: Carlos at July 2, 2006 08:08 AM

Even more super fantastic -- article plus that some other paper has some interest.

I don't think Sistani is trying to create a Shiite Islamic Iraq, though other Shiites are; I don't think Ali Muhammad (he's not a boxer?) is trying to create an Islamic Kurdistan. Most of his anti-gay, anti-promiscuity, anti-alcohol views about what harms society have significant objective facts in support, despite their il-liberalism.

It's great there are some moderate Muslims; it's terrible that there aren't more.

On Palestine, it should be noted that the Palestinians fail to support free speech or free religion, so most oppression has been Palestinian leader caused or accepted.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at July 2, 2006 08:11 AM

Jefferson wasn't religious by the standards of his period, so it didn't require any principle for him to object to theocracy.

Posted by: maor at July 2, 2006 08:53 AM

Michael: Interesting interview.

If this is your example, after a search worthy of Diogenes, of a moderate Moslem, then, indeed, my points made elsewhere are abundantly reaffirmed.

He is also either very ignorant of the world or full of b.s. Or thinks your gullible.

For instance, he says, "In Islam we can possess things, but not with such a huge distance between the rich and the poor." Huh? Has he visited Saudi Arabia? How can you ever compare the Moslem middle class, tiny as it is, with the Western middle class?

"Compare Islam and Christianity. In the Middle Ages, Christians were burning scientists. Then Muslims had a great civilization. The Christians were theocratic then. Muslims were not. We do not believe in a theocratic government that rules the people in the name of Allah."

First, his mindset is focused on Christianity versus Islam. In the Middle Ages, you also had India and China. In fact, during that period, China was easily the most advanced, ordered, successful human culture. But your friend is concerned about the rivalry (in his mind) between Christianity and Islam. Also, the Islamic success in sciences was mainly due to the efforts of the captured Christians and Jews. Once they went through them, the long and continuing Islamic decline began.

I'm not sure who he means by "we" in the "we do not believe in..." If he means Moslems, he is either trying to pull one over on you, or is just plain ignorant. Islam was violently theocratic, from the start (and hasn't changed).

"There is nothing about Islam that we should be afraid to talk about,” Ali Muhammad said. “It is the best system. But there are and have been problems. We don’t deny that.”

Hmm...so he is, at his core, just another Islamic supremist. When he locates his authority in the Koran, he places himself on the same level as any jihadi, who is also able to quote the Koran and locate support for their efforts in it.

Perhaps given the lousy range of choice available to the Kurds, he isn't all that bad. But in the greater scheme of things, he's just another Islamic thug, no matter how nice he sounds.

Sorry, Michael. You'll have to continue your search for hens' teeth...oppos...Moslem moderates.

Posted by: Seymour Paine at July 2, 2006 11:10 AM

Hi Micheal:

I've enjoyed your travelogues for some time now. They are both picturesque and thoughtful. Your description of your time in Libya was simply amazing. The reason I am writing now is to let you know that you are doing an excellent job writing about countries and regions without sentimentality. I am really glad to find a good writer on people, cultures and geography, that I can reliably go to, to get my meaningful geography fix.

Keep up the good work.
Thanks a lot.


P.S: I've hit your tip jar 2-3 times so far. I plan to keep doing so every few months or so.

Posted by: Sharmila Rao-Pence at July 2, 2006 12:28 PM


It stuns me that this article was rejected.

May I ask a personal question?

Is there a reason why you don't write more for MSM newspapers, sites, etc? Are your stories rejected regularly (no insult intended), or do you just not pitch the big names often? I often wonder why you've gone the blog/Tip Jar route when your stories are so fascinating and you put so much work into them while risking your neck. Is it a question more of circumstance or choice?

Anyway, I hit the jar for you -- sorry my PayPal acct is so anemic right now!

Posted by: Jackson at July 2, 2006 05:41 PM

Seems to me this story didn't fit the terrorist image the establishment media needs for it's crisis management style.

Only one calorie evil -- not good enough!

We can't have you bloggers going around saying this guy, this mad insane crazy mullah, doesn't want to destroy and kill every single American in the world!!

Why we would have no more war!
And Goopers want war!

Posted by: ]]RIGHT[[ at July 2, 2006 07:37 PM


I'd just like to say "thank you" for articles like these... I come away from other sites and blogs thinking the future is bleak, then I come here and read your work, and I find that there's still hope.

I disagree with your assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood though... This document might interest you:


Posted by: TD at July 2, 2006 08:05 PM
“You have unmarried mothers. Abortion. Crime. Gay marriage. These things are completely against the soul of human beings. They reduce the brightness of the West.”

A passage like that simply cannot be permitted to appear in the New York Times. There's just too much undiluted truth in there for its liberal readership to stomach.

Posted by: CJ at July 3, 2006 12:05 AM

"For instance, he says, "In Islam we can possess things, but not with such a huge distance between the rich and the poor." Huh? Has he visited Saudi Arabia? How can you ever compare the Moslem middle class, tiny as it is, with the Western middle class?"

I doubt that he would actually argue that Saudi Arabia is "Muslim" in the sense he understands his religion. He very probably thinks that "Christian" US is much closer to the ideal of Islam than Saudi Arabia ever will be (as long as it is "Saudi" Arabia).

Perhaps he is talking about Kurdistan, where perhaps sees his understanding of Islam as an existing force for economic equality.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at July 3, 2006 05:37 AM

"For instance, he says, "In Islam we can possess things, but not with such a huge distance between the rich and the poor." Huh? Has he visited Saudi Arabia? How can you ever compare the Moslem middle class, tiny as it is, with the Western middle class?"

I doubt that he would actually argue that Saudi Arabia is "Muslim" in the sense he understands his religion. He very probably thinks that "Christian" US is much closer to the ideal of Islam than Saudi Arabia ever will be (as long as it is "Saudi" Arabia).

Perhaps he is talking about Kurdistan, where he perhaps sees his understanding of Islam as an existing force for economic equality.

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at July 3, 2006 05:37 AM

Wow, I miss a couple days and you all have a party without me!

First, as always, Michael your article was fantastic. I appreciate the work that goes into actually researching a story and writing based on experience (instead of most of the blogsphere's rantings based on the latest talking points from their team).

Second, on Jefferson. Please note that these statements are opinion based on my reading of most of the known works of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine and contemporaries. My assertions should be taken in this light and not considered infallible.

Jefferson apparently considered himself a Deist, not a Theist... as seems true of most (but not all) of our Founding Fathers. This means that he apparently accepted (or claimed to accept) that a Deity created us (the "Creator" which is spoken of in our founding documents, but many of these Deists appear not to have believed that the Creator has much of a plan or care for the present or future of humanity, or at the very least, nothing concrete that they could bank on. Indeed, Jefferson stated a number of times that he felt that the Holy Scripture was not infallible and that most of the miracles were probably lies (hence his own "Bible"), he also had a number of harsh words for the religiously fervent of his day. Jefferson, as with Washington and a number of other Founding Fathers, apparently used the Church as a social tool and the position of alderman as a political tool. Neither he, nor most of his peers felt that active religion had a part to play in the american political system. Passive religion, on the other hand has always been present.

What do I mean? Well, active religion in politics indicates that the politican tries to impose a law, based on a religious belief or moral. Passive religion tends to appear as someone who, in their personal life and their personal ethical and moral decisions, seems guided by the morals of their religion. Jefferson, in this particular area had more in common with Jimmy Carter's view than GWB or Pat Robertson.

Jefferson would likely be quite disturbed by the liberal/left as well. In many of his writings he stressed how he felt about the government. He clearly saw government as dangerous, as something to closely control and carefully monitor. He would be appaled that so many in our society today feel that the government has a responsibility to provide, Welfare, Social Security and Healthcare. He would have been horrified at the DHS, FDA, DEA and ATF. These departments act far outside of the initial planned scope of government, which our founding fathers envisioned.

So while Jefferson might have found Robertson and company distasteful authoritarians and a potential danger to the moral freedom of fellow citiznes... he would have been equally horrified at the current state of the federal government based on the actions by consewrvatives and liberals both. Indeed, for either party to claim kinship with Jefferson, at this point, is to befoul the name of one of the great political thinkers of the 1700's. Jefferson never would have approved of entitlements, Equal Oppurtunity, or Medicare... but then he wouldn't have approved of DHS, the invasion of a sovreign nation and a National Debt that has no signs of getting better. He would likely not have approved of any of the amendments that Congress has recently considered (marriage, flag burning) because he apparently felt that the Constitution was a governor/limiter for the government not for the people. Clearly the Constitution states that ALL Rights not directly mentioned are reserved for the People.

Its a shame that we have few, if any political leaders that reflect anything of our founding principles.


Posted by: Ratatosk at July 3, 2006 09:15 AM

Now this wavelength is worthy.

A positive and moderate Muslim leader who endorses tolerance and fairness and opposes the use of bomb laden children in shopping malls is sorely needed.

What great advances the Muslim world would enjoy with a powerful charismatic leader who would mend fences between factions and the democratic free world.

Oh a P.O. Box.. Damn! now there is no excuse for not sending you $20 from time to time. TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at July 3, 2006 10:34 AM

"Its a shame that we have few, if any political leaders that reflect anything of our founding principles."--Tosk

Thanks for the Jefferson primer. Since I am far too lazy to actually do the research myself I sincerely appreciate the input of those who actually know something.

As for the 'founding principles',lament, you are clearly on solid ground here. You could in fact have left out the adjective and still been 100% on target. I'm not sure if 'successful' politicians lack principles as a starting point or whether whatever principles they might possess catch the first bus out of town soon after election, but the results are exactly the same.

We might as well be watching ourselves decay in the Byzantine Empire while the 'Blues' and the 'Greens' beat themselves senseless over nothing whatsoever.

Surely it was not always like this. Was it ?

Posted by: dougf at July 3, 2006 11:08 AM

At first I rejected your suggestion to send you money as somewhat ludicrous. How much is one little news article worth anyway? $00.05 or so? Then I read the article. This is revelation. I'll be sending you $5.

Perhaps you would be interested in reading an article laying out a POSSIBLE theory postulated well before the events of 9/11 that the Anti-christ will be a Kurd holding power over a newly constituted Kurdish nation carved out of Iraq, Turkey and Iran? It's pretty interesting.

**** A small excerpt: From Daniel 8 we know that the "little horn" of the Antichrist grows up out of one of the four kingdoms of Alexander the Great, the Grecian Empire. These four kingdoms were Egypt under Ptolemy, Western Turkey under Antigonus, Syria/Seleucia under Seleucus, and Thrace under Lysimachus (Daniel 8:8-9,22-24). Additionally, Daniel 11 informs us that the Antichrist and the "little horn" are associated with the Kings of the north. He stands up in the estate of the kings of the North as the successor to the Seleucid empire who were the Biblical kings of the north and whose kingdom was one of the four to arise out of the Grecian empire after the death of Alexander the Great (Daniel 11:6, Daniel 11:21-45). Unlike a European or Roman antichrist, Kurdistan is centered in this geographic region that was once ruled by the Seleucids.

Other Biblical passages confirm these details. According to the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Antichrist is associated with the north, and the people of the north, or coming from the north (Jeremiah 46:10, Ezekiel 38:15, 39:2). ****

Here's a link to the article:


I'll be sending a print-out of it along with my $5

Posted by: Scott at July 3, 2006 11:42 AM


Surely it was not always like this. Was it ?

I hope not. I think several things went into the changes that we see today.

There were, it appears, all sorts of arguments in early adminstrations about the role of government in personal life. For the most part, though, the federal government seems to have been somewhat controlled (in some sense) up and until the Civil War. While the Civil War did provide some value (freeing slaves is a good thing) it did so as a side effect and at the expense of the entire nation. Remember, we now know that Lincoln was more than ready to allow the 'slave states' to retain their slaves, if it would have induced them to remain in the Union. To quote Lysander Spooner, a lawyer and abolitionist of the time, "The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals."

I found his overall essay "No Treason" to be one of the more interesting in the world of political philosophy at the time, especially since he was, himself an abolitionist. If you'd care to read it, it can be found online at: http://www.lysanderspooner.org/notreason.htm

Beyond that, we have found ourselves supporting a coatrie of career politicans. Most of our early politicans had other jobs and served for a relatively short period of their life. People like Sen. Byrd and others, though have become a fixed, stationary and perhaps stagnant part of our Legislative Branch. Too, the rise of Industry and corporations (and the subsequent SCOTUS decision that gave corporations the rights of individuals) has allowed our government to more easily hear the wealthy few, rather than the general constituants.

All of these seem to have long been problems to some extent. Now however, they seem much more prominent and influential. Too, the rise of the legislation of morality has been a particluar problem. The Prohibition was a good example, where the People had no desire to not drink, but the government enforced the will of the few, upon the many. This holds true today, with marijuana and many other areas where, perhaps the government is not best suited to rule. If the Rule comes from the people, then it should not be in direct opposition with the will of the people. Yet, we find, more and more, this seems to be the case.

Too, I think the MSM should bear some blame. While the news media has always played in politics (and been played by politicans), they never before have had the invasive power that Cable News and huge corporate news indurtries have today. When people were spending 12 hours a day planting a field, it was not all that useful to get upset with every misdeed and misstep of every politican. But, today, we spend 12 hours watching Hannity, 360, Jon Stewart, Paula Zahn, Brit Hume, and any other individual with an agenda and the psychological training to persuade people.

All in all, I don't think there's a single element that has caused our political mess. There are political issues (legislation of morals, federal entitlements, etc) and there are social issues (career politicans, agenda based media, etc) and, in all honesty, the most guilty (and innocent) of all, the damned American Citizen.

Every election year we talk about "holding our nose and voting for the least horrific choice", when neither cannidate seems worthy of the job. Then afterward, we support the nitwits instead of holding them directly accountable for their actions.

Sorry for the soapbox, I'll get down now.


Posted by: Ratatosk at July 3, 2006 01:33 PM

Very insightful article, Michael. I have visited your blog for some time now and am always amazed at the perspective you present for that part of the world. Your hitchhike with the Joe deserved a link on my blog.

I do get the impression that Ali believes his religion is superior and that Islam should be entwined in all aspects of everyday life for every human being. I am relieved of his moderate position.

Posted by: Trickish Knave at July 3, 2006 01:37 PM

John Stewart

The difference between John Stewart and Sean Hannity is that Hannity motivates people to participate in the process, while Stewart convinces people that it's all crap and why bother:

Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?


I'm not complaining though. America benefits anytime a Lib sits out an election.

Posted by: Carlos at July 4, 2006 10:56 AM

exellent :).

Posted by: Wissam at July 4, 2006 01:11 PM

Ratatosk makes some good observations from the soapbox.

I personally do not use marijuana but making the weed legal to grow and use seems to undercut criminals and return vast tax revenue to government.

It would free law enforcement to supress the really poisonous drugs as well.

Booze is the drug that makes people mean and nasty while weed makes people mellow and hungry.

Selling weed smokes just as cigarettes are sold seems such a logical move. $60 a pack would keep kids from excessive use and away from crack heads in dark alleys.

Kids can get MJ anywhere so why not make it available free of added poisons and chemicals that could lead to other drug addictions?

People no longer go blind from drinking bad alcohol. Why not regulate MJ? No need to keep sending kids to bait and switch dealers. TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at July 5, 2006 02:26 PM

The name of the Ansar al-Islam offshoot may be Komala

Posted by: Natasha at July 6, 2006 10:08 AM

This link basically sets out just how dangerous these people are. Implementing Shar'ia is a big step to dictatorship. Why Michael thought this thug was modereate is beyond me. The fact that after what I assume is an extensive search this is the best he can do, only shows that Moslems are generally extremists.

Posted by: Seymour Paine at July 7, 2006 06:52 AM

Michael... Here*s where you can cash in.

Canada*s Macleans Magazine will just die for your stuff. First person travel... Turkey and Northern [Kurdish] Iraq. Try it.

This you will find interesting..

A security Q&A about Canada with Moderate Muslim leader Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi.



Posted by: TonyGuitar at July 11, 2006 08:54 AM
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