Friday, September 17, 2010

"Those that surrender tamely are finished."

"Nations that go down fighting shall rise up again;
those that surrender tamely are finished."

As hagiography does, it just doesn't get any better than the HBO biopic about Winston Churchill, Into the Storm. It might be cliche, but it must be said that this is stirring stuff indeed.

Even if you are familiar with the historical facts, it is still a shock to the system to watch such a convincing portrayal of England's Darkest/Finest Hour. Two hundred thousand British soldiers were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk at the end of May, 1940. It was feared that the vast majority of them would be either killed or captured by the advancing Nazi armies. If that happened, Hitler would have uncontested control of all of Europe. And if that had happened, well, it could very well have changed everything.

But somehow the British managed to not only evacuate their own troops, but also nearly 150,000 French troops as well. It was at this point that Churchill delivered one of the great speeches not only of the 20th century, but of all modern history and arguably of all time:
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

Even though large parts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.
The heart of this film, directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan, is the masterful weaving of Churchill's words together with unfolding historical events that called those words forth. And it is Brendan Gleeson, playing the lead role, who makes those words come to life. Gleeson's performance is staggeringly good, and he won a well deserved Emmy for it.

The quote at the very top of this post ("Nations that go down fighting ...") is actually apocryphal. It is supposed to come from a cabinet meeting in May of 1940, but there is no precise record of what Churchill said at that meeting.

Here is another quote, but one that is not apocryphal. It is from Churchill's six volume History of the Second World War, and it is also inscribed on the pediment of the statue of Churchill in Fulton, Missouri:

In War: Resolution
In Defeat: Defiance
In Victory: Magnanimity
In Peace: Good Will

Blasphemy, Part Deux

"Isn’t it a little too much to have tolerance and delicate forbearance preached by what is intolerance and cruelty itself?"
[from Religion: A Dialogue,
by Arthur Schopenhauer, 1889]

Islam is a religion that was founded by proud warriors on horseback. It is a religion whose adherents have conquered vast empires, and, in so doing, have spread their faith to the far corners of the earth, including, at one time, over one third of Europe. It is a religion in which it is considered an honor to be called "Saifullah", or "The Sword of Allah," and in which the sword is a commonly encountered religious symbol. It is the religion that gave us the word "Assassin."

So why do so many moden day Muslims insist on acting like hypersensitive drama queens and whining crybabies? Instead of behaving like reasoning, self-respecting, civilized human beings with their own centuries-long cultural tradition, the slightest imagined offense causes them to descend into bloodthirsty savagery. And then the ones who aren't raging and rioting (or blowing things up or cutting people's heads off on youtube) expect to be congratulated and praised as "moderates" and "bridge-builders" -- even while they demand that the rest of the world refrain from provoking the non-bridge-building-non-moderates -- or else.

In the West we are fortunate to have the freedom to not only question and criticize, but to openly condemn, mock and ridicule individual religions, as well as Religion itself. Historically, Christianity has been the most common, but certainly not the only, target of this kind of decidedly unwanted attention. And no one should be under any illusions about what Christians think of having their religion critiqued, let alone mocked, whether this is done with accompanying fart jokes on South Park, or with National Endowment for the Arts funding and hung in a museum, or put to music and posted on teh inernets, or performed by stand-up comics getting a cheap laugh out of pedophilia, or in the form of t-shirts worn by frat-boys (or the thongs they buy for their girlfriends), or on the bumper of the car in front of you on the way to work, etc, etc.

There has, in fact, been significant and determined resistance from Christians to any and all forms of criticism directed against them and their faith. There have been frequent attempts, up to today, to silence and punish those who dare to criticize Christianity. Sometimes these attempts are even successful, but for the most part we have succeeded in establishing, in principle, the right to think and say whatever we want on matters of religion. And that is a good thing. For everyone.

In particular, it's a good thing for Christians themselves, for they have often been the target of the most vicious persecution intended to silence criticism within Christianity. But the days of heretic-hunting are over, and now Christians enjoy the right not only to voice criticisms of their own religion among themselves, but even to turn against Christianity altogether and leave it behind. And only when that freedom is real and solidly established can people genuinely be considered true Christians in their hearts, for, as Samuel Butler wrote (sometime around 1670):
He that complies against his will
Is of the same opinion still.
Despite the fact that a great many of their coreligionists have given evidence to the contrary, there are Christians who have come to understand and appreciate that it is essential for a person to be truly free to reject Christianity in order to freely choose Christianity. When will the followers of Islam come to a similar understanding? When will they cease to debate amongst themselves what the proper punishment for apostasy should be, with the most commonly accepted answer to that question, and the one traditionally espoused in mainstream Islam throughout its history, being death?

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf very recently acknowledged the importance of just this kind of freedom, when he spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations this Monday, September 13, 2010:
In America, we do protect these differences. We protect different expressions of faith. We assemble in our various houses of worship to pray, to chant, to recite our sacred scriptures, or simply to come together in communion and draw together and draw strength as a community. But religion in America is not imposed on us: We can be as devout or as agnostic as we like.

That choice -- to be or not to be religious, or anything else for that matter -- forced me to think about who I was, who I am, what I truly wanted and chose to be; and has given me a profound appreciation for the country that provides these freedoms. In that sense, you could say that I found my faith in this country. So for me, Islam and America are organically bound together.

But this is not my story alone. The American way of life has helped many Muslims make a conscious decision to embrace their faith. That choice, ladies and gentlemen, is precious, and that is why America is precious.
Unfortunately, Rauf dances around the real issue with a wink and a nod. After all, hadn't he just returned from a whirlwind tour of Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates? Did it occur to him to talk up this "precious" freedom, the kind of genuine religious freedom that is only possible when there is the freedom to reject Islam, or any other religion, or all religions whatsoever? Rauf has never been shy about criticizing the West and the US in particular, even going so far as to condemn America for having so much "Muslim blood" on our hands. But where is his condemnation of the real oppressors of the Islamic peoples of the world: the societies where Muslims live under their own self-imposed ideological totalitarianism?

In the case of Bahrain, for example, the introduction of a limited amount of "democracy" in recent years has led to less religious freedom, as rival Islamist parties compete for popular support by attempting to outdo each other with proposals for ever more medieval theocratic legislation, such as the newly approved law prohibiting witchcraft and sorcery!

Imam Rauf wonders why people don't trust him. Maybe it is because he only praises religious freedom when he is safely on American soil, and even then only as a ploy to try to dampen opposition to his dream of constructing a lavish monument to Islam at the site of Islamism's greatest and bloodiest modern victory. And anything Rauf says about America's religious freedom these days is just an asterisk next to his incessant accusations that we are, in fact, a nation of Neonazi Islamophobic bigots.

The truth of the matter is that for all of his pretended appreciation of the "preciousness" of the freedom "to be as devout or agnostic as we like", Imam Rauf and his "progressive" cheerleaders have already succeeded in seriously eroding an essential component of that freedom: the freedom to criticize Islam in America.

On Monday (Sept. 13 -- the same day imam Rauf addressed the Council on Foreign Relations) the New Jersey Transit Authority announced that they had fired Derek Fenton (who had worked there for eleven years) because he had publicly burned pages from a Koran on September 11th near Ground Zero. The Transit Authority stated that: "Mr. Fenton’s public actions violated New Jersey Transit’s code of ethics."

New Jersey Governor, Republican Chris Christie, has publicly voiced his support for the decision to punitively fire Fenton for exercising his Constitutional rights. The mainsteam media has completely ignored the story of Fenton's firing, which has led some right-wingers to point out the glaring contrast between Fenton's invisibility and the attention lavished on Colorado teacher Jay Bennish, who was fired for comparing then US President George W. Bush to former German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Bennish's story not only received prominent coverage, but it was consistently portrayed in the media as a cut and dried "free speech" case in which Bennish was clearly in the right, or at least well within his rights, Constitutionally speaking. (Bennish was eventually reinstated.)

And then yesterday (Thursday, September 16) word spread that Molly Norris, the young cartoonist who had gained world-wide attention when she proposed the idea proclaiming May 20th as "International Everbody Draw Muhammad Day", had gone into hiding after having received warnings from the FBI that she was in danger.

Norris now joins with good company: Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Geert Wilders, Wafa Sultan, Sooreh Hera, Ehsan Jami. The truly frightening thing is, though, that in the past people who were threatened by the Religion of Peace used to flee to the United States for their safety! But now even American citizens are being forced to go into hiding, move to someplace where no one knows them, change their identities .....

Meanwhile, Imam Rauf & Co. continue to advise us, like the good "moderates" they are, to do exactly as the extremists demand, so that no one gets hurt. And even though he now claims to understand that the idea of building a mosque at Ground Zero was a mistake, Rauf also claims that he is powerless to move his $100M mosque, for fear of unleashing a savage outburst of attacks against "our people, our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens."

One might expect that true Islamic moderates would not menacingly insist that non-Muslims must at all costs avoid even slightest offense against the malevolently psychopathic elements of the world's second largest religion. Rather, shouldn't they concentrate on admonishing their fellow Muslims about the shame and humiliation they bring on themselves every time there is another killing spree over a cartoon? Imam Rauf's response might be that if he were to issue a condemnation every time there is a death threat, or a physical assault, or an act of terrorism, or a wave of riots, etc, by so-called "Islamic extremists", well, he wouldn't have time to do anything else. But that, really, is the whole point. And so long as that is the case, there is no reason whatsoever to pay any attention to the Sufi imam as he drones on about interfaith dialogue, "community centers", and the bogeyman of Islamophobia.

[Also see the previous post on Blasphemy, and links therein.]