27 January 2004

Welcome to the 21st Century

It is time to applaud the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia on taking its first steps toward the 21st Century. Since the middle of October, they hosted both an economic forum - where women were allowed to attend, and its first human rights conference. But don’t get too excited yet.

Freedom in general and freedom of speech and religion in particular are not standards of society in Saudi Arabia. In fact, there are no protections for any minority religious group in that country. According to the U.S. State Department, “Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslim.” Public practice of other religions are prohibited. (www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/14012.htm) Since the Saudi family is Sunni Wahhabi, it practices and requires its citizens to practice a strict sect of Islam, where even Shi’a Muslims are discriminated against, never mind other religions.

Somehow Saudi Arabia managed to conduct its first human rights conference in the capital city of Riyadh. However, during the conference, there was a peaceful protest of several hundred people calling for political reforms in the country. Even women were part of the protest, which is impressive since they are not even allowed to drive. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3191996.stm) The demonstration was quickly broken up since it is against the law to protest against the government. 83 of those protesters were arrested and turned over to the Sharia (Islamic law). (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3306477.stm) The reaction of the Saudi government was great. “What happened was just a limited gathering...this won’t happen again.” So much for freedom of expression, there isn’t any. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3194500.stm)

On a positive note, it’s a good day for those detained by the Saudi government. There’s is a brand new criminal code in place. Torture isn’t allowed any more and they’re even permitted to have a lawyer during questioning and trial. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3191996.stm). They’re moving right along into the 21st Century. Alright, so they haven’t had elections since the beginning of the country in 1932, but I suppose that progress moves slowly.

During the economic forum hosted last week in Saudi Arabia women were allowed to attend. They were allowed to participate and actually speak to the group. Hang onto your seats. Lubna al-Olayan, a leading businesswoman, spoke without wearing a head scarf. Women were even allowed to mix and discuss business with the men in attendance. But surprise, the religious establishment was very unhappy. The highest religious authority of the land, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh commented, “I severely condemn this matter and warn of grave consequences...What is even more painful is that such outrageous behaviour should have happened in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy shrines (Mecca and Medina).” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3415757.stm)

Now the question that all of us need to ask ourselves is why we care about Saudi Arabia. Most of us would answer that we don’t. Let them be a dictatorship, let them treat religious minorities as criminals, let them crush demonstrations, let them treat women as second class citizens, that’s fine with me. The most important part of not caring is that they live far away from us. But this is where we are wrong. We need to start caring about the Saudis because they are exporting their mentality across the world.

According to the Washington Times, The Saudis have sent and funded Wahhabi religious clerics across the world to spread the word of Wahhabi Islam to build mosques and medrassas (Koranic studies exclusively) This word includes anti-American and Western ideals. These schools are subsidized by the Saudis and some schools even offer free room, board, and food. Most of the 2000 mosques in the United States were started by Wahhabi Muslims. (http://washingtontimes.com/commentary/20030715-094951-6104r.htm) A Wahhabi expert explained that Wahhabism is a “death cult; it is supremacist in that it puts Islam ahead of all other religions. It stands for the proposition that Muslims are the natural rulers over all other religious communities.” (http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/11/24/170535.shtml)

By exporting this attitude across the world; to Southeast Asia, to Europe and the United States, Saudi Arabia has undermined what Western civilization has strived and fought for over the last two hundred years. They are undermining the tolerance and civility that we have worked so hard to have toward our fellow man. They need to grow up and join us in the 21st Century.

20 January 2004

Back from Iowa!

I’m back from Iowa! You know, that state just west of Illinois (in which Chicago is located). I had an opportunity to go to the Democratic Caucus. While not a Democrat, I jumped at the opportunity to go. This was a chance to see the process first hand, and I’m glad I went.

I had a great time. I went with a van load of people, two of whom I knew beforehand; my brother and a friend of mine from the Political Science Department. The rest of my fellow travelers I met on the way. Originally my group was meant to go to Iowa City, but instead we ended up in Dubuque. Take a look at a map and see if you can find it.

This was a wonderful experience. I was there volunteering and campaigning for John Edwards the United States Senator from North Carolina. We were put to work talking to local people in the city and outlying areas. We tried to make sure that they were coming to the caucus in their precinct to support John Edwards.

What is a caucus? To be honest, I had no idea until I was in Iowa and found out what this was all about. Caucuses are held all over the many different precincts of Iowa. This meant was that on this past Monday night Iowans would show up to a YMCA in their area, or a school gym, or the local union building, which is where I was. There they would find tables located in the different corners of the room with signs indicating which candidate was positioned there. If you knew who you wanted to support, you’d sit yourself in that corner. If you did not know, you would continue to sit in your chair in the middle of the room. The Chairman running the caucus gave a certain amount of time for all the different groups representing the candidates to try and convince the undecideds in the middle of the room to come to their candidate’s corner. This was the most interesting part of the caucus. These people were actually discussing ideas and policies. They weren’t throwing slogans around without thinking. The undecideds wanted to know what the candidates would do for them before putting themselves in a particular corner.

This was just the beginning. If your group didn’t have at least 15% of the people at the caucus, you had to disband and find another candidate to support. This gave the viable groups a chance to convince the disbanded to join them. Delegates were given to viable groups according to how many people were standing by their candidates sign. Those delegates will go onto a County Convention as well as a State Convention.

Finally, by the end of the process, and the exciting insanity that went along with it, everyone in the room had found a candidate to support. Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich’s groups were not viable and had to find another candidate. In my precinct, many of the Gephardt group came to support John Edwards, and many Kucinich people went and supported John Kerry.

The results of the caucus were very interesting. Senator John Kerry came in first, and Senator John Edwards came in a close second. I had been watching the news over the weekend, and all the political commentators had been saying that the candidates with the most money and best organization almost always won. That would have meant that Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean were shoo-ins. It didn’t happen that way.

The candidates personal style seems to have won or lost the race for them. Dean with his “speak first, apologize later” style really turned people off. Also the fact that he was the first to run negative advertisements against his opponents didn’t do him any good. Dean had plenty of paid volunteers all over Dubuque. But, while he was once on top in the Iowa race, the local people were sick of his supporters always being in their faces.

One also would have thought that the Union support behind Gephardt would have propelled him to victory. But that was not the case. Many people had thought that his time had come and gone, that he had been in Washington too long and had lost as a candidate for president back in 1988. It didn’t seem that he had the power to win against George W. Bush if he got the Democratic nomination. He dropped out of the Presidential race this past Tuesday.

So now after the Iowa caucuses are over, it seems that the political talking heads were wrong. It didn’t come down to the money or the huge organizations. In the end it came down to personality, qualifications and the ability to win against President Bush. Both Kerry and Edwards have great qualifications. Edwards has real personality and has not supported any attack advertisements, unlike Kerry. This will be a fun race to follow.

Iowa was great. The people were the friendliest I’ve ever met, and since we overlooked the Mississippi River, it was also a really pretty spot to be. Who would’ve thought that Dubuque, Iowa would be the place to hang out for the weekend?

13 January 2004

Talk is Cheap

A poor man was going door to door asking for money. He stopped at the first house on the block and knocked. The door opened and a man looked out at his visitor. The poor man looked down at his shoes and asked for a few dollars. The homeowner reached into his pocket and handed the man on the porch a twenty dollar bill then closed the door.

The poor man walked over to the next house and knocked on the door. The door opened and before he knew it, the poor man was sitting on the living room couch. This homeowner asked him about his life and his family and the two men found themselves in a conversation. Finally after an hour, the homeowner walked the man to the door and handed him two dollars.

The question must be asked: Which homeowner is the better person? The answer is the first one. Life comes down to action. Talk is cheap.

The issue of race was raised this past week during the Brown and Black Forum, the last debate before the Iowa Democratic caucus. Candidate Al Sharpton criticized Howard Dean for not having any Black or Hispanic people in his cabinet while being a six-term governor of Vermont. Sharpton said to Dean, “It seems that you discovered blacks and browns during this campaign...if you want to lecture people on race, you want to have the background and track record in order to do that.” (newsmax.com/cgi-bin/printer_friendly.pl?page=http://newsmax.com/archives/ic/2004/1/12/95659.shtml)

Al Sharpton has hit the nail on the head. In order for someone to have credibility in a subject, they have to have a good track record. The same holds for political parties. If they are going to have credibility, there needs to have been action in the past. We need to follow the two major political parties historically to see what action they have taken to move civil rights forward.

Beginning way back with the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln, we know that while the Civil War was not initially fought to free the slaves, freeing the slaves became the rallying cry for the North. After the War, Reconstruction of the South became a new battleground. This meant that former slaves needed to be integrated into society, and the former Confederacy needed to be integrated back into the Union - not an easy process.

The Republican Party became the party for the freed slaves. The Republican Congress of the time passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitutions, declaring that Blacks were now a free people and official citizens of the United States whose right to “vote shall not be denied or abridged...on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (15th Amendment).”

The problems enforcing these new Amendments came from the Democrats. Violence was rampant in the South, and the federal government was unable to stop it. Once the Democrats took a solid hold on the South, it was all over for Black equality. (www.bbc.co.uk/history/society_culture/protest_reform/civil_rights_reconstruction_print.html)

Let’s skip ahead. We see from the voting records that since 1933 Republicans have had a more positive record on Civil Rights than the Democrats. “In the 26 major civil rights votes after 1933, a majority of Democrats opposed civil rights legislation in over 80 percent of the votes. By contrast, the Republican majority favored civil rights in over 96 percent of the votes.” (www.congresslink.org/civil/essay.html and www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1982/3/82.03.04.x.html)

Moving into the 1960s. Democratic President John Kennedy only became interested in civil rights after realizing the country was behind the idea of equality, and not before. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was only passed with the help of the Republicans. House Republicans voted for this Act 138 to 34. Democrats supported it 152-96. Republicans were in favor of this bill in a higher proportion than the Democrats. (newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/12/13/194350.shtml)

According to Jon Kyl, an Arizona senator, quoting a former New York Times columnist, the Republican Nixon administration had “accomplished more in 1970 to desegregate Southern school systems than had been done in the 16 previous years, or probably since.” In addition, the Reagan administration was supportive and pushed for different ways to attract business to the inner cities. (http://truthnews.com/world/2003010033.htm).

Our current President has moved along the same lines. President Bush’s cabinet is the face of America. He has Black, as well as Japanese, Chinese and Arab Cabinet members. In fact, the face that the United States shows to the World is Black. Secretary of State General Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

The point here is simple. When deciding who to vote for this November don’t vote blindly. Look into each candidate and the party they represent. Remember, just because they talk the talk doesn’t mean anything. We know that talk is cheap.

11 January 2004

A Government by the People for the People?

Israel News : Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Brilliant insight! A democracy run by the People? You must be joking...

In Tel Aviv, Israel today, there was a massive demonstration attended by 100,000 people protesting against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's idea of unilaterally leaving Judea/Samaria (aka the West Bank).

Sharon: If the Arabs cannot control their terrorists, we will give them their own country. Wow, idiocy and insanity bound up in one person. Did I miss the logic somewhere?

Back to the demonstration of 100,000 people. Mind you -- there are only 6 million people in the entire country of Israel. One hundred thousand is not a minor group of people that can be or should be ignored.

But then again, let us not underestimate the Prime Minister. The Jerusalem Post reported on Sharon:

"PM Ariel Sharon commenting on the attendance of cabinet members in what is essentially a protest against government policy, said "Israel is a democracy, and decisions are made not by protesters [but] by the government.""

Whoa! We've got brilliance. I think he needs a basic government class.

Sharon: A democracy isn't run by the people! What could they be possibly be thinking? A democracy is run by the government! A democracy hasn't anything to do with the People...no, no, no. Protesting is totally irrelevant to this system of government. We don't need to respond to the demands of the People... What kind of government do you think we're running here? We're going to commit national suicide whether you like it or not...

Note to G-d: Anytime you want to send Moshiach would be great...Thanks.

05 January 2004


Today I found out about the death of Dr. Otto Feinstein who passed away last week on Tuesday, December 30th. He was an amazing person who I had the honor and privilege to meet and work for over the last year and a half at Wayne State University. I wish his family my condolences and that they be comforted among the mourners of Zion. I will miss him.