Letter From New York September 26, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The whole of the Hudson Valley is enveloped in grey, with rain occasionally splottering down on me – though so far the torrential rains promised for this afternoon have yet to appear.

Earlier this week I read a NY Times column by Roger Cohen reminding us that things aren’t as bad as they seem. He was fairly upbeat: he dismissed ISIS as a bunch of thugs in trucks and Putin as a thug running a failing regime. New York is a better place than it has been, perhaps ever. And that is true, he says of a lot of American cities – they are better than they ever were! Hey, even Detroit is beginning something of a comeback.

His article buoyed me through a couple of days, into today, when the grey kind of “got to me” and I began to fret about the world in which I live. The boys of ISIS may just be thugs in trucks but they are killing by the thousands and causing people to become refugees in the hundreds of thousands. They are, unfortunately, effective thugs. Putin may be a thug at the head of a failing regime but failing though it may be, he can still stir up trouble of all kinds.

New York is probably better than it has ever been while it is more unaffordable than it has ever been. Manhattan seems to becoming an island of only the rich. Certainly seems to be the case in Midtown, where Billionaire’s Row is rising.

Yet I cannot bring myself to completely despair – not quite in my nature. But there are plenty of reasons to be concerned, even as some hopeful signs bloom. One of the American auto companies is adding 1200 employees to one of its plants to keep up with demand. That is a good sign. So is that new homes sales reached their highest point since 2008.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said: You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.

The question we face is what is the right thing to do, particularly in the Mideast. The warriors of ISIS are thugs and that’s part of the attraction they offer their followers, the opportunity for uneducated young men to practice sanctioned thuggery. Their wild brand of Sunni extremism seems to be an outgrowth of Saudi religious extremism. Which apparently is causing the Saudi King some concern; he has brought his Kingdom into the fray, his Air Force flying sorties against ISIS.

It is a bit of a diplomatic coup that Obama has managed to put together any kind of coalition to fight ISIS, especially one that includes other Sunnis. [While I am beginning to recognize the differences I can’t tell you what theological dispute resulted in this devolution to thuggery.] I am sure I will learn more as it is impossible to follow world news without also learning more about the nuances of Islam, as multi-layered and confusing, it seems, as is Christianity.

The fear I have is that we are living on the cusp of an Islamic Reformation. Some scholars say we are long overdue for a Reformation within Islam. That does not cause sanguinity within me; look what happened during the Christian Reformation. Wars and pestilence ravaged the land while Christians killed each other because they disagreed with how others worshipped Christ. It was all very unchristian.

And I fear that is what might be happening in Islam. You don’t worship Allah the way I worship Allah and so therefore you are damned and deserve to die. You are heretic. Ah, harkens to that wonderful time known as the Inquisition. Christians refined torture to a delightful degree, practicing it on other Christians.

The easy thing to say is that religion, of any kind, is the root of all evil. But perhaps within religion answers can be found and perhaps Islam can learn from the mistakes of their Christian brothers.

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