Posts Tagged ‘Jihad’

Letter From New York 02 18 15 The Francis Effect…

February 19, 2015

As I sit down tonight to write in New York City, a light snow is falling though weather.com does not indicate that it a harbinger of bad things to come. So, after a relatively busy afternoon, I have returned to the little apartment on Riverside to write my blog.

Last night I met my friend Dan Pawlus for a drink at the Warwick Hotel on 54th Street and then I went with him to a screening of “The Francis Effect,” a documentary made by the Canadian Catholic television organization Salt + Light about the Holy Father.

Last year, about this time, I was in Rome to speak on a panel for SIGNIS, the organization of Catholic Communicators. In some breakout conversations, the talk was about “the Francis moment.” This Pope had, in a not too long a period of time, altered the perception of the Roman Catholic Church by much of the world.

The documentary last night chronicles the effect of the moment. It is hard not to admire the man. While he has not changed doctrine, he has changed the tone of the conversation. And that is a very good beginning. He has offered gentleness instead of reproach. In the last twenty years the tone of the church has been strident and reproachful; under Francis it is conciliatory. He has challenged the all-powerful Curia and reformed the reputedly corrupt Vatican Bank.

And he has only been in office for two years. It will be interesting to follow the rest of this man’s Pontificate.

When Dan asked me to the screening of a film about Francis, I asked him if it was about the Francis who was a saint or the Francis who would be a saint?

Until I saw legions of people in New York with black marks on their forehead I had forgotten today is Ash Wednesday.

In a remark that is indicative of the man that is Francis, he told people that this year they should fast on their indifference to their fellow man. A grand comment.

Francis is a saintly man but there are very few of them.

To help combat young men and women from the States going to jihad, Obama held a conference on extremism. The US and countries such as France, the UK, and Belgium are all struggling with young Muslims who are seduced to jihad.

There was a striking article in the NY Times today about a young man from Cairo, middle class, educated in private schools, who had abandoned his family and friends and gone off to Syria. He tweeted a picture of himself with a beheaded man. His family is devastated. He got lost somewhere in the tumult that has been Egypt the last three years.

We have medieval values being practiced by men with good weapons. In grisly rumors, IS has been accused by Iraq’s UN Ambassador of killing people to harvest their organs, then to re-sell them on the organ black market. It is a revenue generating operation reportedly.

In Ukraine, the Ukrainian government suffered a defeat today when its forces abandoned Debaltseve, the major rail hub between the rebel areas. They attempted to put a good face on it but there is no good face to a major defeat.

President al-Sisi of Egypt is pressing for international intervention in Libya. He has a problem in the Sinai with insurgents who are aligning themselves with IS [ISIS or ISIL]. He thinks the Sinai insurgents are getting some help from IS in Libya. Libya and Egypt have asked the UN to lift the arms embargo so they can better fight IS.

The snow is still falling lightly. I am getting tired and think I will retreat to bed and read Time Magazine and The Week [my favorite weekly] and drift off to the land of Nod.

A new version of Cinderella is out soon. The Oscars will be this weekend.

And I am prepping for a trip to India. I have been invited to go to the Indian Institute of Technology in Rourkee to speak about American media. I must sort out the intricacies of getting a visa now.

Letter From New York August 31, 2014

August 31, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

Yesterday was the postcard version of a Hudson River Valley day: the sky was a soft blue, the temperature and humidity was moderate. It was a perfect day for the things I did: Saturday chores, going to the Farmer’s Market and collecting fresh fruit and vegetables [ah, the cantaloupe and donut peaches were succulent], followed by a trip to Olde Hudson for cheeses and pate – all in preparation for two friends coming over for a dinner of nibbles and bits over Prosecco and white wine. I took a long walk around my circle, stopping to chat with one of my neighbors. It was a perfect country Saturday.

I slept in lazily today, hitting the snooze alarm more than once, stretching slowly into awake land, followed by a pot of French Press coffee and some time on the deck overlooking the creek, catching up on the world via the New York Times and BBC News, both of whose apps I have on my iPhone. Soft yellow sunlight danced across the deck while the creek flowed lazily down to the pond. 

But then the skies grew darker and the sunlight danced offstage, the blue sky was replaced by nickel grey; checking the forecast I see that thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon.

It felt the sky grow darker as I read the news stories, each one a bit darker than the last. Yesterday evening, my friends and I didn’t confront the happenings in the world until long into the evening. The news of the day came up and we skittered away from it immediately, only returning to contemporary events when we were deep in the evening, comforted by a glass of Prosecco or two.

Out in the Mideast, ISIS is seemingly being more than somewhat successful in creating its Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, cleverly using all kinds of media to further their cause and to recruit supporters from the West to come and devote their lives to Jihad. In the Middle East their message is harsh and brutal: see what we are doing, watch this beheading, see us massacre Syrian or Iraqis, watch us kill the apostate Shia.

In the West, their message is more tempered: come and be with us, you can give up your job and fat life in the West for Jihad because you know your heart is empty and depressed. Jihad is the cure for depression, according to Mohammed.

And to give oneself up to a cause bigger than you can give anyone a thrill of exhilaration, a sense of deadly purpose to the confusion of life and this is what ISIS is playing upon to disaffected Muslims in the West. Come join us; your wives and children will be safe and cared for while you fulfill the Prophet’s higher purpose for you. 

And it is working some; at least two Americans have died fighting for the cause in Syria, one who lived in my home state of Minnesota at least for awhile. It’s hard for me to imagine a Minnesotan fighting jihad in Syria but it has happened. Rather than stressing how good a Western passport is for importing terror to the West, new recruits are being encouraged to burn their passports as a sign they have turned their back on the decadent West and embraced the jihadi cause. We will secure the Caliphate first and then turn our attention to the Satan in the West.

All of this is frightening. Airstrikes have beaten back ISIS in several quarters but the war goes on, as it will go on, as impassioned young men and women, fighting for something they feel is greater than themselves, more important than themselves, seek to upturn the borders made a century ago by the western Allies after the Ottoman Empire fell.

It is amazing and distressing and almost incomprehensible to me that so many are so seduced by such a brutal interpretation of Mohammed. It is as Christians only were responding to the harsh and cruel in the Bible and leaving out the rest – or at least it seems to me. The Islam I studied in college was not so cruel, so harsh, so brutal. It embodied empathy and poetry and human virtues in ways Christianity was not doing in the medieval west.

But here we are. Bloodlust reigns as it often has in human history, always leaving behind a trail of tears.