Sunday, September 25, 2011

Palestine: To be or not to be?

   Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request for recognition as a full-member state to the United Nations on Friday, September 23. He was encouraged by the heartfelt applause of most of the delegations attending this historic meeting of the General Assembly.

    “I call on the Secretary-General to expedite the transmission of the document to the Security Council and call upon them to vote in favor of full membership,” said Abbas, looking very tense.
    “The goal of the Palestinian people is the realization of their inalienable national rights in their independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the land of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the June 1967 war,” Abbas told the General Assembly.

    Thousands of jubilant, flag-waving Palestinians, watching on outdoor screens across the West Bank, cheered their president on Friday as he submitted his historic request for recognition of a state of Palestine to the UN.
    Abbas’ defiant stance, pushing for UN recognition over strong objections from the US and Israel, has struck a chord with Palestinians increasingly disillusioned after nearly two decades of failed efforts to bring them independence.
    Abbas has said negotiations remain his preference, but that he will not resume talks - frozen since 2008 - unless Israel agrees to the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline and freezes all settlement construction on occupied land. "The American administration did everything in its power to disrupt our project, but we are going through with it despite the obstacles and the pressure because we are asking for our right."
    When this document is received by the Council, it may take many weeks or even months for a decision on this request. Yet it is widely expected that the US will exercise its veto if a majority of the Council does decide favorably.
    Even if this request is approved, it will not change anything on the ground, but it does represent a moral victory for the Palestinians. Israel would remain an occupying force in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and continue to restrict access to Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Hamas militants.
    A state, under international law, generally needs to possess four qualifications: a permanent population; a government; defined territorial boundaries; and the ability to enter into relations with other states.
   The first two clearly exist in the Palestinian territories. And the boundaries were determined already in 1949. But the last point - relations with other states - is fuzzy: Technically, the Palestinian Authority is only responsible for domestic governance, while the Palestine Liberation Organisation deals with foreign relations. The Palestinian legal organisation Al-Haq, though, has argued that the PLO and PA are increasingly one and the same.

    Israel, as expected, rejected this request immediately. Speaking shortly after Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjmin Netanyahu responded, “The truth is that Israel wants peace with the Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace.” He argued that statehood for the Palestinians could only be achieved through negotiations.
    The Quartet of the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia urged both parties to draw up an agenda for peace talks within a month and produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months. These mediators hope that a final deal can be reached within a year.
    Abbas responded on Saturday that he would not agree to any proposal that disregards Palestinian conditions for resuming peacemaking. His willingness to stand up to Washington has won him newfound respect at home, where he had been considered a lackluster leader.

    Abbas' authority only extends over the West Bank. Gaza is under the control of Hamas, which refuses to accept the legitimacy of Israel, and has as its goal the elimination of Israel and the Palestinian Territories with an Islamic Palestinian state.
    My concern in this posting is not to repeat newspaper accounts of this momentous event, but to expose the underlying religious issues that have previous attempts at negotiations so difficult. The Arab League states, with large Muslim populations, support Palestine, as can be seen in the map below. Some (in the dark green) have been in war with Israel.

    There are other predominantly Muslim states that also support Palestine. Turkey, which until recently was an ally of Israel, has lately pressed for Palestinian statehood. But it is not only Muslims that are pro-Palestinian. There are many Christians in the region, including Palestine itself, that want Palestine to become a state.
   Many European and Latin American nations also support this cause. The list is growing longer by the day. Even France seems to be moving in this direction. Many NGOs are also on board.

   Israel, in contrast, has few friends in the region. It's most stalwart ally is the US. President Obama has supported Israel so faithfully recently that he has been called the "first Jewish President" (
   Obama has said a Palestinian state can only be established as a result of negotiations, and that there is no short-cut to Palestinian independence.
   Canada also strongly supports Israel. In both the US and Canada, there is a significant Jewish vote. Obama is facing an uphill struggle for reelection and needs Jewish votes. In Canada, Prime Minister Harper achieved a majority government in part through Jewish voters, especially in Toronto, switching their votes to the Conservatives.
   Yet even in North America, there are many people who do not endorse the official positions of their governments. Instead, they point out the hypocrisy of Israel in rejecting the Palestinian request of UN recognition of its statehood. After all, that is the position that Israel itself was in in 1948.
   Will Palestine become a viable state in the near future? Only time will tell. But if the Palestinians do not achieve statehood this time, whether through negotiations or at the UN or both, then the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead. 
   Then only the single-state solution (or possibly a one and a half-state solution, as I have written about previously) will be left. But then, as the demographics will show, Israel as a Jewish state may sink in an Arab-Muslim sea.
   If the Israelis were wise, they would cut their losses and retain their Jewish state in perpetuity. Instead, they want to reserve large parts of the West Bank for Jewish settlements and ultimately annex it. Because of their greed, however, they are in danger of gambling away everything.
   To grant the Palestinians non-member state status at the UN, as many have speculated will happen in response to the Palestinian request, will only postpone the inevitable: the recognition of a Palestinian state.
   Not even the defensive wall that the US through its veto has built around them may be enough to protect the Israelis, especially if the Arab Spring becomes the Arab Fall (or even the next Arab Spring) when even more Arab regimes fall.

   The Israelis with their Western backers currently hold the most important cards enabling them to decide whether Palestine will become a state. But that may change if more and more countries recognize the Palestinians. At the moment 120 nation do. Finally, it is not the UN that will eventually recognize Palestinian statehood, but the nations of the world.
   By exerting their collective influence at the UN, these nations can play an important role in forcing the Israelis to make the right decision: the creation of a Palestinian state, where Muslims, Christians, and even some Jews will be able to live peacefully together, side-by-side with a Jewish state, where Jews, Christians and Muslims can do the same behind secure borders.
   Many Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been praying for a longtime that this may happen. I believe that God will hear these prayers for peace, and will thwart the plans of those who are only interested in promoting the cause of their own religion, especially if they resort to violence.

   Hamlet may have puzzled over his continued existence. But the Palestinians today are pondering a very different existential question: their birth. Let us pray that this birth may be successful and that it may not be delayed any longer.
   Shalom! Salaam! Peace! That should be the cry of each and everyone who has heard about the Palestinian request. May God answer these prayers soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

  "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a popular phrase that is often used to disparage statistics that do not properly support a particular position. Humans have a fondness for numbers, but unfortunately those numbers are sometimes misused or even abused.

   Mark Twain popularized the saying in "Chapters from My Autobiography," published in the North American Review in 1906. "Figures often beguile me," he wrote, "particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

  This phrase cannot be found in any of Disraeli's writings, however; moreover, it did not appear until after his death. It has been attributed to many people before Twain since then. The actual authorship does not really matter, but the phrase does. It is memorable, although misleading, since it suggests that statistics are the worst kind of lies. 
   Statistics are part of everyday life. One cannot avoid them. Over breakfast, you read the sports pages to find out how your favorite team fared, or you turn to the business pages to check how your stocks (assuming you have any) did yesterday. You can also find these and other statistics online during the course of the day.
   Statistics are not necessarily true or false, but like everything else in creation they can be misused, willfully or not, and even blatantly abused. Thus we ought to be very careful in how we interpret the statistics that are fed to us. The media are sometimes guilty of contributing to this misuse. We must learn to take statistics with a large grain of salt (even though salt is dangerous for our health, as statistics show).

   Just a few examples of serious abuse of statistics. Extrapolation is a very common but potentially fallacious one. Pity the poor woman who is subjected to the following argument:
  My graduate students often confuse correlation and causation. The latter is very difficult to prove, as I constantly had to remind them. The chart below illustrates this point well.
   There are other popular statistical devices that are commonly used by writers. I admit that I too have used the following device occasionally in my postings, although I used it in order to illustrate a problem and to motivate a change in attitude rather than to convince people to give up something they enjoy (like ice cream) for an abstraction (such as sending children in Africa to school). Laying a guilt trip on people is not an appropriate use of statistics, but it is easy to do.

   Yet there is an appropriate use of statistics that do not lie, especially those that relate to the natural world.  For example, Russia is the largest country in the world at 17,075,400 sq km and Canada is in second place with 9,970,671 sq km. Such statistics are not debatable, give or take a few sq km. 
   Other statistics are more debatable, however. To give just one example, in Nigeria the results of the 2006 census revealed that the population of Kano in the largely Muslim north was bigger than that of Lagos. Not surprisingly, southern Nigerians dispute these statistics. 
   In fact, they dispute many of the 2006 census results, including the fact that there are at least 3.5 million more males than females of all ages in Nigeria. I was present during this census. It was a mess. Even the dead were counted in some cases in order to inflate population figures.
   Every census in Nigeria has been highly disputed. The reason for the dispute is not really religious, but it is political, since seats in the legislature and federal funds are all apportioned on the basis of population.
   Religion was excluded from the census on purpose, since it is such a divisive issue. Muslims claim that they constitute the majority of the Nigerian population. Christians, not surprisingly, disagree.
   The CIA World Factbook supports the Muslim claim, insisting that 50% of the country is Muslim and only 40% Christian. Regarding the population of major cities, this source reveals that Lagos is more than three times larger than Kano, although it does support the sex ratio result of the 2006 census.
  Operation World, on the other hand, insists that currently the population of Nigeria is 51% Christian and 45% Muslim. These two sources cannot both be right at the same time. However, both are biased, although in different directions. 
  There is one reliable way to discover the religion of people without resorting to a census. Every child in Nigeria is required to have a health card, and mothers must dutifully list the religion of their children. I suggested this as a useful piece of research to some of my students, but no one has done so yet.
  When it comes to religion, Operation World is very reliable. I use it often when researching the faiths of various countries. As with all statistics, it is wise to compare it with other sources. 
   Religion is too important in life to let people misuse statistics to bolster their own faith and to attack other faiths. Yet religion must be talked about openly, and statistics are one way important way to do that.
   Neither the CIA World Factbook nor Operation World can afford to abuse their figures. Yet both have a readership that they are trying to reach using their own statistics. To be aware of this is to be forearmed.
    Another source that I find very helpful is Pocket World in Figures, published by the Economist. In my opinion, this is the best news magazine in the world, and this pocket-sized work is very useful. Its major failing is that it excludes religion, which is not surprising considering the economistic bias of the magazine. If you want to know what country has the highest GDP per head (Luxembourg), here is the source. Bermuda is number two, with a per capita GDP that is more than twice that of the US (which is in 20th place).

   I hope this has been helpful. I am not an expert on statistics. I only want to show how easy it is to misuse them. Statistics are not lies per se, but they can be used to support a lie. As I learned a long time ago, even the greatest lie has to contain a grain of truth if people are going to believe it.
   Let the reader beware!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The causes of violence in Nigeria

   Violence is almost a way of life in Nigeria. Riots occur so often that the world generally pays little attention, except when there is major loss of life. Last week there were more bombings and killings again in Jos, the city where I taught for six years, and which I still visit regularly.
   But last week the attention of the world was focused on 9/11, and thus few of the media noticed what happened in Jos after the end of Ramadan.
   I have witnessed violence in Jos first-hand. I have seen truckloads of bodies being dumped in mass graves; the charred remains of churches, mosques and commercial building, as well as the hulks of cars and trucks, served as mute testimony to this violence.

The ruins of Immanuel Baptist church, which has been burned down three times--
the sign in the front of the building reads, "Father forgive them"

   What are the causes of violence in Nigeria? In order to help explain them, I want to focus on Jos, where much of the violence has been concentrated during the last decade.
   Many journalists blame religion for the violence in the world today. They regard religion as divisive. While religion indeed plays a divisive role in Nigeria, there are other factors as well that are too quickly overlooked: politics and ethnicity, which is another way of saying tribalism.
   Religion, politics and ethnicity are not separate issues in Nigeria. It is difficult to unravel these strands that are so tightly interwoven.
   In Plateau State, in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” the central region between the Muslim-majority North and the largely Christian South, various Christian ethnic groups co-exist uneasily with Hausa settlers who are predominantly Muslim.

Jos is located in the northwest corner of the state

   Jos is the capital city of the state. This is where these different forces clash most often. There are at least two ways in which these various factors interact.
   First, the successive crises in Plateau State represent a contest for resources, especially access to land. A majority of the indigenous people in this state (called “indigenes” in Nigeria) are Christians. Many of these indigenes are tied to the land, and are either peasant farmers or civil service workers.
   The Muslim minority, many of them Hausa settlers, tend to be dry-season farmers or engage in cattle rearing (the Fulani), although they also engage in business. In Jos, most business is dominated by ethnic groups that come from elsewhere in Nigeria, especially the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa.
   Pressures to obtain land were exacerbated after 1986 with the Structural Adjustment Program, which was imposed by the IMF. This led to many public servants, company workers, and military personnel being forced to retire. Many of them returned to the land in order to survive, which exerted great pressure on limited land resources, and made land a highly prized possession.
   One result was that the mostly Christian indigenes refused to accept the land claims of the predominantly Muslim settlers. The ancestors of many of these settlers came to Jos more than a century ago when the tin mines needed workers. But today Muslims claim that they are still not accepted or accorded the same rights as indigenes.
   Second, this issue has become acute because of political rivalry between indigenes and settlers. In Jos the struggle between the Hausa-Fulani and the traditional native tribes (Berom, Anaguata, and Afisare) has become a major factor in the Jos crises as these groups contended for political control.
   The main point that Muslims make is that they are disenfranchised in Plateau State by being excluded from public office through the manipulation of elections. They claim that they constitute the majority in both Jos and Plateau State.
   Christians retort that Muslims are not in the majority in the state, and they are not excluded from the political process. If they do feel disenfranchised, Christians add, this is no different from what Christians from the Middle Belt or the South experience in northern Muslim-controlled states, even though they have lived in the North for many decades.
   Muslims blame Christians for the violence. Again, Christians refute this claim. A careful study of all the conflicts in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims over several decades revealed that Muslims always start these riots and are the first to resort to violence.

A photo taken from near our house, with the nearby market in flames

   For many decades, Christians were rather politically apathetic. They regarded politics as something evil and responded to violence by heeding the biblical injunction to "turn the other cheek." But in the last decade the attitude of Christians has changed. They have become active in politics, no longer allowing Muslims to dominate the political stage.
   With the rising influence of Christians, it is not surprising that Muslims feel excluded in states such as Plateau. But it helps to explain the claims of disenfranchisement by Muslims, who have lost a lot of political strength, not only nationally but also at the state and local level.
   In addition, Muslims feel that, where they are in a majority, they should have a Muslim ruler. Thus it is hard for them to cede the reins of power to Christians, even when they are no longer in the majority.
   In Nigeria there are now more Christians than Muslims, at least according to Operation World, which claims that at the turn of the century more than 50% of the population was Christian, about 40% Muslim, and the balance was traditional religion. Muslims, not surprisingly, dispute such statistics.
   There are no reliable statistics in Nigeria regarding religious adherence, since religion is specifically excluded from the census forms. The most recent census in 2007 again did not list this politically explosive category.
  But in Plateau State, and even in Jos itself, Muslims do not seem to be in the majority, although they are very numerous in Jos North, especially in some areas immediately surrounding the university.
   As part of their change in attitude, Christians have also become proactive in protecting themselves. Now they do retaliate when attacked. And if churches are burnt down, they respond by burning down mosques, although that is not an appropriate biblical response.

The ruins of the Anglican church, where we often worshiped, near the university

   In the various classes that I taught at the University of Jos over past few years, I tried to dissuade my students from resorting to violence, even if only in retaliation for Muslim violence.
  Early in my work at the university, I prepared a discussion paper on active non-violence for a workshop at the Unijos. It was later published and widely used.
   Many of my students were pastors and church leaders, and thus they needed to set a good example for their people. They certainly should not initiate violence or incite others to do so.
   The Bible does not condone violence. Those who do initiate violence or retaliate in violent ways I prefer to describe as “so-called Christians.” Nevertheless, I admit that it is hard for me to say that to people who have lost their churches, businesses, and homes to violence.
   It is important that Nigerians deal seriously with the problem of land ownership, the status of indigenes and settlers, and the consequent disenfranchisement of large sections of the population within their own country.
    They need to take the conversation far beyond the rhetoric of simplistic reporting about religious violence by the media. The fundamental issue is one of human rights that all Nigerians should be able to enjoy by virtue of citizenship.
   The difficult issue of political corruption only exacerbates perceptions of injustice. Yet, if these issues are not addressed adequately, we may well expect the Jos crisis to repeat itself every few years, especially when there are elections.

Danny McCain is second from right, together with two graduates
who had just defended their doctoral theses, I am on the left

   I am very thankful that Christians and Muslims have recently started working together to try to quell violence in Plateau State. My colleague at the University of Jos, Professor Danny McCain has played a leading role in initiating these discussions. They are trying to enlist young people, who might otherwise be rioting, in promoting peace in this state.
   Let us fervently pray that another crisis does not happen, either in Jos or anywhere else in Nigeria.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The legacy of 9/11: The war on Islam

   "In the Middle East and Pakistan, religious discourse dominates societies, the airwaves, and thinking about the world. Radical mosques have proliferated throughout Egypt. Bookstores are dominated by works with religious themes … The demand for sharia, the belief that their governments are unfaithful to Islam and that Islam is the answer to all problems, and the certainty that the West has declared war on Islam; these are the themes that dominate public discussion. Islamists may not control parliaments or government palaces, but they have occupied the popular imagination" (emphasis added, AH). Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Age of Sacred Terror. 

   Today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Like many of you, no doubt, I watched the memorial service in New York City (at least until I went to church). It was a moving event and tastefully done.
   Yet it was a sad day for many people, especially those who lost loved ones on 9/11. It was a sad day too for Muslims. For the past decade the entire Muslim community (umma) has been blamed for the heinous deeds of a few Arabs who happened to be Muslims. That date marks the beginning of what is widely perceived by Muslims as the war on Islam.
   President Barack Obama famously declared that the US is not at war with Islam, but few Muslims anywhere, even in the US, agree with him. "While US leaders may frame the conflict as a war on terrorism, people in the Islamic world clearly perceive the US as being at war with Islam,” as Steven Kull, editor of explains.
   Kull points to the results of the poll conducted by his organization. In Egypt, 92% of those polled believe one of the U.S.'s goals is to weaken and divide the Islamic world, while only four percent disagreed. Seventy-eight percent agreed with the statement in Morocco, and 73% shared that view in Pakistan and Indonesia.
   Many Muslims refuse to believe that Muslims were responsible for 9/11. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that the majority of Muslims from Egypt, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel , Indonesia and Pakistan do not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs. The highest rate was in Egypt where 75% of Muslims do not believe Arabs were responsible.
   The report adds that both Muslims and Westerners are concerned about Islamic extremism. For Muslims, the most common concern about extremism is that it is violent, although in both Egypt and in the Palestinian territories, the top fear is that extremism could divide the country.
   They point to bin Laden's own denial of any involvement: "I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle."
   Most Americans would dismiss Bin Laden's comments as self-serving. The 19 men who hijacked four planes on 9/11 were all Arabs (and thus all Muslims by American reasoning) and all were members of al Qaeda, at least according to The 9/11 Commission Report. 
   As I said in my last post, I am not a supporter of conspiracy theories, yet I am somewhat skeptical about this report, especially its terms of reference and how it was prepared. There are simply too many anomalies.
   Regardless of whether or not al Qaeda was responsible, is it fair to portray all Muslims as terrorists and to wage war against them? If a Muslim does something in the name of Islam, such as destroying the WTC, he is no more a representative of the entire faith than is a Christian who bombs an abortion clinic in the name of Christianity.
   Do we blame all Christians for the recent killings in Norway? Then why blame all Muslims for 9/11 and make them out to be terrorists?

   There are also many non-Muslims who deny that al Qaeda was responsible. Instead, they argue that the 9/11 attacks were intended to shock, frighten, and outrage Americans into accepting the myth that “Muslim terrorists” pose such a serious threat to their security that they should cede virtually unlimited power and money to Bush to carry out a war on terror and thus, by extension, on Islam.
   And they counter the argument for increased security post 9/11 by asserting that terrorism has never posed a serious threat to the American people. The chance of dying of a terrorist attack in the US has always been virtually zero, even in 2001.
   The repercussions of the war on Islam are enormous and frightening, As Abdulkader Sinno, a fellow at the Stanford for International Security and Cooperation, noted already a few years ago: "The Bush administration is following a strategic course that will damage American interests for the foreseeable future." 
   George Bush and his advisors, Sinno explained, have played into the hands of al Qaeda. "Why did al-Qaeda operatives smash 4 planes into buildings and the ground? The reason was to provoke Washington into retaliating indiscriminately, harming the innocent as well as the guilty. Al-Qaeda expected this reaction and counted on it to build support for itself."
   Muslims often point out as well that among the many victims of 9/11 were several dozen innocent Muslims, ranging in age from their late 60s to a couple’s unborn child. Six of these victims were women, including one who was seven months pregnant.
   As part of the war on terror, the administration rode roughshod over the civil rights of all Americans, but especially Muslims. There have been indiscriminate deportations of Muslims. Thousands of Muslims were interrogated by the FBI and mosques were put under surveillance.
   Soon after 9/11, President Bush described the war on terror as a crusade, which was a most unfortunate choice of words. By pointing back to the medieval crusades, it helped to foster the idea of a new war on Islam.
  Few Americans knew anything about Islam before 9/11. Unfortunately, many still know very little about the second-largest faith, after Christianity, in the world. A recent article is very helpful in dismissing some myths about this faith; consult, "What Americans still don't know about Islam":

   In the aftermath of the violence and horror of 9/11, criticisms were made that Muslim leaders and organizations were not outspoken enough in denouncing acts of terrorism. Muslims are constantly perplexed by this accusation, since there were nothing but unequivocal and unified condemnations by the leaders of the Muslim community, both in the United States and worldwide immediately after 9/11.
   For the record, the inhuman attacks of 9/11 were condemned in the strongest terms by virtually all Islamic leaders, organizations, and countries. The Chairman of Saudi  Arabia's Judicial Council stated emphatically, "Islam rejects such acts, since it forbids killing of civilians even during times of war, especially if they are not part of the fighting. A religion that views people of the world in such a way cannot in any sense condone such criminal acts, which require that their perpetrators and those who support them are held accountable. As a human community we have to be vigilant and careful to preempt these evils."

   In the interest of fairness, lest I be accused of American-bashing, let me add another poll result. Most Canadians say the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks left them with a bad impression of “certain ethnicities and religious faiths." More men than women agreed (67 per cent to 51 per cent), but the responses were very consistent across Canada’s regions at 59 per cent.
   Another question was equally revealing. Should Muslims living in Canada receive the same treatment as other Canadians? Overall 81 per cent agreed, with little variation by age or sex, however only 72 per cent of people with less than a high school education agreed.
   Canadians also still have a long way to go yet before such biases become history. 

   How should we respond to the war on Islam? We need to fight Islamophobia. A few suggestions:
   1. Stop treating all Muslims as terrorists. Not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims. I personally know many Muslims. They condemn violence, and have spoken out vociferously against terrorism in any form. The war on Islam was not started by Muslims. They may be offended by the behavior of westerners, but only a very small group of Muslims has resorted to violence as a result.
   2. Stop bashing Muslims. They make a convenient target, just as Jews did during the Third Reich. Islamophobia is a form of racism, and thus totally unacceptable. Don't allow politicians to use Islamophobia as a political tool. That is manipulation, and must be resisted. Imagine how you would feel if you were the target of vicious attacks such as happened to Muslims post 9/11.
  3. Do not repay evil for evil. In Nigeria, where I lived for many years, retaliation is widely practiced. Last week nine members of a Christian family were massacred by Muslims in retaliation for the death of a Muslim man. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. But the Muslims killed them anyway, since "all of them were unbelievers." Should Christians respond by killing more Muslims? Hardly!
  4. Forgive. The gospel reading for today was Matthew 18:21-35, which is the parable of the "Unforgiving Servant." God has forgiven us much, and we in turn must forgive others. This is the only way that this circle of violence can end. Ultimately, anger will destroy us. We need to forgive, as difficult as that is. I have seen Nigerians demonstrate such forgiveness. If they can, so can we.
   This short list does not mean that I condone the attacks of 9/11 that were splashed across our TV screens again today. But we must learn to love even those whom we perceive as our enemies. Hatred only breeds more hatred. The war on Islam has bred more anti-Western sentiments. It has not made Americans more secure. On the contrary, it has only produced more fear. Nor has it ushered in an era of peace. War cannot do that. Peace is more than the absence of war.
   The war on Islam must end, not next year, not tomorrow, but now. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is the appropriate occasion. Too much blood has already been shed. Enough is enough!
   None of us can forget what happened that day, but we must be prepared to forgive. Very few of us were actual victims of 9/11. Most of us did not lose loved ones that day. Why then is it so difficult for us to forgive? Even those who did lose loved ones must also learn to forgive.
   I pray that Muslims will also be able to forgive, in their case, the war on Islam.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The legacy of 9/11: The War on Terror

   "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated … Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists … This is not, however, just America’s fight. And what is at stake is not just America’s freedom. This is the world’s fight. This is civilisation’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. We ask every nation to join us … An attack on one is an attack on allThe civilised world is rallying to America’s side." President George W. Bush setting the agenda for the "War on Terror" in an address to Congress, September 20, 2001.
    Probably the greatest legacy of 9/11 is the "War on Terror" (also known as the "Global War on Terror" or the "War on Terrorism"). My intention is not to provide a history of this war (or better a series of wars) but only to describe very briefly the impact it has made on many people around the world. Note: I will not use capitals for the war on terror in the rest of this post.
   The world changed on 9/11, but not for the better. Peace has been the main casualty. The decade since has been marked by war and more war. 
   In a previous posting, I noted the impact of 9/11 on my travel plans, delaying my return to Moscow by five days. But this is minor in comparison with the impact 9/11 had on many other people. The war on terror increased that impact exponentially. 
   The 9/11 attacks killed 2,973 people, including Americans and foreign nationals but excluding the terrorists. About 303 times as many people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq than in those ghastly attacks.
   More than 130 times as many people have been killed in these wars and occupations than in all terrorist attacks in the world from 1993-2004, according to data compiled by the US State Department.
   More recent figures are unavailable. After the 2004 report showed terrorism at an all-time high, numerous experts suggested that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were fueling an increase in terrorism, and subsequent State Department terrorism tallies have remained classified.
   The graph below estimates the total deaths worldwide, both military and civilian, as 224,475. These numbers will rise as long as the war on terror continues. So far, the end is not yet in sight.

   The cost of these wars since 2001 is approaching $1.3 trillion. This cost only includes the figures for the US; the cost to other countries is not listed here. The above graph gives a total cost of $3.7 trillion to $4.4 trillion for the US alone, which includes future military spending, and above all the cost of looking after veterans, disabled and otherwise.  
   Unlike most of America's previous conflicts, however, Iraq and Afghanistan have been financed almost entirely by borrowed money that sooner or later must be repaid. Unfortunately, the US is now broke. The war on terror has contributed to the recession that the world is suffering from.
   Similarly, the Independent newspaper (30 June, 2011) wrote that the total cost to America of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the related military operations in Pakistan, is set to exceed $4 trillion, which is more than three times the sum so far authorized by Congress in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.
    At $4 trillion and counting, their combined cost is approaching that of the Second World War, put at some $4.1 trillion in today's prices by the Congressional Budget Office.
   But there other less quantifiable costs as well. There are families throughout the world who have lost loved ones. Dreams have been shattered. Hopes have been dashed. Wives have been widowed and children bereft of one or both parents. 
   In addition, there are the broken lives of those who survived but are maimed either physically or mentally. Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD afflicts many military in the US and other countries because of the war on terror.
   Nor should we forget about those who have died from malnutrition or lack of treatment. Not least, these wars may have created some 7.8 million refugees. The famine in the Horn of Africa should also be included in any final tally.
   In the next post I will discuss how the US alienated Muslims all over the world through a perceived but undeclared war on Islam.
   The Independent asks finally what America achieved by such outlays. It concludes that two brutal regimes, those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, have been overturned, while al Qaida, the terrorist group that carried out 9/11, by all accounts has been largely destroyed.
   But, the article notes, in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is democracy exactly flourishing, while the biggest winner from the Iraq war has been America's arch-foe Iran.
   It is estimated that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen spent only $500,000 on organising the 9/11 attacks, which directly cost the US economy an estimated $50 billion to $100 billion
   In 2003, President George W Bush proclaimed that the Iraq war would cost $50 billion to $60 billion. This figure is ironic when compared to the estimated direct cost of 9/11 to the US. Governments that go to war invariably underestimate the cost, but rarely on such an epic scale.
   Moreover, the wars that flowed from 9/11 have been already the longest in US history, and the end is not yet in sight. Even after the US leaves Afghanistan (which may not happen for a while, since some troops will remain for training purposes), there are more than enough other trouble spots in the world to keep the American military busy for many years to come.

   Thus it is not surprising that many Americans are reverting to isolationism, in reaction to the war on terror. The next decade will be different from the one immediately after 9/11.
   This too is only part of the legacy of 9/11 and the war on terror. For a slightly tongue-in-cheek take on 9/11, I invite you to read this article:
   On a personal note. Over the years I have done a lot of travelling. I have visited about 60 countries. But since 9/11, the fun has gone out of it. Security procedures at airports have been tightened and then tightened some more. All bags are checked thoroughly and, sometimes, double checked. Full body scanners have now been introduced at major airports. What will the next step be?

   I used to be able to drive to the US with a minimum of delay at the border. Now I need a passport and can expect long line ups. Tourism has been affected. Today many Americans no longer travel to Canada since they do not have passports, while most Canadians do.
   All of us, no doubt, have our own horror stories about crossing the border in both directions, whether by air, car, or boat. The US and Canada are supposed to be friends, but this friendship has been strained, though thankfully not broken, by the war on terror.
   Many people living in communities near the border have been affected in a special way. The man in the photo (an American) was arrested after he had not reported buying a pizza on the Canadian side of the border in the twin towns of Derby Line, VT and Stanstead, Que. For years he had been able to use the back streets, but now he has to use Main Street and report to the US border service.

   Yet all of these are only minor irritations when compared with what has happened to Muslims post 9/11. The war on terror has affected that faith more than any other. More on that next time. 
   The legacy of 9/11 is growing daily. The war on terror has morphed into a war on Islam.
   Christians ought to be in the forefront of bringing faith, hope and love to a world torn apart by fear and hatred. Is the war on terror also part of our message? What can we do to counteract this negative legacy?
   Please share your ideas.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The prelude to 9/11: A few as yet unanswered questions

    September 11, 2001, abbreviated most often as 9/11, did not occur in a vacuum. It has a history going back at least two decades. We are all familiar with much of that history, but we have forgotten some of the details.
   The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. It is these details and their interconnections that raise many questions, particularly as I began reviewing them when I did the research for this series of posts on 9/11.
   The key person both before and after 9/11 is Osama bin Laden. My questions, which remain unanswered, relate especially to bin Laden and al Qaeda and their role in 9/11 and what the US knew about them. 
   If anyone can answer the questions I will raise, I will be very thankful. But I doubt that any answers will be forthcoming soon, even now after bin Laden's death.
   The American government has not been transparent either in the period leading up to 9/11 or afterward, especially with regard to bin Laden and al Qaeda. The main question is: Why? What is it trying to hide, even now, a decade after that infamous day? Why has it not been more open about the events leading up to 9/11?
   Let me be perfectly clear, I am not someone who by nature is suspicious and sees conspiracies everywhere. But not all the facts as we currently have them seem to add up. In this case, two plus two does not equal four. Hence my questions. 
   Here are some facts to consider:
   In the 1980's, Osama bin Laden ran a front organization for the mujaheddin, who were fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The CIA at the time secretly supported the mujaheddin, in spite of warnings from Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazhir Bhutto to then President George Bush that the US was creating a Frankenstein.
   In the 90's, the Saudi Arabian government also supported bin Laden and al Qaeda. Yet after 9/11, the Bush administration did not criticize the Saudi's for their support for terrorist organizations and their refusal to assist in the investigation of 9/11.
   The first World Trade Center attack on February 26, 1993, was probably not linked to al Qaeda (but it did lead to the establishment of procedures that helped to evacuate many people from the World Trade Center on 9/11).
   During the same decade, there were repeated reports of suspected terrorists with links to bin Laden receiving flight training in schools in the US and abroad. In 1998, the FBI issued a warning to this effect. The CIA, in a separate report, added that Arab terrorists were planning to fly a plane into the WTC. 
   In August the same year, truck bombs, only minutes apart, blew up the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. These bombings, however, were linked directly to al Qaeda, according to US intelligence, which had tapped their phones.
The bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam
   Time magazine, in December 1998, reported that bin Laden was preparing to strike Washington or possibly New York City.
   Late the next year, a US intelligence report stated that Al Qaeda could crash an airplane into the Pentagon, but the Bush administration claimed that it did not hear that report until 2002.
   During this entire period bin laden could have been arrested. The Taliban was willing to turn him over to the US, but the government refused their conditions. The Taliban wanted to transfer him to a third country first, while the US preferred a direct transfer.
   On at least three occasions, the US knew where bin Laden was. Each time the President approved an attack, but the CIA director decided not to carryout those orders, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
   Former President Bush met with the bin Laden family as late as January 2000. In July 2001, bin Laden received a kidney treatment in Dubai, and while there was visited by two CIA agents.
   Immediately after 9/11, the bin laden family was allowed to fly home, in spite of a ban on air traffic throughout North America.
   Then there is evidence that suggests that the US government was aware of several of the hijackers of 9/11 receiving flight training in the US, and on one occasion a FAA official helped one of them pass by providing a translator.
   During the summer of 2001, the US is informed repeatedly about suicide pilots training for attacks on the US by President Putin of Russia and by Jordan and Israel.
   Similar warnings were issued by US intelligence during August. On the 24th, the FBI in Minnesota notified the CIA about their suspicions of a possible airplane attack on the WTC.
   On the eve of 9/11 some Pentagon officials canceled flights after a final warning. It is too bad that the 266 people who died on the hijacked aircraft did not get that warning as well. Former President Bush met with a brother of bin Laden that same evening.
   To top it all off, an exercise was planned for 9 am on September 11 in which an aircraft would crash into the Pentagon. Several other war games were scheduled to the same day.
   None of this evidence is sufficient by itself to accuse the US government of conspiracy, but it does raise many questions. I am not alone in asking these questions. Many of the details that I list here are available in a lengthy report on 9/11, although I am reluctant to call it a cover-up as the report does:
   Whatever did happen that day and in the prelude to it, we still do not know entirely. Today there are still many questions that remain. To call it a cover-up is perhaps too strong, but an accusation of a lack of transparency is warranted.
   Surely after a decade the US government owes it to the American public and especially to the families of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 to be more open about what happened that day and in the lead-up to it.

   Five separate reports were issued about 9/11, but none of them present the full story. Why the lack of transparency? How does one explain all these facts? Even the 9/11 Commission Report has been questioned not only by those living outside the US but also by those within its borders.
   In a 2008 poll of 17 countries, 15% of those surveyed believed the US government was responsible for the attacks, 7% believed Israel was and another 7% believed some other perpetrator, other than al Qaeda was responsible. The poll also found that respondents in the Middle East were more likely to name a perpetrator other than al Qaeda.
   I will not discuss the various conspiracy theories that have been adduced, some already very soon after 9/11. For more information, consult:
   What these theories do indicate is a lack of trust in the US government. This lack of trust is serious, and needs to be addressed. It is one thing for foreigners to be suspicious, it is something else entirely for US citizens to do so. 
   Even if one does not buy into to these conspiracy theories, suspicions such as the ones I have presented do make one pause and wonder what really happened. 
   I am not an American, but I am trying nevertheless to be as sympathetic as possible to a nation in which the wounds left by 9/11 are opened again this week. I don't want add to the pain of those who are still suffering and will continue to suffer, especially on this anniversary.
   In the next few postings I want to examine the aftermath of 9/11. I do not want to add merely another item to the increasingly long list of reports in the media during the week leading up the the tenth anniversary. 
   What I do want to do is open a forum for discussion of the issues that 9/11 raises--not only the questions that I presented today but also the issues that I will examine next when I discuss the aftermath.
   Please stay tuned. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 11, 2001: A personal narrative

    Everyone has their own story to tell about September 11, 2001: where they were when they first heard what had happened, and what impressions the events of that day made upon them. I also have mine, which I want to share as the tenth anniversary approaches.
    My story began the previous day (Monday). I was in Chicago, where I had been interviewed at Wheaton College for the presidency of a seminary elsewhere (although a finalist, I did not get the position). After the interview, people invited me to stay an extra day, but I decided to keep my reservation to Toronto for later that evening. I explained that I had to leave for Moscow on Wednesday.
   It was a good thing I did. Mine would be the last flight out of Chicago to Toronto for many days. Thankfully I got home shortly before midnight.
   The next morning, as I was listening to the news, I heard about the first plane, Flight 11, flying into the north tower of the World Trade Center. After turning on the TV, I was in time to see a second plane, Flight 175, fly into the south tower. Like millions of people all over the world, I was transfixed with horror at the sight.

   Slowly some details become clearer. I learned there were four flights that day that were responsible for the carnage: two in New York City, the third, Flight 77,  in Washington, DC, and a fourth, Flight 93, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. But images of the first two crashes were indelibly seared into my memory on that momentous day. These memories are still vivid even after a decade.
   My wife and I were packing for our flight to Moscow the next day as we watched these events. We were not yet aware how much our travel plans would be affected.
  That morning I had to return a car to the office of CRWM in Burlington, ON. As I was driving there, I heard on the radio about the two towers collapsing, one after the other, in the space of a little less than half an hour. I saw the first images of this after I arrived in Burlington. 

   When I got home from Burlington, the scene in Toronto was surreal. Not a flight was visible in the sky over the city. Our condo was located on the 16th floor of the building. From our balcony we could see everything to the west, including the airport, but not a single plane could be seen anywhere.
   Normally, the sky over Toronto is filled with planes coming in for a landing or taking off. This abnormal situation lasted for several days.
   We learned that all air traffic had been cancelled for all of North America. Many flights from Europe and Asia, intended for the US, were diverted to Canada, where planes soon filled all the available space on the tarmac in major airports throughout the country.
   Hotels in Toronto, as well as elsewhere in Canada, soon became jambed and appeals were issued for Canadians to open their homes, which they did in large numbers. Many made new friends during those days.
   Unfortunately, we had to leave our condo. Where would we go, if our flight could not leave? The executive director of our organization, as if he had read our minds, called us and invited us to stay at his place, which was nearby.
   Needless to say, our flight to Moscow was cancelled. We had to wait five more days before we could leave Toronto.
   All we could see on TV for days on end were repeat broadcasts of the carnage in New York and at the Pentagon. Like people everywhere, we were thrilled to learn about the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93 by causing it to crash into a field rather than into the White House.
   There was a lot of speculation about who was responsible, but it was difficult to unravel rumors from facts. The implications of these discoveries were to be long lasting. In fact, they are still with us.

   The following Monday we learned that we could finally leave for Moscow. We were warned by the airline to get to the airport at least three hours ahead of time, which we did. But we soon discovered that there was hardly anyone flying out that day. It took us all of 15 minutes to get checked in and go through security, and our flight was nearly empty.
   I did not get to see Ground Zero in person until I visited New York City about two years ago. The first place that we went to the first day we were there was the Ground Zero museum. It was impressive, as were the new buildings that were rising as a memorial to 9/11.

   You have your own story about September 11, no doubt. This was a momentous day for everyone who witnessed the events as they unfolded. Later, as this week too unfolds, I will discuss the prelude to 9/11, and then I want to examine its legacy. That will take several postings: first the war on terror and then the war on Islam.
   My story is a preparation for that, since all of us view what happens around us through personal lenses. We each have our own perspective.
   September marked the beginning of our last year in Moscow. The reasons for our leaving had nothing to do with 9/11. Our situation at Moscow State University, where we were teaching in the philosophy faculty, had become untenable. All foreigners were being forced out.
   The next year (2002) would see us move to Nigeria, where we would be confronted with new problems. There we would witness the conflict between Muslims and Christians at close range. But that, as they say, is another story for another time.