We True Americans

Again? When did we stop?

I recently posted several blog pieces during our trip to Morocco.  While the reaction of most was positive, many took exception to my positive portrayal of Muslims and the Islamic Faith.

One struck me as shockingly ill-informed; bordering on dangerous.

The comment included a reference to a false meme about a one-time ban on Muslims coming to the US (never happened) often circulated among the jingoistic-inclined nationalists who see Islam solely through the filter of terrorism. The line that frightened me, not because I feared the truth of the statement but because others might see it as truth, was this;

We True Americans must be on guard against Islam.

The comment gave me pause. Someone, and I am certain they are not alone, believes there is such a thing as a “true American” which is both identifiable and necessary for this nation to survive. It made me wonder.

What is the definition of a true American?

So, I went looking.

Is Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim by birth, who died in Iraq serving in the US Army and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service a true American?

Is Humayun Khan, a Muslim by birth, a US Army officer killed in Iraq serving in the US Army and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service a true American?

Is Dr. Ayub Ommaya a Pakistani American who invented the Ommaya Reservoir (used to provide chemo-therapy directly to the tumor site) a true American?

Is Khaled Hosseni, an American Physician and novelist born in Afghanistan best known for his novel “The Kite Runner” a true American?

Is Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University a true American?


Is Charles Manson, infamous convicted murderer and lunatic, a true American?

Is Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber and self-proclaimed Christian, a true American?

It’s easy to pick and choose when one has an agenda. In particular, an agenda based on fear, ignorance, and misplaced nationalistic fervor. Islam represents the third largest religion in the US and the overwhelming majority of its adherents are as appalled by terrorism in Islam’s name as all those self-proclaimed “True Americans.”

Likely, more so.

I would dare say that the remaining members of the Native America tribes we Christians herded and hunted almost to extinction would argue about what a true American is.

That some people lay claim to be the only True Americans is about as far from the very nature of America as one can get.

And it bears remembering when they demand we follow their lead in denying others the same American dream we all enjoy based on their religion or place of origin .

I am fairly certain a true American is better than that.

An Apostate in the Land of the Caliphate: Thoughts on Morocco, Islam, and the Folly of Ignoring Truths

We’ve just returned from a remarkable trip to Morocco, and the experience was beyond anything I had imagined. During the journey, as I often do, I wrote a blog piece about my travels. This piece reflected a positive experience in an Islamic country immersed in the Islamic Religion and steeped in unfamiliar traditions. As someone raised in a predominantly Christian country and having lived in the era of terror activities mischaracterized as inspired by Islam, I wondered what my impression of Islam and a majority Islamic culture would be.

It was enlightening, enjoyable, and reinforced my long-held belief that the majority of Muslims, like the majority of most people, seek nothing more than to live in peace and enjoy their lives. Islam, like all religions, has often been twisted by those who seek to dominate others through abuse of power and by exploiting the uneducated.

Religion has, throughout history, often been a tool used to control those unsophisticated enough to see the true meaning behind the carefully selected words taken from the Bible or the Quran. Words chosen to incite rage, rejection of others, and recourse to violent suppression or invasion.

In the United States, where our embracing education, understanding, and tolerance are often clouded by nationalistic tendencies and simple, unrefined analysis, many people cannot separate themselves from their religion and see the similarities with other faiths, only the differences.  Geography has more to do with one’s faith than any exclusive validity of the doctrine. By the accident of birth, we are raised in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Jainism, or the other thousands of religions or sects.

To borrow the title of an Arthur C. Clark book, there are Nine Billion Names of God, and each is as valid as the next.  It is never the religion to blame for things done in its name. The fault lies with those who purport to speak to their God, who twist the words of their sacred texts, who turns them to the often evil purposes of man.

The reaction to my blog expressing a positive image of Muslims caused an avalanche of mostly supportive comments intermixed with delusional and predominantly uninformed negative remarks about Islam.

These comments were mostly illustrative of willful ignorance wrapped in disingenuous Christian misanthropy of other faiths. When combined with the sophistry of the President and others demonizing an entire culture based on the acts of a few, it creates a dangerous atmosphere of behavior contrary to the foundation principles upon which this country was built.

In Casablanca, we toured the grounds of the fifth largest Mosque in the world, Hassan II Mosque.  The Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II is the largest mosque in Africa. Its minaret is the world’s tallest minaret at 210 meters high.

Hassan II Mosque Morocco

The most exciting part of the Mosque is the motivation behind it.  While the structure is awe-inspiring Hassan II, the King who conceived building the Mosque, established it as a symbol of religious tolerance. Nearby are two Catholic Churches, all within a short distance of the Mosque.

But here is the genuinely exciting part. The Mosque was built mostly with donations. Donations from many people all over the world. Including Saudi Arabia, Spain, Yemen, Egypt and, wait for it, the United States and Israel. People of all faiths saw the Mosque as a symbol not just of the Islamic faith but as a symbol of the many faiths of the world.

We can benefit more from understanding that which we do not than from embracing ignorance inspired by blind adherence to religious tenets. By demonizing Islam here, we lose an opportunity to foster common understanding and reduce the chances for those who would twist religion to their own purpose.

Morocco was the first nation in the world to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation.  Morocco can also serve as a wonderful place to showcase the infinitely more essential similarities between our cultures rather than differences misused by those who choose not to understand.

Nothing could be less American than to deny the words written at the very founding of this nation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Under African Skies…Understanding

Marrakech, Morocco


We’ve been in the country of Morocco since April 9th and not for one single moment have I felt the slightest bit concerned. Contrary to the fundamentally flawed jingoist ignorance of many Americans, Muslims are not jihadist crazed zealots seeking the destruction of America.

As with most things, ignorance ignores truth.There is no such thing as one Islam. There are Sunni and Shia with major doctrinal differences always left aside when right wing zealots, led by an equally uninformed President, call for barring Muslims from the US or requiring them to be registered.

(From a BBC special on the historical split between the two sects)

Members of the two sects have co-existed for centuries and share many fundamental beliefs and practices. But they differ in doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organization.

Their leaders also often seem to be in competition. From Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Pakistan, many recent conflicts have emphasized the sectarian divide, tearing communities apart.” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-16047709)

Most Muslims, like most people, seek nothing more than to enjoy life, raise their families, and live in a free and open world. I think we have more to fear from nationalist fervor than anything rising from the few terrorists who twist Islam for their own selish purpose, or any other misguided religion driven groups.

What is also true is the West bears some responsibility for creating an environment where radicalism rises. (A stage set by our British friends with their random drawing of borders with little regard for the history of the Middle East and Africa.) Our long history of overt support for totalitarian regimes (particularly in the fervor of post WWII anti-communism) and covert action when the government showed the slightest resistance to our policies contributed significantly to anti-American attitude which the terrorist turned to their advantage.

The best way to learn the truth is to seek it. And traveling to a country like Morocco can be a great opportunity. The best part, it works in two directions. We offer a kinder, gentler face of America, countering the rabid ignorance of the Tweeting President.

Our experience here has been nothing but incredible.

These are the faces of Morocco.

The last face is a Moroccan man who walked over to speak with me when we stopped for a break before heading into the desert. Like many Moroccans, he spoke Arabic and French with just a few words of English.

I, on the other hand, had a piece of paper with some English/Arabic and some vague memory of Bonjour and little else.

But by the simple gesture of a smile and a nod, we got our point across. Two men, raised under entirely different cultural backgrounds, could stand under an African sky and convey, without the benefit of words, Hello. How are you? Glad we could meet.

And that is what I see when I’ve encountered a Muslim.

Let’s hope the future is one embracing understanding rather than driving us back to the folly of the Crusades.

Inshalah. Salam

The “Gift” of a Life?

How do you gift a human life?  Someone’s interpretatBible Quranion of the Bible says you can. Read these stories,

Giving my child away because the Bible says I should

Six wives and counting

If there’s an urgency to destroying radical Islam, shouldn’t there be an equal or greater urgency to target fundamental Christians who “gift” a human? Why is it so easy to recognize a twisted interpretation of a Christian doctrine as contrary to most Christian beliefs, but not so when it is within Islam?

Why are we willing to act out of fear and destroy those we do not understand because we see them as broadly representative of an entire religious tradition, yet, when confronted with similar examples of a “Christian” atrocity, we argue it does not represent most Christians.

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the slobbering vitriol to “destroy” these enemies of all that is good?

My issue with religion is the certainty of adherents that their own theology is the correct one and all others are wrong. They hold this secret despite protestations to the contrary. As I am often reminded,

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Those who embrace the fundamental aspects of any religion are equally dangerous in my mind.

One lashes out with bombs strapped to brain-washed adherents who believe they’ve booked a trip to a “Virgin” nirvana.

Another will use cruise missiles or perhaps nuclear weapons to blanketly target 1.5 billion adherents because of the actions of a few.

All in the name of God.

Where’s the “Christianity” in that?


Born in the USA: The Bright Shining Lie of Uninformed Patriotism

Last night we went to the first of six Pawtucket Red Sox games which feature a themed firework display after the game. (I know this may seem like heresy from a Yankee fan, but it is a nice place to watch a game despite the Red Sox aura.)

For the Memorial Day Weekend, the theme was a patriotic one. Commemorating the lives of those who served in the military and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending the freedom of this country and others around the world.

There is much for which this country should be proud. We’ve been willing to sacrifice our young men and women for our ideals.  In the words of President John F. Kennedy, we’ve been willing to,

“pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

We survived and thrived because we valued dedication, intelligence, and determination in pursuit of these ideals. We haven’t always been perfect, no nation or people are, but we have always been willing to learn from our mistakes.

I wonder where that brilliance has gone.

One song chosen to accompany the spectacular and inspiring display was the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in America.”

Odd how an anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex song critical of the way we treat veterans has somehow become a rousing “hurray for America” theme. It strikes me as an indictment of our inability to think things through anymore. Our failure to find solutions to problems. Favoring slogans to rouse emotions over doing the difficult things.

To quote the lines I found most troubling amid the applause and cheers of the crowd,

“Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man”

I couldn’t help but notice the families of many Southeast Asians in the crowd. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the lyrics?

This underscores the rising rampant dangerous nationalism within this country that screams for a “target of opportunity.”  Today’s target is Islam.

But our failing to even bother to understand the meaning of these songs we use as a soundtrack to patriotic displays underscores our failure to understand the nature of warfare today.

In World War I and II we helped defeat a military-supported government seeking to impose themselves on others. One can debate the many reasons behind how these wars started, but the goal was clear.

Today is a different world.  Today is a world of asymmetric warfare requiring asymmetric thinking. We face any enemy of ideas, not divisions and tanks.

We must fight the genesis of these concepts of twisted jihad with intelligence and thoughtful policies, not B-1 stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

Weapons such as these have their purpose, make no doubt about it, but we could double the stockpile of weapons and it would have no effect on the enemy. Calling for the leveling of Mecca or Medina may make for rousing sound bites but would be a wasteful, inhumane, and ineffective policy.

Perhaps we should think about the ideas behind Springsteen’s lyrics.

Wars are started by ambitious politicians but fought by young men and women.

Wars are won and lost by these same politicians. (See Vietnam as an example.)

Our enemies today are enemies of everyone who opposes their ideas. We must bring the world together to fight these insidious twisted 14th-century concepts, not push ourselves into an America first isolationism.

Before entering into both World Wars, we sought to stay out of the “European” problem. That was the world where most people never traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Where communications between countries took weeks.

That is not today’s world.

The time of unleashing “Ole’ Blood and Guts” military leaders of Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur is over. Now, more than ever, we need intelligent policies that utilize the selective application of military power to compliment our once formidable determination.

It is the only way to change the conditions that breed these terrorists.

We have the big stick, we need to remember to walk softly.

I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime, but I hope for a day when we celebrate the passing of the last veteran. For when that day comes, all the sacrifices of every veteran will be worth it.

God is Deaf

The motivation behind the latest terror bombing in England remains to be seen, but I cannot help but be struck by the pleas for an intervention by some Supreme being as a salve to the pain and anger.

One segment offers prayers to the healing power of a god while another offers prayers rejoicing in the blessings of the same god bestowing success in their efforts.

It underscores the dilemma of a god who either can do something to prevent these tragedies but chooses not to or is powerless to stop it. Thus prayers or petitions for intercession are a waste of time.

If it turns out the underlying motivation is some twisted interpretation of another monotheistic text compelling such acts in pursuit of pleasing this same god, all the more tragic is our continuation of similar pleas to our version of the same being.

Until such time as humans learn that our actions affect this time and place in the universe.

Until such time as we understand that our differences need be resolved with words and rational thought, not offerings to an invisible deity.

Until such time as we all realize that each of our lives is intertwined on this planet.

Until such time as humans learn to live with our differences, not seek to impose one way by force of arms, acts of cowardly terrorism, or exploitation of our fellow humans, I fear such acts will continue.

The short-term answer here is to hunt down those responsible and prosecute them within the law. The long-term solution is much more complex.

As long as human beings see these acts through the spectrum of us versus them, of our interpretation of god opposing theirs, of our way as the only way, all the prayers in the world will be lost in a black hole of futility.

Using Apple to take a Bite out of Crime

As most of us know, (and if this is news, you should pay more attention), the Justice department sought Apple Computer’s assistance in bypassing the security encryption on an iPhone.

Not just any phone, but the phone used by the two shooters in the San Bernardino case.

The FBI contends there is probable cause to believe that the phone contains evidence related to the case, may contain names of unidentified co-conspirators, and is a matter of national security. They cannot break the encryption without Apple’s assistance.

Now at first blush, this is a no-brainer. Apple should decrypt the phone and turn over the evidence.

However, upon more contemplation, I think Apple’s position is better for our cherished freedoms.

Now, for those of you who may not know my background, I was a police officer for twenty years. Every job has it fun moments. Ours often consisted of having a search warrant in one hand and a sledgehammer in the other.

Knock, knock we are coming in. One way or the other.

Over time it was inevitable I would see abuses of this system. Warrants obtained on the flimsiest of information. Governmental fishing expeditions usually in the cause of the Holy war against drugs.

Now, that Holy war has a new cause. Terrorism.

In the cause of fighting terrorism, we have lost sight of our original founding principles.

To force Apple to defeat the encryption designed to protect personal data is to start down a road from which we cannot return. The government wants companies to design a “backdoor” into encrypted devices. A door controlled by government.

That is a frightening thought. Imagine the potential for disruption of the political process, privacy violations, and abuse.

To invoke the specter of Orwell’s 1984 has lost some of its once chilling effect. In this world 32 years after that date, it fails to convey the dire warning it once did. Yet we should keep this in mind, Orwell’s warning of “Big Brother” may have been premature, but he was not wrong.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”





Failing Memories: December 7,1941 and American Freedoms

The memory of one of the most tragic days in United States history is fading into the fog of old memories. One news article described it as another generations 9/11.
It is the way of life. Events once thought to be of monumental significance pale against the ravages of time.  The numbers of those most affected slowly eroded by mortality.
That day will come for 9/11 as well.
Someday, those of us who lived through that time in history will follow the same path into death.
What I dread most is not my mortality. What I despair of most is what I see happening to this country. Americans that so cherish their freedoms, paid for in the blood of Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Chosin, Hue, Iraq, Afghanistan, would deny the same freedoms to others because of false perception of differences. Such actions dishonor the heroism of those that fought the wars to preserve the freedoms of this country.
Freedoms promised to all by our laws and Constitution.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President that guided the country through that terrible time after the Pearl Harbor attack, once said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
That fear is now gripping this nation. The once bright shining city on the hill, the beacon of freedom that has served this country so well, would cover the light in order to deny those same freedoms to others because some think we should be afraid.
We did not spend the blood of our men and women in fighting those that attacked us just so someday we would deny freedom to an entire group because we are afraid of a few.
Or do this simply because of a perception that one particular religion is more dangerous than another.
15000 Arab Americans fought in World War II, many of them Muslim. Arlington Cemetery has a number of American heroes who served with valor and distinction earning some of the highest military medals for valor. And they were of the Muslim faith, buried next to Christians, Jews, and Atheists. Americans of all faiths have served this country.
Arlington does not refuse to accept dead Americans by reason of faith or race or ethnic origin, why would America do that the living?
They paid the ultimate sacrifice for the very freedom some of their fellow Americans would deny to others for no other reason but fear..
Where has our courage gone?
Let me be clear about something. Those that seek to destroy us, those that follow some deranged interpretation of religion, any religion, who seek to impose their beliefs on us by force, know well that the US will always win such a battle.
We embrace our freedom. We are willing to share it with those that seek the same and are willing to do anything we have to do to protect it. We will die if we must, but our death will not come without cost.
We will visit death on you if you choose to try to take our freedom and it will be swift and terrible.
What we cannot do is give up any of our principles out of fear. It is not any one faith which poses a danger to this country. It is, as Roosevelt said, fear. A fear which blinds us to the greatness within this nation.
 E Pluribus Unum.
The real danger lies in those that would choose between the right religion and the wrong religion based on their own prejudices and call that being American.
Nothing in more un-American than that.

Selective Outrage

Once again this country is subjected to a dramatic incident of violence. In the rush to be first, the media outlets broadcast a constantly changing cacophony of half-truths and rumors.

Compounding the problem are the bloggers and reporter wannabes in their insular  agenda-driven worlds.

They were practically salivating at the conveniently ethnic origin of the suspect’s name. Whether it has any bearing on the truth or not.

Better to be first, than right.

The inevitable outcry by competing interests will flood the broadcast, print, and social media.

“More Gun Control!” “Less Gun Control!”

“Take away guns and only criminals will have guns.”

“Stop the Insanity”

“Guns don’t kill people, GMO’s do”

They’ll be the usual talk from the opposing political views that either this whole thing is Obama’s fault, or this is the consequence of interpreting the Second Amendment as inviolate.

And then it will fade away. The headline will be replaced, as it always is, by some other tragedy or scandal.

What happened in San Bernadino is a tragedy. A sad example of how much mankind has to go before they can truly be called civilized. Whatever fruitcake philosophy compelled these actions, be it a misinterpretation of religious doctrine or simple prejudice against those who are different, is repulsive.

How we respond will either set the course for positive change or doom us to an uncertain future.

Many will focus solely on classifying this as terrorism and incite the country to use its powerful military forces and bomb something, anything.

Somewhere else of course.

Nothing like the satisfaction one gets from watching the video of a cruise missile launch or a night-vision view of a target being obliterated.

But that will only mask the underlying problem.

The real tragedy here is that we fail to notice this is happening almost every day in our cities. In Chicago for the month of November this is what we apparently missed in the FOX, MSNBC, and CNN headlines.

Thirty-two people were shot and killed

One hundred and sixty-six were shot and wounded

That’s almost two hundred people and that’s just one city. That sounds like the statistics from a war zone. I dare say it is more dangerous to walk some neighborhoods in Chicago than it is in Kabul.

America can, and should, be better than that.

The necessary discussion on dealing with the very real problem of violence in this country will never happen as long as it is headline driven.

Be it a rational approach to firearms, the issue of racism or the propensity toward violence to settle differences, we need to use our intelligence and common sense here.

Not emotionally driven hyperbole.

We need to focus on the underlying problem. It is critical to the survival of this country. More so than idiotic causes that politicians so love to use to divert us from the real issue. The solutions are not easy, they are not found on Facebook and Twitter. They require thinking and courage. Surely there is an abundance of that in a free country.

Many good people turn to prayer at a time like this. But as the Dali Lama so well said,

“We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.”

Whether you believe or not, doesn’t matter to me. Whether you care enough to think this problem through and seek a solution does.

And one last point. You know who ran toward the carnage and danger when everyone else ran away?


There are some dramatic images of the courage demonstrated by the officers involved. It would be nice if more people understood that is what cops do every day. And appreciated it.






Roots of Evil

The recent attacks in Paris have triggered the usual expressions of sympathy which inevitably give way to calls for visiting great harm upon those who perpetrate these acts.

The sympathetic responses are, for the most part, sincere yet tempered by the calls for vengeance. In any case, they miss the point.

In the west, with its predominantly Judeo-Christian population, the inevitable attributing of the blame on Islam ensues. There are voices within these faiths that call for peace, but a significant number of the Christian faithful would gladly pull the trigger on a Muslim target, given the opportunity, simply because it is a Muslim target. Yet are shocked and quick to condemn similar behavior on the part of some Muslims.

These attacks, if they are promulgated on an interpretation of the Quran which mandates the elimination of the “Kafir”, or unbelievers, underscore the inherent dangers of religion.

Christianity is not wholly innocent in these matters. They had their Crusades. The difference being at some point the enlightenment took place. Relegating religion to a personal matter; slowly eliminating any dominant religious influence so as to have no place in government.

It took centuries for that to happen, yet I fear we still are plagued with the last vestiges of such influences.

I do not understand the rationale of those that insist on a Judeo-Christian based government here, yet fear a similar religious, albeit Islamic, based government somewhere else. The idea of government, with its inherent ability to impose restrictions on behavior, being based on any religious tenets is frightening.

What would our reaction be to a nuclear armed Islamic state? Abject terror, I have no doubt. Why? Because we fear they would use such power to further their cause.

Isn’t that what some “Christians” among us have urged our government to do?

Either way, it is not good for the world.

Those who call for visiting violence on others by virtue of their beliefs miss the contradiction in such an attitude.

Religion is not the problem or the cause of the problem. It is a tool. Used by some to maintain control. If all religion was taken out of the picture, these things would still happen; with some other motivation to spark them. The conditions are the same, the terms would be different.

Those that deny free and open discourse for all people do so to promote the power of one religion to control their people.  A religion they choose.

The west, through the availability of education (although less and less valued it would seem), has learned to mitigate the influence of religion to control the masses through the power of government.

It is an indisputable fact that the higher the educational level, the less religiosity.

I am not advocating the abolition of religion. I know many sincere believers who temper their faith with reason when it comes to interpretation of writings such as the Bible, the Talmud, and the Quran. I am advocating the application of reason to our response to violence in the name of religion.

Imposing the superiority of one religion over another does not solve the problem, it prolongs it.

If we are unwilling to address the underlying causes of the problem, i.e. poverty, unemployment, lack of education, treatment of women as property, we will forever be combatting the symptoms.

Our acquiescence to the conduct of our allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel (heresy I know, however because they are more aligned with the Judeo part does not make them blameless in their denial of civil rights), is a big part of the problem.

The issues here are not as simple as some politicians would have you believe. We do not own the morally superior ground here. These are complex issues, requiring complex solutions which will never happen if we ignore the reality.

It is not the correctness of any one religion that offers a solution, it is the willingness to accept all faiths as entitled to equal treatment.

Faith is not fact. Hold your faith as you see fit, do not deny others the same. If there is such a thing as one true faith, but you were led down the wrong path by parents or guardians or accident of birth, I think an all-powerful god can figure out the quality of your character without resorting to totaling up how many non-believers you tried to kill.

Those who committed these attacks, those who committed the attacks on 9/11, those who insist on imposing their way of life on others are the problem.

I am not naive. These attacks need to be met with sufficient force to stop them. However, the threat or application of force is not the solution to preventing them.

Open access to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom from religion is the only solution.

Changing someone’s faith, or eradicating such beliefs, cannot be accomplished  with bombs and missiles.

It can only be solved by tolerance, understanding, a willingness to listen