I posted to Facebook yesterday a link to an article by Caitlin Johnstone, an Australian political blogger who enjoys a deservedly large and devoted following; her article bears the title, This Assange “Trial” is a Self-Contradictory Kafkaesque Nightmare. Yesterday, a friend of mine posted the following questions:

why, peter? with whom does the buck stop?

This afternoon, I replied to these questions as follows:

Why: Because Assange, through his organization WikiLeaks, exposed the crimes of empire, and empires commonly act viciously against those who expose their illegal actions and attempt to crush them by all means at their disposal.

With whom does the buck stop? If by this you mean, who bears final responsibility, we all, in some sense, bear a responsibility since, theoretically at least, we live under a government of laws that is supposed to be answerable to the governed; if the governed, through sloth, ignorance, apathy, and cowardice, don’t hold their governments to account, they bear a share of the guilt for what their governments do. But, more specifically, both the Obama and the Trump administrations have pursued Assange with a vengeance; many past and present members of the US government have publicly expressed a wish to see Julian Assange dead, and the UK government seems to be doing everything it can to oblige them; the Australian government bears a great share of the blame for doing nothing to secure the legal rights of its citizen; the Swedish government bears a share of the blame for having (doubtless in obedience to directives from Washington) set up the false rape charges that provided the initial legal pretext for Assange’s arrest; the current President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, is culpable for having rescinded Assange’s political asylum that had been granted under Ecuador’s previous administration; and the media, and in particular the UK paper The Guardian, which published and profited from Wikileaks’ exposures of crime, is grossly culpable; it is journalism that is supposed to keep citizens informed of what their governments are doing so that society can function freely; Assange admirably fulfilled that function of a true journalist, and the media in general, having been shown up by Assange to be largely a tribe of shills and lackeys, are now quite happy to throw Assange to the wolves, even if it means that investigative journalism is henceforth to be legally proscribed: you can now be sent to a gulag for life for exposing crimes committed by the American or British governments, and, clearly, the brutal treatment accorded to Assange by the British prison system and by Judge Vanessa Baraitser is intended to send a message to any prospective whistleblower: any publication of government secrets will henceforth be treated as a crime against the State. That is what this Assange case is all about; it is the most important legal case on freedom of the press in our lifetimes.

If most of my friends, many of whom cherish a devotion to liberal causes, take no personal interest in this case, and some of them regard the government’s position as justified, I must assume that it is due to their acceptance of the claim that Assange was somehow acting as a tool of the Russian government, or of Donald Trump, when in the summer of 2016 he published an internal e-mail trove of the Democratic National Committee. These e-mails made it clear that the party had essentially rigged the nomination process in favor of Mrs. Clinton from the outset. So far as I know, no one disputes the authenticity of the e-mails; rather, to distract from their content, critics, starting with Mrs. Clinton herself, began to claim that it was the Russians who hacked the DNC’s servers and provided this information to Assange, to throw the American election into disarray. This claim, that the e-mails published by Assange were illegally obtained from the Russian government, which hacked the DNC’s servers, became the source of a massive controversy that commonly goes by the name of “Russiagate” and has obsessed the political classes of America for much of the past three and a half years; yet, despite the publication of an Intelligence Assessment in 2017 and the Mueller Report a year ago, no tangible proof of Russian hacking has ever been presented to the public, and the only substantive finding of Mueller’s investigation is that a Russian troll farm spent about $100,000 during the 2016 election, publishing memes in favor of various candidates, including Mrs. Clinton; given the billions spent these days on American political campaigns, that amount is negligible, and the idea that it had a significant effect upon the election is absurd. As for the claim that Russia “hacked” the DNC, many knowledgeable Americans in the field of intelligence dispute it; one of them is William Binney, who wrote for the NSA much of its software; in late 2016 and early 2017, he and others calling themselves “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity” argued publicly that the electronic signatures on the DNC e-mail trove were inconsistent with its having been hacked from halfway across the world in Russia, and indicated instead that the information was downloaded by someone locally onto a storage device: probably, a pen drive. In other words, they maintain that, in all probability, the information was leaked from someone within the DNC, not hacked from Russia.

Assange has always denied having received the e-mails from the Russians, although, in keeping with WikiLeaks’ protocols, he has refused positively to identify the leaker; an associate of his, Craig Murray (a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan), has categorically stated that he in fact knows that it was a leak, because, on a summer’s evening in 2016, he personally received the DNC e-mail cache on Assange’s behalf from someone working for the DNC in a Washington, DC park; then, having stored the transportable device in his luggage, he flew back to Britain and delivered it to WikiLeaks. It should also be pointed out that, after a DNC worker named Seth Rich was murdered on a DC street corner in late July 2016, shortly after the e-mail leak, Mr. Assange issued a $10,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest; many people have inferred from this that Rich, who favored the Sanders campaign, was in fact the leaker of the e-mails, and, for my part, I still think that that is the likeliest explanation, although the merest suggestion that Seth Rich was killed for leaking the DNC e-mails tends to set some people into a frenzy of righteous indignation.

Anyway, I hope that this answers your questions. I think that, if Julian Assange were not dangerous to those in power, the governments of the Western world would not be focusing so much coordinated effort on having him locked away for life. Information is power, and governments want to keep information about their own doings secret. Given the furiousness of their response, there must be some exceedingly ugly skeletons in some government closets. Assange has tried to restore some of the balance to popular government, by encouraging greater governmental transparency. I expect that Assange’s extradition to the United States is, sadly, a foregone conclusion. And when Assange is locked away in some high-security prison and, as far as the media is concerned, forgotten, we will know that our political freedoms have also been locked away and forgotten, and Assange’s critics can have the pleasure of knowing that they themselves are partly responsible.

Jeffrey Epstein died today
in a Manhattan cell
and whether it was suicide
or murder, we can’t tell.
He’s on that lonesome road to meet
his Lord and God and Maker
and given some employment to
the city undertaker.

Perhaps Ghislane is weeping now
with tears of sad remorse
and Bill and Hill will cast a rose
upon his stiffened corse,
and maybe our dear president
will come down from his tower
to pay respects to one with whom
he spent so many an hour.

But, if they sigh, I must suspect
they do not sigh from grief,
but most of Epstein’s erstwhile friends
are sighing from relief
because his death has set them free
from fear of prosecution
for acting as accomplices
to child prostitution.

We hold that there’s a justice
that controls the course of things
and out of earth’s dark hidden wells
the truth forever springs
and, in that faith, I’ll pray a prayer
that this man’s death may not
hide with him those for whom he worked
but that they too may rot.

The other day a friend of mine, Jesse Anderson, posted a video of a speech that was recorded three years ago at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, Texas, given by a Syriac priest from Mosul, Iraq, Fr. Bashar (it’s unclear to me what his last name is; it sounds as though he is introduced as Fr. Bashar al-Sham Sham Shamadi, but it’s possible that the person introducing him is stuttering). Although the video is three years old, it deserves to be watched; it is a powerful statement of what the Christians of northern Iraq have had to endure under the hegemony of the Islamic State. Although I do not usually post videos on this website, I will make an exception here, because I think Fr. Bashar’s speech deserves a wide audience.


Above is a link to a document, released yesterday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, titled Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution. I’ve skimmed through it; although the document asserts, without presenting any evidence, that Russia engaged in cyber espionage against US political organizations and hacked state and local electoral boards (see pp. 2-3), most of the document actually consists of a diatribe against the network RT, which it blames for consistently and publicly favoring Mr. Trump’s candidacy over Mrs. Clinton’s. E.g., on p. 4, it notes that “On 6 August, RT published an English-language video called ‘Julian Assange Special: Do WikiLeaks Have the E-mail That’ll Put Clinton in Prison?’ and an exclusive interview with Assange entitled ‘Clinton and ISIS Funded by the Same Money.'” The document says nothing as to whether it is true that Mrs. Clinton and ISIS are funded by the same money, that is, by Saudi Arabia and Qatar; it simply presents RT’s reporting this as evidence of unfair bias. Nor does it argue that e-mails possessed by WikiLeaks do not contain evidence of criminal activity by Mrs. Clinton; instead, it insinuates that a Russian media outlet has no business reporting on this possibility.

Surely most Americans who choose to watch RT are aware that that news outlet is funded by the Russian government, just as Americans who choose to watch the BBC are aware that that outlet is funded by the government of Great Britain. If in fact many Americans do find the reporting on RT of interest, it may be because they see America’s mainstream media as, in important ways, failing to do their job of keeping the public informed. Or, to put it more simply, a lot of Americans are tired of being “entertained” and lied to by news organizations that should be telling them plainly what their own government is doing; if they can get better information from abroad, so be it. In fact, the CIA has a long tradition of attempting to shape the way news is presented in this country (do a search on “Operation Mockingbird“). Read in the light of that history, Clapper’s document can be seen as expressing chagrin at the US intelligence community’s inability to shape the public narrative in ways that it used to.

Perhaps it is even the case that some Americans, reflecting on our foreign policy, are unhappy with what our government has been doing in recent years in places like Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, and would like to see a change in direction. Perhaps some Americans, seeing a choice between favoring Saudi Arabia and its jihadist proxy troops on the one hand, and a practical cooperation with Russia on the other, favor the latter policy. It is remarkable that this document nowhere considers that as a real possibility — that is, that the American public are educated enough to make up their own minds on things that matter, and might actually favor a cooperation with Russia.

The following is another extract from a Facebook discussion. I had originally posted an article by Stephen Gowans titled “How an evidence-free CIA finding alleging Russian interference in the US election was turned into an indisputable ‘truth’“; this raised objections from an old friend of mine; then (after much spilling of ink) another friend in New Jersey, who is a teacher, remarked that some of the sources I was citing would be rejected by her in her Freshman writing class as unreliable. This was my response to her.


First, I would point out that, of those sources which you say would not stand the test of credibility in your freshman writing class, one of them (the consortiumnews document) was written by a group of retired intelligence professionals whose credentials include “former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA,” … “former United States Senator,” … “Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East, CIA,” and so on; another source is a journal called the Belfast Telegraph, which basically reports the personal testimony of a career UK diplomat, Craig Murray, who says that he met the person who leaked the DNC documents to Wikileaks and that that person is an insider, not a foreigner, an American, not a Russian; if you don’t trust the Belfast Telegraph’s account of this, you can go to Craig Murray’s own webpage, and read what he has to say about it: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/…/cias-absence-conviction/ If what you tell your Freshman writing students is that statements made by former senators, ambassadors, and members of the intelligence community are not to be trusted when those statements conflict with declarations made by the CIA and the consensus opinion presented by the New York Times and NPR, then I would submit that you are teaching your Freshman students to be dutiful parrots of an officially sanctioned narrative and not critical thinkers.

I appreciate your attempt to understand where I am coming from here, and I do not generally unfriend people unless they have a habit of being egregiously unfriendly. I think that, if you look through my Facebook page over a number of years, you will find that, from the beginning of the Syrian war, I was skeptical of the official American position, namely, that Assad is a tyrant and that the people trying to depose him are democracy-loving freedom fighters. One reason why I was skeptical of this is that, having worked in Albania and having known people who visited Syria in the past, I know that that country was, at least until this war began, the religiously most tolerant country in the Arab world. Very early in that war, two Orthodox bishops were abducted; they haven’t been heard from since, and have presumably been killed. This abduction was done by the people my government has been supporting and touting as freedom-fighters — people who also happen to be supported and funded by Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive, religiously intolerant countries in the world and a major US ally. It is one incident, but, for me, it had a certain decisive effect; it helped bring home to me the extent to which the American humanitarian rationale to this war is a lie. Virtually everything I have learned about the war since then has confirmed for me the utter falsity of the narrative about this war which most people accept as fact: that we are virtuous humanitarians, that the Russians, coming to the aid of the Syrian government, are bloodthirsty murderers, that we are genuinely committed to destroying ISIS, etc., etc. It’s all lies and propaganda, and most people, yourself included, seem quite oblivious of the extent to which so-called reputable media outlets like the New York Times and NPR feed their readers a steady diet of propaganda on issues like this.

That is perhaps why I am inclined to be skeptical towards the pronouncement by Mr. Obama and the CIA and the FBI that Mr. Trump’s presidential victory was due to the work of “Russian hackers.” I have learned, by long experience, that most of what comes out of the mouths of people like John Kirby, Samantha Powers, John Kerry and the like is (if you’ll pardon the expression) bullshit, and that Mr. Obama, who has hired these career liars to spread this manure far and wide, is himself a consummate liar and generally not to be trusted when he pontificates on American virtue and Russian perfidy.

Of course, you don’t have to believe me, and probably won’t. But the claim that people who do report on these things, who present other points of view differing from the approved narrative of the mainstream are, by definition, mere peddlers of “fake news,” or that, because a number of sources report a narrative that differs radically from the approved one, they “harbor biases” (perhaps they are biased towards the truth) is simply insulting to one’s intelligence. It supposes that educated people cannot make their own decisions, on the basis of reason and experience, about what sources of information they should trust; they need to have someone else make these decisions for them. If that is the attitude you are teaching your students, you are doing them a disservice.

Yesterday, a former student of mine, whom I count as a friend, requested on Facebook that any Facebook friends of hers who voted for Trump unfriend her. This is my response.

Dear …,

In compliance with your request on Facebook yesterday, I am unfriending you. But, for the sake of past friendship, I would ask that you read the following account of why I voted for Mr. Trump this past Tuesday. My decision came down to basically two issues: the issue of war, and the issue of crime.

First, the issue of war. Mrs. Clinton, as shown by her actions and statements over the past two decades, is a notorious war hawk, one of the architects of the doctrine of “humanitarian interventionism” that is essentially imperialism with a smiley face. In her concern to outdo the Republicans at their own game, she never met a war she didn’t like. As First Lady, she supported her husband’s bombing of Serbia; as senator, she voted in favor of the war on Iraq and supported the Patriot Act; as Secretary of State, she orchestrated the assault upon Libya which left that once prosperous country in ruins; she joked about the brutal sodomizing and murder of Libya’s president, Col. Gaddafi (“We came, we saw, he died”); she helped organize the “rat line” whereby the CIA illegally transported arms from Benghazi to jihadists in Syria via Turkey (one consequence of which was the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens, who recognized the danger he was in and had petitioned the State Department in vain for an armed guard); through her protégé Victoria Nuland she orchestrated a violent “color revolution” in Ukraine that has led to a civil war in that country and thousands of deaths; since leaving office, she has continued to back the terrorists fighting to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria – using the bogus excuse that the people we are supporting are “moderates” — and, disastrously, she has called for the implementation in Syria of a “no fly zone,” which could easily lead to a direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia. Many compare the current situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (frequently referred to as the most dangerous moment in human history), and have pointed out that, if anything, the dangers of nuclear war are greater now than then, partly because the existence of “mini-nukes” makes using nuclear weapons more thinkable, partly because the current Washington political establishment is less restrained and self-critical, more addicted to group-think, and more beholden to foreign governments for guiding US foreign policy. Mrs. Clinton is the perfect embodiment of that political establishment; she seems utterly oblivious to the dangers of war; like her neocon advisers, she is happy to support the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders, place nuclear missiles on a hair trigger within easy striking distance of cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and, at home, direct a constant stream of abuse towards the Russians, blaming them for all of America’s problems including Wikileaks’ revelations about corruption at the DNC and in her own campaign. Among these revelations, there is the fact that Mrs. Clinton received massive funding (illegally) from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar when she knew that these governments were funding ISIS and supplying it with arms to murder and rape women and children. This, then, in short, is why I publicly stated long ago that I could not vote for Mrs. Clinton. She is a person with a lot of blood on her hands, and has repeatedly demonstrated bad judgment in the very area where she thinks her credentials are strongest, foreign policy. I saw a vote for Clinton as being a vote for war, for an escalation of proxy regime change wars in Syria and elsewhere, and for the suicidal possibility of nuclear war with Russia and/or China. I rejected this by voting for Trump, who has clearly expressed his intention to end the Syrian war and cooperate with Russia in fighting Islamic terrorism, maintaining this position even in the face of the hypocritical media criticism that he is Putin’s puppet. With Trump, there is at least a possibility that the neocons who have dominated American foreign policy thinking for the past generation will be kicked out of power. I would like to see that.

Then there is the issue of crime. This is a more diffuse and nebulous subject, since the reported criminality of the Clintons is prodigious and multifaceted, but the facts are less easily established; at one level, this criminality involves bribery, money laundering, kick-back schemes, vote-rigging, use of a charitable organization for private enrichment, and the illegal use of a private e-mail server for transmitting classified information; at a deeper level, there is evidence that it involves kidnapping, child abuse, and murder. Because the former allegations are better known, I will focus on the latter. Around the beginning of August this year, I became aware of a string of deaths of at least five people who had been investigating the Clintons, all of whom died within the space of a month, some murdered without apparent motive, others said to have committed suicide; among them were Seth Rich, Sean Lucas, and Victor Thorn. If one does an internet search on “Clinton Body Count” one can find a remarkable infographic chart which, if nothing else, makes it clear that possessing compromising knowledge about the Clintons’ personal activities can be hazardous to one’s health. I have read enough history to understand that the common, benign assumption that American politicians are basically good and do not murder to further their careers is false; among presidents, Lyndon Johnson and the Bushes are men who rose by this nefarious practice. If mainstream news does not report these matters, if they label any attempt to shed light upon them “conspiracy theories,” it is because people in the media would rather keep their comfortable positions by writing pabulum than end up dead like Seth Rich, Sean Lucas, Victor Thorn, Michael Hastings, and other investigative journalists who sought to expose corruption in high places (note that Mrs. Clinton, in a meeting with her staff, expressed a desire that someone would get rid of Julian Assange; at first, they thought she was joking, but it became clear she wasn’t).

More recently, just before the election, I came across a picture that juxtaposed Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta and his brother Tony Podesta with police sketches made some years ago by Scotland Yard in its investigation of the abduction of a three-year-old girl, Madeleine McCann, from a hotel room in Portugal on May 3, 2007. (See http://sli.mg/vbobS8 ) To my thinking, the resemblance of the two brothers to the faces in the police sketches is uncanny, particularly so in the case of John Podesta. Later, I read an article that pointed out that the sketch resembling Tony Podesta shows a small mole over the corner of his right eyebrow; Tony Podesta has a small mole over the corresponding corner of his left eyebrow. Other evidence: Wikileaks’ cache of John Podesta’s emails begins on the day after the abduction (May 4, 2007), suggesting that earlier emails had been erased from the server; also, it shows that John Podesta in fact had visited Portugal, and had business contacts in Praia da Luz where Madeleine McCann was kidnapped. Add to this the Podesta brothers’ acquaintance with Marina Abramovic, their invitation to one of her “Spirit Cooking” affairs (a form of “art” involving blood and semen that is essentially a satanic ritual), perverse artworks in Tony Podesta’s house depicting violence to children, the association of the brothers with the “Comet Ping Pong” nightclub in Washington, D.C., and the frequent appearance in Podesta’s e-mails of pedophile code language: the result was that I became convinced that the Podestas are involved in some form of child trafficking. Other evidence tying this activity with the Clintons: Bill Clinton’s frequent flights on the convicted pedophile Jeremy Epstein’s private jet; Hillary Clinton’s intervention to free Laura Silsby, who was in jail in Haiti after being convicted of trafficking children; the sick behavior of Andrew Wiener, the husband of Mrs. Clinton’s closest adviser, Huma Abedin. The net result of all this is that it appears likely to me that child abuse is part of the political culture to which the Clintons belong, and that the Clintons themselves belong to, and probably are at the heart of, a political child trafficking ring, in which child abuse is used, among other things, for political ends — most likely, for blackmailing potential opponents so as to silence them and keep them in line.

These revelations about the Madeleine McCann abduction were what finally tipped the balance for me. Until that point, I had seriously considered voting for Jill Stein. But, given that I live in a swing state, where the election might have been decided by a few votes, I did not want to do anything that would allow Hillary Clinton to enter the White House. I voted for Trump, with a clear conscience. There are many things that I do not like about Mr. Trump, not least his grotesque private comments about women; I also disagree with him on many matters of policy, particularly concerning the environment and economics. These are important issues, but I considered them less important than preventing nuclear war and preventing a crime syndicate from taking control of the United States government. On both these issues, I am genuinely convinced that Mrs. Clinton represented a real danger. You may disagree. But I hope that the above discussion shows that my vote for Mr. Trump was not done from motives of “racism” or “sexism,” but out of concern for the common good.

Yours truly,
Peter Gilbert

A spring day

March 18, 2011

Although spring doesn’t officially start until next week, today was the first day the change of season made itself felt in northern New Jersey. Temperatures reached the upper 70’s (Fahrenheit) this afternoon, and the sky was blue. For the first time this year, I put a folding chair outside, and did some reading and writing while sitting under a tree. Also, a sure sign of something happening: flowers (crocuses) were seen to bloom near the road. Tomorrow, temperatures are supposed to drop back to normal for this time of year.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, tens of thousands of Japanese are missing after last week’s earthquake and tsunami, countless multitudes are homeless, and prospects for averting a catastrophic nuclear meltdown grow ever dimmer. It would be untrue to say that the thought of other people’s misfortune completely blights the simple joy of a spring day, or that it should. Nevertheless, it does have a sobering effect. I could wish that I were able to do more to help my fellow human beings upon whom these unspeakable calamities have descended. But part of growing old is learning to accept one’s natural limitations. The internet and other forms of instantaneous global communication present one with the illusion that the whole world is one’s immediate responsibility. I try to remind myself that my immediate responsibilities are far more circumscribed — commenting on students’ papers, singing at a funeral service this evening, sending out a résumé, making some progress on my translations, cooking supper. Tolstoy, in War and Peace, says somewhere that the way a society most effectively responds to a disaster (in the case of the novel, the disaster of the Napoleonic invasion) is when everyone pursues his own small, private interest and tries to get on as best he can with everyday life: the natural urge for survival, for the continuance of normal life, on the part of each man, woman, and child, when added together is what finally brings about the survival of the society as a whole.

This is not to say that people are not called upon to make sacrifices for the good of others. I have to think that those workers who are, at this very moment, on site at the Fukushima Dai-ni nuclear plant trying to bring electricity back on line there and get the cooling systems working again are the great, unsung heroes of the present day; they are doing more for the good of humanity than most of us will ever have the chance to do in our lifetimes; they should be rewarded with immediate retirement, full pensions, and full health benefits. They will need these things, especially the last-mentioned.

[Note: It seems that other people have had the same thought. Wei Hsien Wan sends a link to the following article: Tom Peck on the “Fukushima 50.”]

I have never been a great supporter of nuclear energy; the idea of producing electricity for twenty or forty years while generating radioactive wastes that remain deadly and must be hidden safely in the ground for ten thousand years has never seemed to me a reasonable exchange: will not our great-great grandchildren curse us when they inherit from us a poisoned planet? If reason had as much force as vested economic interest in the halls of American government, we should see laws passed requiring solar paneling on every public building and every new private house by the end of the decade. Instead, we will be lucky if we can keep such environmental laws as we still have; our tea-partying House of Representatives — or, more exactly, the House Energy and Commerce Committee — voted the other day to remove the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases (see Bob Berwyn, “House vote on EPA bill ‘an insult to all Americans'”; also, a Scientific American article on the same subject).

Someone might object that I am being inconsistent here. First I extol the virtue of free enterprise in the pursuit of private good; then I urge the continuance of regulations that restrict such economic pursuits. Is this not a contradiction?

I do not think so. Tolstoy, when he talked about the myriad personal decisions that keep a country’s economic life going, nowhere denied that government has a legitimate role in regulating commerce. Nor did Adam Smith, whom Tolstoy may be echoing when he discusses these matters. The libertarian view that government is always the problem, that “choice” is always good, and choice is facilitated by removing all restrictions to private gain, whatever the circumstances under which gain may be acquired, has always seemed to me to be mere madness. Where there is a perceived threat to public safety and welfare, governments have the responsibility to keep economic activity within certain bounds, allowing certain things and prohibiting certain other things. The real question is, whether a continued increase in atmospheric CO2 levels represents a genuine threat to public safety and welfare. Most of the scientific community believes it does; the Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have unanimously asserted that it does not. That is, by their vote, they have declared that global warming is not something to worry about. For my part, I trust the views of the scientific community on this question more than I trust the eco-sceptics in Congress, just as I trust the views of the medical community more than those of big business or the advertising industry when it comes to matters of personal health.

May the merciful and loving God, who holds all creation in his hands, help and protect the people of Japan at this time of great danger and need. And may he grant the people of my own nation to wake up from their dogmatic slumbers, whether of the Right or of the Left, and start caring about the common good.

Egypt: Coptic priest murdered

February 23, 2011

Disturbing news this morning about the stabbing of a Coptic priest in southern Egypt. From the Associated Press:

ASSIUT, Egypt – A Coptic Christian priest has been killed in southern Egypt, triggering street demonstrations by several thousand Christians.

The priest was found dead in his home. A fellow clergyman, Danoub Thabet, says his body had several stab wounds. He says neighbours reported seeing several masked men leaving the apartment and shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” suggesting the killing was motivated by the divide between Egypt’s Muslims and its minority Coptic community.

About 3,000 protesters scuffled with Muslim shop owners Tuesday night and smashed the windows of a police car in the city, Assiut.

Egypt’s religious tension spiked in January when a suicide bomber killed 21 people outside a Coptic church in the port city of Alexandria. Days of protests followed.

I have transcribed some comments from this morning’s Democracy Now broadcast which touch upon this development, as well as upon the important issue of Egyptian constitutional reform:

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: What’s happening now, the next steps, are the rewriting of the Constitution … not rewriting it, but rewriting several articles. So there’s a few issues with both the mandate and the composition of the committee that the Supreme Council appointed to amend the Constitution. In terms of the composition of the committee, it’s an eight-member panel — it’s all men, so there’s no women on the committee, that’s a problem. It’s headed by Tarek al-Bishry, who was a critic of Mubarak, but a very conservative-leaning legal scholar. It’s also got a member of the Muslim Brotherhood on the panel. So some are very concerned that there’s no women on the panel, that it’s conservative — and that there’s no Copts on the panel. Now hundreds if not thousands of Copts have marched…

Amy Goodman: You mean C-O-P-T, “Copt.”

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Yes, Coptic Christians who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population. They’re calling on — and this is not in the mandate right now — for Article 2 of the Constitution to be removed. Article 2 enshrines that Islamic law forms the basis of jurisprudence in Egypt … so, Sharia law. So, this affects women’s rights, this affects legal rights in a lot of different ways. So they’re arguing about that. What the committee is looking at right now is a lot of these …; the current constitution that we have right now was formed under Anwar Sadat, the president before Mubarak; it was amended three times since then, 1980, 2005, and 2007. The articles that they’re looking at are these latest changes from 2005 and 2007, which really expanded presidential power, consolidated presidential power, made it almost impossible to form an opposition party; you needed something like two-thirds of the People’s Assembly to approve a new party; the People’s Assembly is dominated by Mubarak’s party, so essentially what you’re saying is, you need the ruling party to approve the opposition. Also, presidential term-limits, things like this. So, they’re looking at all of this, and it’s supposed to be coming out soon and there’s going to be a national popular referendum on the changes within two months.

Amy Goodman: I wonder how significant this is: an hour ago AP reported, Sharif, that a Coptic Christian priest … has been killed in southern Egypt, triggering street demonstrations by several thousand Christians. The priest was found dead in his home; a fellow clergyman says his body had several stab wounds; he says several neighbors reported seeing several masked men leaving his apartment, they were shouting “God is great,” Allahu akbar, suggesting the killing was motivated by the divide between Egypt’s Muslims and its minority Coptic community. Who knows if that is true, but this is the latest report.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Well, that’s an ominous development. This divide between Muslims and Christians was something that the Mubarak government really played upon; we saw some church bombings; it’s unclear who did them; but what the pro-democracy movement in Tahrir was very proud of was that they stuck together; you would see when, especially after the attack by the Baltige [?] on Wednesday, any time there was prayer, a lot of the Copts would protect the perimeter while Muslims prayed; they would always chant, “Muslim, Christian: we’re all Egyptian.” You would see people marching, holding with, one holding a Koran, the other holding a Bible, marching together. And so, they believe, and many believe, that this divide was something that was caused by the repression of Mubarak’s government. It was fomented; they played upon it to divide people and to keep them apart. And what was really amazing in Tahrir, and amazing across Egypt, was that it was true democracy playing out in Tahrir; this was what democracy was; if you removed all the lies of the Mubarak government, that the Brotherhood will take over, if you removed all these lies that people hated each other, they managed amazingly to … to force Mubark to step down in the face of so much violence and repression. You know, the government started by throwing out the entire central security apparatus, at them; that didn’t work; they tried removing the police force completely and trying this chaos; and we saw these neighborhood patrols pop up, which was really amazing. I mean, the first day I remember walking home from Tahrir, I’m walking home, it’s completely dark, it’s after curfew, 6 p.m., and you’d see, just, bunches of young men, teens to early thirties, forties, standing there with pipes, some of them armed, talking with each other on cellphones to, you know, the next kind of patrol over, protecting their neighborhood from looters.

When Sharif Abdel Kouddous said this morning that there are no Copts on the panel, this surprised me; it goes against what I had heard and read elsewhere. E.g., Richard Spencer, in an article in the Telegraph, posted February 15th, says:

He [Tarek al-Bishry] has selected a committee made up mainly of judges and politicians, including a judge who is a Coptic Christian, but also a former Muslim Brotherhood MP. There are no women.

If Abdel Kouddous is, in fact, correct in his information that no Copt is actually serving on the constitutional committee, this is indeed a disturbing development; it suggests the possibility that the earlier report was given out falsely, to deflect Western attention. But I would want first to be clear about the fact of a Copt’s being or not being on the committee before speculating any further about motives behind the earlier report. Abdel Kouddous, who just returned to New York after spending the past month in Egypt, is generally very well informed about what is going on inside his country; I would be surprised if he is mistaken on this point.

If Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution is not revised to grant full legal equality to Egypt’s Christian population, the country’s much-celebrated revolution will have been to no purpose. Or, rather, the purposes it will serve may turn out to be quite other than what most of the original demonstrators — and most of us who supported the movement towards democracy in that country — had hoped to see.

The news about the sexual assault upon the American reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square on February 11th, the night of Mubarak’s resignation, is also very disturbing.

God help us.

Copts fear Islamic drift

February 9, 2011

Translated from the article, “I copti temono la deriva islamica,” posted earlier today on the website Oriente Cristiano.

ALEXANDRIA. From our correspondent

The record of that tragic night is still seen on the facade of the Church of the Saints, and the faces of the faithful turn aside from it while leaving mass. All depart in a hurry; away from the walls that are still chipped, from the partly-mutilated statue of the Madonna, from the danger that lurks around every corner. The entrance is blocked by a gate. Inside the courtyard there is an ambulance; “We do not want terrorists to use one for another massacre,” confides a guardian. Before the entry to the church there is a large poster depicting Jesus Christ, with a golden crown on his head and the faces of 23 people; they are the 24 victims of the New Year’s Eve massacre, when a car bomb struck the faithful as they left mass. It was the fiercest of the many attacks against the Copts. To the cry of “down with Mubarak,” thousands of young Copts took to the streets and clashed with police. They accused the president of having failed to protect them; someone called him complicit in the massacre.

It’s been only a month, and now the Christians of Alexandria are caught in a dilemma: participate in the revolt, and demand an end to a regime that has lasted 30 years, or stay home, as called for by their Pope Shenouda III, hoping that the president acts. The very thought that the Muslim Brotherhood could take over is seen as a nightmare. Faced with such a threat, the Copts, 10% of the population, are paralyzed. Aware that they may have to pay a heavy price for having not joined the rebellion (at least 50 people died here).

The archbishops and priests are impenetrable. The pope has forbidden communication with the media. The priest of the Church of the Saints mutters a few words, then disappears. A script that is repeated in five other churches. Ramy, 25, warden of the Church of the Saints, admits: “I am not attending the event. None of us did. Mubarak’s worst is better than the best of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It’s Sunday; a few kilometers away a huge event is taking place; thousands of people are shouting slogans against Mubarak. The climate, however, is different from that of Cairo’s joyous Tahrir Square. Here the site of the event, which continued yesterday but with fewer protesters, is the ancient Ibrahim mosque. It is easy to guess who holds the reins of the revolt: the Muslim Brotherhood, who have created here their stronghold. “This is the people’s revolution; we are organizing jointly with the April 6 movement and other organizations. We are a single entity,” explains Saber Abu el-Fotouh, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman and former member of parliament. We look for Christians, in vain. In front of the mosque, members of the Brotherhood frisk us several times. “We are and will be respectful of our Coptic brothers,” said Medhat al-Hadad, director of the Brotherhood, from his office. “In two or three months Mubarak will be gone. We will organize free elections. We hope to get 25-35% of the seats. If we are in the government we will allow everyone freedom to profess their faith.”

On the situation in Egypt

February 3, 2011

As the world watches events unfold in Tahrir Square, I will add my own brief comment. The people who have gathered there this week to demand Hosni Mubarak’s resignation have done a very simple but profound thing: they are asserting their human dignity, their right to live as free human beings under a government of their own choice. Some of them are now paying for that assertion with their lives, as Mubarak’s hired thugs spray the square with machine-gun fire. The courage displayed by the Egyptian people during the past few days will not be forgotten. And their assertion of their right to political freedom poses a question to the rest of us: do we support that right? The tepid response of the American government to what is happening on the streets of Cairo is shameful; our hypocritical inaction in this crisis will also not be forgotten. President Obama needs to tell Mubarak to leave Egypt, now.

Not long ago, I got into a debate on this blog with a man for whom I have a high regard, Dr. Michaël de Verteuil; I found it difficult to accept the proposition that Islam is a religion of peace. I still view that proposition, taken in the abstract, as dubious. Yet those of us who are Christians, who would like to think of Christianity as a religion of peace, are all the more obligated to acknowledge and encourage the aspirations for peace that we find in others; we betray our faith, we blaspheme our God, when we fail to recognize our common humanity in the face our neighbor. The Egyptian people are asserting that common humanity, and are asking to be treated, by their own government and by others, as human beings. Those of us who are Christians know that the source of that ineradicable sense of human dignity, the basis of all political freedom, is the image of God that exists in all of us, because of which the human person can never be made into a mere means to an end.

Egypt is a land that Jesus visited as a child; people there remember that fact. As that land gave him shelter when he was under persecution, may he now grant shelter and protection to the people who are being attacked in Tahrir Square by government thugs, and may he grant the people of Egypt a responsible, democratic government in place of the dictators they have had to endure for more than one generation.