Backtalk, September 22, 2006

Somalia: A Case Study in Interventionism

“The Somalis were crushed by the formerly American-aided Ethiopian military, which was outfitted with the latest weaponry, and Barre’s Soviet sponsors abandoned him.”

Crushed? Excuse me? FYI, Somalia lost to Ethiopia in 1977 because the commies switched sides in the middle of battle, not because American training was so potent. We had captured territory that even the Italians could not take from the British. This strip of land was all that stood between us and non-Somali Ethiopia. But the commies switched sides and Cubans were sent in to back up the Habashi and push us back. American training did little to stop us before the Reds switched sides. We lost because our godless friends didn’t have our back.

“Osama bin Laden, who devoted a good part of his latest message to warning the U.S. against interfering in what he doubtless considers to be his own territory. If so, we delivered it to him on a silver platter.”

Both you and bin Laden may think that Somalia is “his” territory, but he is a foreigner just like the damn Habashi (Ethiopians) who also think that they can waltz in and rule us. We Somalis loathe being dictated to by another clan, but even worse is to be dictated to by an outsider. This is also the only thing worth killing/dying for and the only thing we Somalis agree on. Osama is using Somalia as an example, but he knows better than to make himself at home in Mogadishu.

By the by, northern Somalia has had a constitution based on Islamic law since early ’90s: why has no-one gone ape-sh*t about that?

The root of all the trouble in the world is that colonialism never ended. The condescension continues; the great powers do not notice that the time of empire is over. In these post-colonial times, we must each find our own paths to creating a fair and just society. The ICU is clan-based in spite of the Islamic “flag” that they wrap themselves in. Their support is locally based and, although they don’t know it yet, they are on a leash. The people who backed them in getting rid of the warlords will yank them back if they go on with the “you can’t watch TV/listen to the radio” bit. There is money to be made in entertainment, and rule number two is, don’t stand between a Somali and his chance to make a buck, God damn it!

~ Abdulla Zahra

In Defense of Pope Benedict

Raimondo never misses a chance to defame Turks. In his latest diatribe he says that the Turks were forcibly converting Christians to Islam. … The Christians were never forcibly converted to Islam in the Balkans; the millions of Muslims were brought from Anatolia to the Balkans by the Turks. By 1700 half the population of the Balkans were Turks; now they make only 2 percent of the population. The Turks were the subject of grand-scale massacres by the Russians, Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians. I advise Raimondo to read some unbiased history and not Serb and Greek propaganda so he might get some idea what the Turks went trough. Sometimes Raimondo uses the words Turks and Albanians interchangeably; he probably does not know that besides Islam they (Turks and Albanians) have nothing in common.

~ Orhan Deniz, Holland

I‘m sorry, but I can’t agree. The Vatican’s opposition to the war has been tepid and rhetorical. The pope and the Vatican basically support the Bush administration because of its anti-abortion, anti-gay, and generally “social conservative” agenda.

My daughter goes to a conservative Catholic church (with her mother) where the priest told the congregation that they should vote for President Bush (in 2004). My daughter asked the priest why he supports Bush when he opposes the war, and she was told it is because Bush is anti-abortion, and that’s more important than the war.

When opposition to abortion outweighs the slaughter, chaos, torture, and destruction spread by the Bush administration, then I think someone’s moral compass is broken. The pope and the Vatican are basically allies of the Bush administration in sheep’s clothing.

~ Stephen Davis


While your defense of the pope and contextualization of his lecture is timely, I fear that you are perhaps guilty of not thinking some things through as well.

First, you suggest that the invasion of the Balkans was Turkish – it was not. It was Ottoman, a difference more important than mere semantics.

You say that Emperor Manuel was faced with a choice of either converting or dying. Clearly, he faced no such choice because he did neither, which is why there was a dialogue, and he remained free to write about his recollections much later in life.

While the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans may not have been pretty given our present day sensitivities, I am sure that it was not as simple as the way you have made it in your defense.

Indeed, that is why, even today there is a rich plurality of religions, cultures, and languages in the Balkans. If the Ottoman invasion resulted in such a stark choice for the new subjects, everyone in the Balkans would speak a Turkic language and be Muslim.

In such a case, the Balkans would be more like Spain, where Ferdinand and Isabella did punctuate their invasion with such a choice – and where pretty much everyone is Catholic.

Also, although I sometimes do have a minor quibble or two with what is published here, I admire that you generally stick to what you know about and make little comment on what is beyond your expertise and interest. I think that may have changed a bit when you began to describe what any “devout” Muslim must surely believe about the nature of God. I think you lost the plot a bit by quoting the pope, who quoted the French Islamist, who in turn quoted someone called Ibn Hizn. I think that’s a bit of a reach – surely if you were interested in the subject matter enough to comment upon it, you could have found as you say a “devout” Muslim or two from a more contemporary time or source to comment upon the subject. Surely, understanding the nature of God is a personal choice.

If you are going to engage with a subject or issue, then perhaps researching it beyond hearsay would be more in keeping with what faithful readers have come to expect from this site.

~ Jawad Q.

Context determines a lot. I agree with Raimondo’s analysis that one should see the comments in the context of the Vatican’s stance on major world issues.

The one point I could not agree with is that the Islamic concept of God allows for an irrational God since it is not couched in/influenced by Hellenistic ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although not directly related to Hellenistic ideas of logic, the Islamic concept of God, from first principles, presupposes and adamantly argues for reason and logic in God and God’s creations.

Concepts such as God’s “Infinite Justice,” which Muslims hold dear, are testaments to this. The Koran is full of calls to one’s reason or reasoning ability in understanding the existence of God, God’s attributes, and God’s creation.

See, for example, the following rhetorical argument:

“Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that lies between the two. If it had been Our Will to find a pastime, We would have found one near at hand, if We were inclined to do so!”
– al-Anbiyah (The Prophets) Chapter 21: Verses 16-17

Enjoyed Raimondo’s column nevertheless, as always.

~ Noir, Ontario, Canada

Dear Mr. Raimondo,

I love your Web site, love your columns normally, but today I think you really screwed up. Your screw-up is crystallized in this sentence:

“Out of a complicated and thoroughly delightful narrative on the relationship between faith and reason – intended to illustrate his point that Catholicism is the only authentic alternative to the ‘primitive’ irrationalism of Protestant and Islamic mystics, on the one hand, and godless rationalism on the other….”

Your usually laser-sharp analytical skills seem to have abandoned you in your neglecting to see how deeply flawed and historically false this premise of the pope’s is. In the light of it, I would suggest you ponder this recent statement from a UK newspaper (“Focus: Pope vs. Prophet“):

“But his damaging words contain a startling lapse in historical accuracy, in the opinion of Muslim historians. It is commonly accepted that it was Islamic and Arabic culture that kept alive the philosophy of Aristotle through the Dark Ages and made the Catholic reconciliation of faith and reason possible in the work of Thomas Aquinas. One senior Anglican source said: ‘If anything, Islam was the religion of reason ahead of Christianity. Mathematics and medical science were developed in the Islamic world. The clash between reason and medievalism has Muslims on the side of reason.'”

The basis of your column today falls apart in the light of history, for the pope here is speaking about all Islam, not only extremist Islam, as pointed out here:

“Renzo Guolo, a professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Padua, who often writes about the church and Islam, said he was struck by the suggestion of Islam as distant from reason. ‘This is maybe the strongest criticism because he doesn’t speak of fundamentalist Islam but of Islam generally,’ he said, ‘Not all Islam, thank God, is fundamentalist.'”

Right, it isn’t, and you should know better. Maybe if you had pointed this out in your column and shown the pope’s errors on this while asking him to be more careful in who he is criticizing, it would have been a much better column. I would have been in favor of the pope going after Muslim extremist pinheads, but he seems to imply all of Islam as being non-rational. And by the way, your referring to the “primitive irrationalism” of “Islamic mystics” without comment is another dopey imprecision. If you are talking about Islamic mystics, you are talking about Sufis, not sub-moronic extremist fundy wackos. And the Sufis (or the best of them) – who I would admonish you to learn about – represent a class of Muslims who are or could be both highly rational and very spiritual – mystical – at the same time. I can give you lots of reference as to famous ones from history, if you like.

But please don’t allow yourself to think that modern neocon pseudo-Sufis (one of whom I know you have done well to rail against) represent in the slightest what Sufis think about neocon violence and insanity. Such falsely represent Sufism, and they don’t speak for most of us.

~ Kelly U.


Congratulations on another outstanding essay. The only point I would question regards the assertion that the Turks ceased forced conversions several centuries ago. The historical record shows that they engaged in them during the genocide of the Armenians during 1915-1922. There may be other relatively contemporary examples as well. This, of course, does not detract from your (and the pope’s) main point about ethics, or the lack of them, exhibited by some in the arena of persuasion vs. compulsion.

Other than that, thank you for another rational and articulate discussion. The War Party puts all of us at risk, as you have consistently posited with your finely honed sense of irony and history.

~ Dennis Marburger

Extraordinary Precision

Baroud writes:

“The handy excuse that Hezbollah and Hamas fighters launch their rockets at Israel from civilian areas no longer suffices. There is yet to be one shred of evidence, one video or bit of satellite footage – at least in the ongoing war in Lebanon – that confirms such an allegation.”

I’ve found this, however: “Photos that damn Hezbollah.

Just wanted to draw your attention to it. I don’t doubt that the IDF is at least apathetic to civilian deaths, but I don’t want that to make me think it impossible for Hezbollah to do anything wrong as well.

~ Roberto Jung

The Law of Opposites

This is one of the best analyses of our foreign policy I have seen anywhere. It conforms with my essay, posted on on Aug. 30, 2006: “Leaving Iraq Is Not Enough.” We should pull our troops back to our soil from everywhere they are stationed.

~ Thomas G. Moore

Bush the Pitiful

I couldn’t agree with you more. I would just add that Bush has the character of a loser, and the conspiracy that put him there is responsible for everything that’s committed behind this pitiful hood ornament. This dark upsurge I think is based on fear originating from the Sixties humanistic movement and spiraling out of control into religious Nazism and similar witch hunts. I think they may have peaked. Their noise reminds me of the poisoned fly as it is buzzing out its last repetitions on the bottom of the window pane.

Reagan and Nixon too belong into this sorry cavalcade (hopefully) disappearing into the night of the living dead.

There. I feel better.

~ Jim Barlow

Paul Craig Roberts replies:

In my opinion, Bush is no Reagan. The hatred of Reagan is irrational. Reagan achieved two things. He stopped the stagflation that was devastating the poor, and he ended the Cold War. Reagan infuriated the neocons by insisting on ending, not winning, the Cold War. He worked with Gorbachev to bring the confrontation to a mutually agreeable end. Keep in mind, also, that Reagan fired the neocons when they persisted in causing more problems than Reagan was willing to tolerate. He fired them despite their shield of protection from AIPAC. Bush promotes them.

No one is perfect. High officials have a lot of authority and can get up to more than even the most energetic president can monitor. Reagan was an old man and far from energetic. His administration was fighting over the succession from day one. I myself attended White House decision meetings where everyone present had a different interpretation of the decision that was made. People with power interpret decisions in keeping with their agenda.

The neocons poisoned Reagan’s administration, but they never had power over it.

Thank you for this excellent article.

Being a Christian Syrian Arab citizen I would like to say my opinion about the American policy in the Middle East. I always wondered if the present American administration is really serving American interests. I don’t want to go deep into the result of the U.S.’ adventure in Iraq and the reasons behind the real causes of the invasion; anybody can read “A Clean Break” and find the real reasons. First the WMD and then applying democracy, and it is obvious what kind of democracy this administration created there and is still looking forward to implementing in other countries.

In the Arab world, where the majority of the people predicted that the war would result in more democracy in Iraq, people are seeing the bloodshed, the economic hardships, personal insecurity, and the collapse of social norms as a frightening experience. People in the Middle East are pinpointing the American example, and no one wants this example be applied in his own country.

Mr. Bush’s War on Terror will end nowhere, and continuing this policy will result in more terror. The real and root cause of the violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world is the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict and occupation of the Arab land for over 40 years. The U.S. created and strengthened the radical Islamists to fight communism and is now reaping the result because of complete ignorance of the Middle East. The upshot is that U.S. involvement in the Middle East has for decades involved America in bitter conflicts and created enemies out of people who would otherwise have no interest in harming Americans.

The support for Israel has led to increased terrorism against U.S. targets and produced an endless source of crises continuing to the present time, and the continuing support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land has helped change the United States from an object of admiration to an object of hostility in the region. … Finally, this policy has created a sharp negative reaction in the Muslim world, and is considered by many as a clash of religions, although people in the Middle East lived in harmony through the ages without any religious discrimination .

No world leader attracted such widespread ridicule as President George W. Bush for asserting that all world crises are a contest between terror and freedom. Unless the Israelis and Americans can reshape their strategy from the belief that military force can solve the region’s problems to a peaceful solution as offered by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2001, the Middle East will never have tranquility, and the U.S. and Israel will be the big losers because each new generation will be more radical than the previous one.

~ Mitri R.

Casualties of War

It won’t be too long, the way things are going, before the number of war deaths overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan will match and overtake the number of deaths from 9/11. Maybe you should post that number as a comparison as well. When we meet that forsaken mark, Bush can truly declare, “See, we can kill as many of our own as you can in your little plane trips on 9/11.”

~ Brad Michael Moore

Mike Ewens replies:

It already hit that mark a couple of weeks ago. See “More U.S. Troops Deaths Than 9/11 Deaths” and “U.S. Deaths in Iraq, War on Terror Surpass 9/11 Toll.”

Previous Backtalk