in the aftermath…#4

6 World Trade Center

Image via Wikipedia

This, the final post in the series, speaks directly to how Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda came to undermine their own efforts in waging war against America. They like others who use their own people as pawns to acquire what they desire, at any expense, proverbially “shot themselves in the foot” and “cut off their noses to spite their faces.” How is it that many with power feel they can forever hold an axe to their victims’ necks, without realizing the possibility, however slim, that the axe will ricochet cutting off the head of the one wielding it? I think working at long-term compromise to satisfy everyone’s needs is truly better for everyone’s health, welfare… and survival. Easier said than done…but worth a try. Better than the alternative…don’t you think? 

The Slaughter That Muslims Could Not Ignore
by Reuel Marc Gerecht

Like all fundamentalists, Osama bin Laden was attuned to the past. When his speeches weren’t about the economic decline of America, they recalled Islam’s classical age, especially the rise of the Prophet Muhammad through the Rashidun (“rightly-guided”) period, which ended in 661.

Bin Laden saw himself as an Islamic Martin Luther: a protestant who was willing to go to war with the Muslim world‘s Westernized, U.S.-aided kings and presidents-for-life. He hoped to arouse, by the strength of his example, a global movement that would drive the U.S., the cutting edge of the West, out of the Muslim world. Showing American feebleness would bring the inevitable collapse of the unrighteous and the restoration of a more virtuous age.

He sustained himself for so long in the Middle East and Central Asia because lots of Muslims–especially in powerful places in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan–were sympathetic to his cause. For a time, he tapped into an angry, shameful intellectual current among Muslims, who after World War II were increasingly immiserated by their ever more lawless rulers. 

The Westernized police-states (Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) and the corrupt “Playboy” monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, Jordan and Morocco) all became breeding grounds for violent fundamentalism. And even among most Muslims, who did not drink deeply of this creed, the spiritual depression and conspiracy-mongering of these societies made bin Laden an admired celebrity, if not a hero, since he at least scared and hurt the all-powerful United States and openly belittled the detested autocrats.

Muhammad: The Last Prophet

Image via Wikipedia

Historically, Islamic societies have had a fairly high tolerance for the use of violence for a just cause. Bin Laden knew well the line of thought that sees rebellion against unjust rulers as a moral obligation. This was a defining theme of early Islamic history, when Muslims as a community wrestled with what constituted legitimate authority after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Among the Arabs, Princeton’s Michael Cook has written, “political and military participation were very widely spread, far more so than in the mainstream of human societies–whether those of the steppe nomads, the later Islamic world, or the modern West. It was the fusion of this egalitarian and activist tribal ethos with the monotheist tradition that gave Islam its distinctive political character. In no other civilization was rebellion for conscience sake so widespread as it was in the early centuries of Islamic history; no other major religious tradition has lent itself to revival as a political ideology–and not just a political identity–in the modern world.”

Twin Towers, New York

Image by Guillaume Cattiaux via Flickr

Bin Laden, who believed that only the most virtuous had the right to rule over the community, was undone by his love of violence. He pushed it too far: Slaughtering innocent Africans in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 was tolerable since the targets were American embassies (and black Muslim Africans were too far from the Arab world to compel a scathing moral critique). Killing American sailors on the USS Cole in the port of Aden was praiseworthy since no modern Muslim power had ever so humbled an American man-of-war. And destroying the Twin Towers and punching a hole in the Pentagon was just astonishing.

But then came the slaughter that could not be ignored, as al Qaeda affiliates started killing in Muslim lands. The suicide bombers who hit Casablanca in 2003 and Amman in 2005 made an impact. But the war in Iraq was bin Laden’s great moral undoing.

Iraq was supposed to be where al Qaeda and other “good Muslims” broke the American back. Instead the carnage there, carried in all its gore by Arabic satellite channels, produced a backlash. There was a limit to the number of Shiite women and children that Sunni Arabs could see murdered. Blowing up hospitals, mosques and shrines–even Shiite ones–became too ghastly to sublimate into an acceptable war against the Americans.

Al Qaeda had helped to provoke one of the worst bloodlettings in contemporary Arab history. Voices within Islam began to rise against its ruthlessness. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s intellectual, knew that his kind had gone too far but there was little that he or bin Laden could do once the jihadist beast had been let loose.

In Iraq, al Qaeda effectively became a takfiri movement: Holy warriors “legitimately” slaughtered other Muslims because they deemed them no longer Muslim but kuffar, infidels, who may be killed in conflict. Bloody takfiri movements can outlast one inspirational leader, but they never win.

It’s entirely possible that if the Taliban win in Afghanistan, al Qaeda could get a new lease on life. The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban movements have absorbed much of the ideology that ignited al Qaeda in the early 1990s. The operational support–free passage and refuge–that Iran gave to al Qaeda before and after 9/11 is probably still there if al Qaeda can organize itself into an effective strike force, especially against Saudi Arabia. And Zawahiri has long been Tehran’s favorite Sunni holy warrior. He certainly has the ability and perhaps the means to maintain al Qaeda’s global networks.

Libyan community protest in Dublin (3)

Image by Tom Szustek via Flickr

But networks must be nourished. If this spring’s great Arab Revolt continues–if the brutalized societies of the Middle East can establish more lawful, representative governments, if their ethics can recover from the years of powerlessness, shame and conspiracy–then al Qaeda will surely lose its future among the Arabs.

It may raise its head now and then. If it could get its hands on the right type of weapons and the deranged young men to use them, it could still kill on an impressive scale. But the group will most likely wither, perhaps rapidly, as Sunni Arabs construct a moral universe in which militants cn no longer compellingly call upon Islamic history to justify rebellion. Bin Laden understandably loathed democracy: It’s the end of the political and ethical order where his world makes sense.

(Mr. Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is the author of “The Wave: Man, God and the Ballot Box in the Middle East”-Hoover, 2011.)

a special relationship, daughter and father

Readers of my blog from the start, know that I was fatherless as a child, my dad having died when I was one. Age 30 at the time, my mom never remarried. I don’t know how she felt about remaining a widow, but I remember wishing she had a husband. I would have happily helped her pick one.

When my mom worked as laundress, part-time cook, and sometime-chaperone at a Catholic orphanage in Paia, Maui, Mr. Chalmers worked there as groundskeeper. He was tall, with sandy-blonde hair that fell gently across his brow. I remember thinking his blue eyes were kind-looking. Even as a youngster in elementary school, I sensed there was chemistry between my mom and this “hauole,” Hawaiian for “foreigner.” But it went nowhere.

As I reflect back, and I have many times, I wonder if my mom felt uncertain in the company of a “hauole” man, being that she was native Hawaiian. The cultures are so different, especially back then, in the 50s. Perhaps she felt him too different, even while she might have found him attractive. All I know is I liked him, I wanted a dad, and I wished my mom would have brought Mr. Chalmers home to our family!

When I was littler, I wished my mom had married “uncle” Lot who lived next door with his sister, “aunty” Miriam. They weren’t family but they made us feel as though we were.”Uncle” would cradle me in his lap, where I’d curl up, my sleepy head nestled against his shoulder. Maybe uncle wasn’t my mom’s “cup of tea,” but he was most definitely mine.

Then there was our next door neighbor, and landlord, Ah Sing. We’d moved to one of his family’s rentals when I was beginning kindergarten. Unfortunately he was already wed, to my best friend Leola’s mom. Her dad seemed a better match for my mom who was friendly and warm like Ah Sing, both having Hawaiian blood coursing through their veins. His wife, on the other hand, was Chinese. She reminded me of the ice queen in the “Narnia” movies. So there went another great candidate for my dad!

But the “piece de resistance” was Dr. James Fleming. He too would’ve made a great pairing with my mom, in my limited child’s experience. He was a little plump, like my mom. And though he wore wire-rimmed glasses and sported a crew cut, though slightly longer, he was still attractive. He had a broad smile, a twinkle in his eye, and always gave me a big, orange gumdrop at the end of each visit. When he vaccinated me with an injection in the arm, I’m sure I cried. The needle looked like it would’ve been used on a horse, not on my scrawny arm. But Dr. Fleming made me feel brave, and would reward me with 2 pieces of candy. Now what kid wouldn’t want him for a dad! But alas, he already had 3 sons, and a wife. No matter, I continued to fantasize.

Dr. Fleming was of the Lahaina, Maui Flemings. Throughout my childhood, up until I was 16 and left for college, we often frequented a beach near their home, named after the family. I’m not sure if it’s still known as Flemings Beach. It might have been renamed something more befitting the island’s commercial growth, especially if the Fleming’s no longer own property in the vicinity. But even before I learned he was wealthy, Dr. Fleming was the knight in shining armor sitting astride a white horse, who would come galloping along to whisk my mom, and me, off into the sunset. Yes, even then I was a romantic.

When I was older, probably of middle school age, my mom revealed a secret, one I wished I’d known earlier. She told me when I was born, Dr. Fleming offered to adopt me. He’d have welcomed a daughter into a family of all boys. Obviously, my mom declined, but I’m sure she lingered over her decision. She had 8 other mouths to feed, although some of the older ones might have since left home, to make a life for themselves.

What would I have done if I’d known of the adoption earlier? Probably just what my mom did, think about it, but then reject the idea vehemently. After all, my mom and older siblings were my world. One of my brothers was adopted by a childless couple. I’m not sure how he felt about being given away at the time. Did he cry, refuse, sulk? I never asked. I’m not sure if he’d tell me now, at 71.

Writing this blog has proven cathartic, therapeutic. What’s become increasingly apparent these last 6 months, is not growing up with a father has impacted me more than I’d realized. There’s a void no one can completely fill. It’s as though my life has listed since birth, like a sailboat that never righted itself. Thank goodness family and friends have helped anchor me, ensuring that I’m not set adrift. I’ve learned to accept my imperfect life, my listing, continuing to “sail” far and wide. The world that passes before my “bow,” is the same one seen from the bow of a sailboat that maneuvers perfectly.

My daughter has been nurtured by two parents, who love her dearly. And I have been lovingly nurtured by she and my husband. Going forward in life, she and I agree that we’re blessed to be “drinking” from glasses that are always half-full. But I’m so thankful that my daughter has my husband for a father. He would have been my choice as a dad too, if he’d been an adult to my child. But watching him with our daughter, more than compensates for the father I never had.

a father-daughter tradition, hugs for…hugmamma.

holiday cookies, father-daughter tradition

Ever since she was little, my daughter and husband have baked holiday cookies. I think it had been a tradition between he and his mom. She told me that as a child he loved to bake. So it was my husband’s idea to carry on the tradition with our daughter. He even chose the recipe.  While not difficult, the process is tedious. I’m very happy to leave this holiday chore entirely in their capable hands.

We have always shared the cookies with family and close friends. That’s how special they are. In elementary school, our daughter’s classmates looked forward to platters of the homemade treats not only at Christmastime, but also at Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. They were disappointed on the rare occasion when there were no cookies, because of our busy schedule. Even now, our daughter’s friends are delighted when they are treated to a platter of cookies during Nutcracker rehearsals.

Shortly after Christmas, a year or so ago a nephew deployed to the Middle East on the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. My husband baked a special batch of these signature cookies as a parting gift. Our nephew would have enough to share with crew mates, and still have a hidden stash for himself. I wrapped each of the 50 cookies in bubble wrap so that there would be no breakage, or at least it would be kept to a minimum. Needless to say they were enjoyed, right down to the last morsel.

If memory serves me, the idea for these cookies may have come from me. The first Christmas my husband managed the Garden City, Long Island American Express Travel office, I made them for his staff. I used cookie cutters in the characters of the “Peanuts” comic strip, Charley Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy. They were as charming as they were delicious. But they were also a lot of work. I’m sure that’s why I kept my distance, and let my husband and daughter do their thing.

Some who have tasted these sweet morsels have remarked that my husband should start a business. Not one for entrepeneurial endeavors, my husband has declined the challenge, preferring to remain at his corporate day job. Thank you very much. I agree he’d never be able to charge enough for the labor that’s involved. And there are already competitors who do a very good job. Laboring for loved ones is reward enough for my husband, and even more, he relishes the time  he spends with his daughter.

So from our family to yours, here’s a gift to share at Christmas, or any time you and loved ones gather.

I LOVE SHORTBREAD

About 16 cookies

Ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, salt, confectioner’s sugar

Utensils: medium bowl, dry measuring cups, long-handled spoon, rolling pin, cookie cutters, cookie sheet, potholders, spatula, wire cooling rack

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together in medium bowl, 3/4 cups butter, softened, and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in 1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour and a dash of salt. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Pinch mixture together with clean hands until it all sticks together. Shape dough into a ball. Sprinkle a clean surface (such as a kitchen counter or breadboard) with flour. Place dough on surface. Roll or pat out dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough with cookie cutter. Place cutouts about 1/2 inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake about 10 to 15 minutes or until very light golden brown on the edges. Take the cookies off the cookie sheet right away with spatula. Cool shortbread on wire rack.

Mix powdered sugar with water, or milk, to paste consistency. Frost cookies as desired.

from our home to yours, hugs…hugmamma.