Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Here is a short essay I wrote last November for my History: Islam and the Middle East class on Jihad:

Jihad: A Struggle in the Path of God

Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been asking if Osama bin Laden’s use of the term ‘jihad’ to describe his war against the West is actually constitutes an Islamic holy war. John Esposito answers this question, using the better part of a 160 page book, by describing the evolution of jihad and Muslim reform and revolutionary movements. He concludes that jihad in its broadest sense is used by Muslims to denote “a struggle in the path of God” (38). This struggle can either refer to a personal, spiritual struggle, otherwise known as the greater jihad, or warfare in the name of God, the lesser jihad. Osama bin Laden has adopted the second meaning, declaring that it is the duty of every Muslim to keep the Islamic world pure by using force to remove any Western influences or other vestiges of power that suppress or corrupt the Islamic religion.

Esposito traces the history of jihad as it is used by revolutionary movements from the early Islamic days with the Kharijites through to the Wahhabi movement, stopping along the way to examine the Assassins and Ibn Taymiyyah, wrapping it up with a discussion of Sayyid Qutb, whom Esposito calls “the godfather to Muslim extremist movements around the globe” (56). Qutb argued that jihad was an “armed struggle in the defense of Islam against the injustice and oppression of anti-Islamic governments and the neocolonialism of the West and the East, was incumbent on all Muslims” (60). Qutb inspired many Islamic revolutionary organizations in the latter half of the twenty-century. His ideology grew root in the fertile ground of declining quality of life caused by corrupt governments and the humiliation brought on by the success of Israel leading to the creation of groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Liberation Organization. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda did not invent the ideology of jihad; rather, they took it from a local and regional scale to the international level.

Despite jihad’s long history as being seen as a holy war, Esposito warns us not to pigeon hole Muslim views on the issue. He notes that as decentralized as Islam is, there is no one interpretation of jihad that is accepted throughout the Muslim community. There are ongoing debates as to whether jihad is only defensive or if it also includes an offensive aspect, as well as discussions of whether the focus on jihad should be more concentrated on the spiritual aspect instead of the warfare/spreading of Islam aspect, and vice versa. So while jihad does indeed amount to ‘holy war’ in some cases, it is helpful to understand the context that accompanies it.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Author’s Note: This essay is intended to be a look at the conflict in the Middle East by examining the prospects for the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva Accords: An Opportunity for Peace in the Middle East?

Amos Oz has a vision of peace in the Middle East. Oz, a prominent Israeli peace activist, who, along with other Israelis, including former generals and cabinet members, met with high-profile Palestinians to form the Geneva Accords. The result of two years of secret negotiations, the Geneva Accords represent a breakthrough in the peace process. Doling out hard-hitting compromises that shatter the idealistic visions of both sides, the Geneva Accords consist of specific actions that both the Israelis and the Palestinians can adopt in order to end the suffering caused by the occupation of Palestinian territories and the suicide bombing responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli men, woman, and children. However, the future of the Accords is fraught with obstacles. In order to see exactly what they are, we need to first gain a good understanding of the history of the problems the Accords are trying to solve, then we will be able to move on to assess the prospects of this peace agreement.

The political aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict goes back to the early 20th century. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire fought with the Central Powers and against the Allies. When they lost, France and Britain split the Ottoman Empire into pieces and Britain took control of the areas of Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan with the Treaty of Sevres. At the time there were mainly Palestinians living in Palestine, though a handful of Jewish settlers could be found throughout the territory. However, back during the war in 1917, Britain had issued the Balfour Declaration stating that the government of Britain was sympathetic to the Zionist goal of creating a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, saying "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." This document encouraged Jews from Britain and across Europe to immigrate to Palestine with the hopes that they would have their own state for the first time in over eighteen centuries. The rise of Nazi Germany and anti-Semitism in Europe also encouraged many Jews to set out for a new life in Palestine. By the end of World War II, both the Jews and the Palestinians living in Palestine wished for Britain to leave. Some even formed terrorist groups and attacked anything representing British power in the region.

In 1947, Britain turned the issue of Palestine over to the newly formed United Nations. By the end of 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 calling for British Palestine to be split into a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem would remain an international zone with neither government controlling the city. Israel then declared its independence from Britain on May 14, 1948. However, the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries did not like this plan and were offended by the non-Muslims in control of what they saw as Muslim land. The night of May 14, 1948, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon invaded Israel. After more than a year of on and off fighting, battles and cease fires, Israel immerged victorious on July 20, 1949, after it signed the last armistice agreement with Syria. When all was said and done, Israel actually gained territory in comparison to the lines drawn by the United Nations.

Tensions remained high in the region, however. Egypt sponsored terrorists who committed attacks on Israel and in July 1956 nationalized the Suez Canal and denied Israel use of it. October 25, 1956, Egyptian President Nasser signed an agreement with Syria and Jordan placing him in command of their armies. Four days later, Israel, with the backing of the British and French invaded the Sinai Peninsula. President Eisenhower then demanded that Britain, France, and Israel cease their aggression. When the dust cleared, Israel had taken the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. At the request of the United States, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, content with its military victory that took less than 100 hours to achieve.

However, violence was far from over. In the early 1960’s, several Palestinian terrorist groups formed, rising from the ashes of those sponsored by Egypt, and combined themselves in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yassir Arafat. These terrorists took the lives of hundreds of Israelis. By 1967, Israel again found itself surrounded. Egypt had initiated a blockade, Syria was shelling over the border, and the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, with 250,000 troops, 2000 tanks, and 700 aircraft could be found on the borders of Israel. Israel then launched a pre-emptive strike on June 5, 1967. A cease fire was declared on June 10, but the damage had already been done. Israel now controlled the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, and had routed the Arab armies, although Israel lost over 777 men in the fighting. With all the additional territory, Israel also found itself in control of over 750,000 Palestinians. Many other Palestinians had left the area and fled into the neighboring countries in order to avoid the fighting.

On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria again attacked Israel. This time, however, Israel was unprepared. After taking two days to recover, Israel drove the attackers back into Syria and Egypt and would have continued if not for a United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding the cessation of military activities. Israel ended up not gaining any territory and suffering 2,688 casualties in the war.

The history of Israel’s large scale military actions ends with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was operating out of that country with out fear of punishment, so Israel invaded to destroy the terrorist cells. While there, Israel encountered Syria’s army and defeated it soundly. By 1984, Israel withdrew to Southern Lebanon where it stayed until 2000.

Today, Israel no longer fears invasion, instead, they face the horror of terrorism. Many of the Palestinian terrorist groups formed in the early 1960’s still exist, and newer ones, such as Hezbollah and Hamas continue to fight for a Palestinian country in the place of Israel.

Despite the continuing violence, some progress has been made. In 1979, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt would give Israel full diplomatic recognition and allow it to use the Suez Canal, the Strait of Tiran, and the Gulf of Aqaba. In return, Israel would withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and dismantle a military base and town near the border. This peace treaty has held until today, though there is no love lost between the two countries.

Progress has also been made on the Palestinian front. After first refusing a state of their own in 1948 along with Israel and being occupied both by Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, the Palestinians have a semi-autonomous government. In 1993, Yassir Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin signed an agreement stipulating that a Palestinian authority would govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip and would negotiate with Israel on Palestinian issues. Yassir Arafat, the former terrorist mastermind of the Palestinian Liberation Organization became the leader of the Palestinian Authority. This arrangement worked out fairly well until the collapse of President Clinton’s Camp David peace talks. This collapse, coupled with Ariel Sharon’s (the future Prime Minister of Israel) walk on top of the Temple Mount on Sept. 29, 2000, gave rise to the Al Aqsa Intifada, or uprising. The Palestinian terror groups began launching suicide bombings across Israeli settlements and cities. As of Dec. 10, 2003, 2611 Palestinians and 829 Israelis have died during the uprising.

In addition to the political and military battles between the Israelis, Palestinians, and the neighboring countries, it is important to take a look at some other major influences on the conflict. Some of these influences come in the form of other countries in the region. Obviously there are the bordering countries, of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but there are also Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and most of the Arab and Muslim world who have something at stake in the conflict. As was mentioned before, Iraq has played a part in attacking Israel by lending troops and equipment to the Egypt and Syria. More recently, under Saddam Hussein during the Al Aqsa Intifada, the Iraqi government would donate 25,000 dollars to the families of suicide bombers. Saudi Arabia has contributed financially to the Hamas, though it claims it does not fund the terrorist wing of that organization.

Arabs and Muslims across the world identify with the Palestinians. They see Israel as an invader and an oppressor, raiding Palestinian homes and refusing to let refugees return to their homes. They see Israel, a Jewish nation, intruding upon the holy places of Islam, such as at the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the third holiest place in all of the Muslim world. Arab governments often encourage outrage to be directed at Israel so as to blame domestic problems on somebody else. Conspiracy theories abound among those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, one of which claims that the media and the United States are controlled directly by Israeli Jews.

On the other side of the conflict lies the United States. Although the U.S. opposed Israel’s Suez Canal war during the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. has drifted squarely unto the side of Israel, giving them military and economic aid. There are many reasons for this. One is that some Arab countries such as Egypt were under the influence of the Soviet Union, so it was natural for the U.S. to support the country opposing Egypt. In addition, Israel is one of the only democracies in a region full of dictatorships, so it should be expected that the world’s leading democracy would by default support the decisions of Israel over those made by authoritarian governments. Also, many American fundamentalist Christians have sympathy for Jews as they see the Jews declaring their own state and building a third Temple as a necessary step towards the seconding coming of Christ. All of these factors mix together to create a United States sympathetic to Israel. The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks only served to reinforce this position as the United States found it could hardly condemn Israel for cracking down on terrorism as it did the same thing but on a larger scale.

Despite Britain and France’s collusion with Israel during the Suez Canal war, Europeans and the United Nations, for the most part, support the Palestinians. Unlike the American’s, Europeans don’t feel a connection with Israel and they see Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza to be overreactions worthy of condemnation. The United Nations General Assembly regularly condemns Israeli actions. The United Nations Security Council would often do the same if it were not for the United States’ insistence on vetoing any resolution that does not also condemn Palestinian terrorism.

In addition to the other countries involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the influence of religion in the conflict should not be discounted. As was mentioned before, many Muslims see Israel as an intrusion on sacred Muslim territory and that it is a religious duty for them to resist Israel. Many of the suicide bombers believe that by taking as many Israelis with them as possible, they will become martyrs and have a one-way ticket to heaven. Israel also has a radical religious element on its side. Many conservative Jews want to rebuild the Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in the first century. However, the Muslims now have their third holiest site located where the Temple was, and to blow that up would be to welcome World War III with open arms. As was mentioned before, the Temple Mount is such a volatile place that when Ariel Sharon visited it, many Palestinians saw the trip as a sign that Israel was going to take the area. Consequently they launched the Al Aqsa Intifada. Another aim of conservative Jews is to expand Israeli territory back to where it was in Biblical times, meaning taking over the West Bank and Gaza Strip permanently. Palestinians live in constant fear that Israel will one day declare the Palestinian areas as a part of Israel. That is one reason why they oppose the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the wall currently being built there by the Israeli government. The Israelis say the wall is to stop Palestinian terrorists from sneaking past check points but the Palestinians accuse the Israelis of using the wall to finalize borders that are in dispute. Religion is also the reason why many fundamentalist Christians support Israel. They see Israel as a necessary step towards the end-times and they see the Palestinians as an obstacle to Israel. When all of these religious issues mix together, it serves to make the overall situation more convoluted and virtually impossible to solve. And yet this is what the Geneva Accords are trying to do.

Perhaps the first obstacle the Geneva Accords needs to overcome before it can even get to solving the issues at hand is to be adopted by the governments of Israel and the Palestinians. The Geneva Accords are not a product of government negotiations; but rather, they are the result of a group of prominent Israelis and Palestinians who were frustrated with their governments. As a result, both governments find themselves opposing the Accords from the start as they represent a threat to the government’s positions. It is obvious that the current leaders in both governments will not accept the Accords, so in order to be adopted, the Accords will have to gain enough popular support (from both within Israel and Palestinian territories and around the world) in order to put pressure on the governments to force them to concede or weaken them so a new leadership can take their place.

The next obstacle to overcome would be making sure the governments agree on all the points laid out in the Geneva Accords. Israel would have to agree to Jerusalem to be split in two with the western half being the capital of Israel and the eastern half being the capital of Palestine. Israel would also have to agree to cede all control over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians while the Palestinians would do the same with the Western Wall. The Palestinians would also have to accept the fact that the refugees will not be allowed back into Israel and Israel would have to accept that its settlements in the West Bank will have to be dismantled and the settlers moved back into Israel proper.

All of these concessions will bed difficult for the Israeli and Palestinian people to accept. The refugees have lived in camps for decades hoping to go back to their former homes and now would have to give up their dreams. Arabs across the region would have to fully accept Israel as a nation with a right to exist where it does. Jewish settlers would have to give up their new homes and dreams. Conservative Jews would have to give up their goal of rebuilding the Temple. But if that does happen, peace will come about.

However, though the majority may want peace, it is the minority that will decide how much peace there will be. The refugees will not accept the fact that they cannot return to their homes. Hamas, a terrorist organization which has a large base of support from the refugees would surely assassinate any Palestinian leader who agreed to such a deal. As it is now, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have already vowed to fight the Accords. The Jewish settlers and radical conservative Jews would also likely take up arms against their leaders. They have already done this once with the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had compromised with the Palestinians and recognized the Palestinian right to self-government.

After taking all these factors into account, one would be hard pressed to state that the Geneva Accords may actually bring about an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Even if the governments did accept this solution, and the majority of Israelis and Palestinians were willing to compromise on this agreement, the radical minority on both sides would ensure that violence continued. However, the Geneva Accords do accomplish one very important thing vital to the peace process: they show that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can be achieved. The Accords prove to the world that those who want peace bad enough can sit down and work out an agreement acceptable to both sides. This fact may encourage moderates on both sides step up their efforts to change the attitudes within their own societies.

After taking a brief look at the long and nuanced history of violence in Middle East and the other major influences on the conflict, including the countries with interests in the region and United Nations, as well as the role of religion in the dispute, it can be seen that the Geneva Accords cannot bring peace to the Middle East. The conflict in the Middle East still has too much life in it to be laid to rest by this peace plan. However, this plan is definitely a step in the right direction. It creates hope for the future where none was before and shows that peace is possible for those who desire it.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Authors Note:My purpose in writing this essay is to provide people who are leaning to the pro-life side but are relatively new to the abortion debate a general understanding of the sides and history of the debate. I also wish to expand the views of those pro-lifers that have become polarized or entrenched in their arguments so that they will also be able to come to a better understanding of where they stand and how to get to where they want to be. Therefore, my target audience is pro-lifers. This essay is not designed to prove the pro-choice side wrong, but rather to offer constructive criticism of the pro-life side from a pro-lifer. Pro-choicers are welcome to read this essay, but I ask them to keep in mind the fact that they are not the target audience.

Also, as you will soon notice, this essay relies heavily on links. Instead of clicking on each link as you come to it and thereby disrupting the flow, I would suggest reading the essay twice; the first time as you would any other essay and the second time exploring the links.

The State of the Abortion War from a Pro-life Perspective

There are some issues where people can find common ground. And then there is abortion. One of the most divisive issues in today’s society, the fight over abortion seems to have reached a stalemate, though neither side is likely to suddenly back down any time soon. Perhaps the best way to come to an agreement on this issue is to understand both sides and the intricacies of their arguments. By looking at how we got to where we are now, and investigating the subtleties of each side’s arguments, we can come to a position where productive action can be taken on this issue. Though I can not say I do not harbor any biases towards this issue, I will do my best to keep them from interfering in my assessment of the arguments of both sides, instead saving my views towards the end, where you can accept them or reject them as you see fit.

Like fire, crude stick figures, and war, abortion has been with the human race since humans separated themselves from their ape-like ancestors and began walking upright. As times and peoples changed, so did attitudes toward abortion, running the gauntlet from treating it as a viable alternative to having a child to treating it as a terrible form of murder. However, despite abortion’s complex history, it is only useful for us to consider the history of abortion in modern times, as the archaic attitudes towards abortion fit within subsets of present day views of the issue.

The United States first began regulating abortion around 1820. These laws generally made the procedure illegal after the fourth month of pregnancy. By the early 1900’s, almost all types of abortion had been outlawed due to the advocacy of groups such as the American Medical Association.

However, this trend soon began to reverse with the rise of feminism in the Western world. Despite one of feminism’s founding mothers, Susan B. Anthony, being ardently pro-life, later feminists arrived at the belief that woman’s empowerment was unachievable unless they had complete control over their reproductive systems. First opposing laws against contraception and then opposing laws restricting abortion, feminist’s reproductive liberalization efforts culminated in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. In this decision, the Supreme Court decided in effect that states can not make laws restricting abortion until after the second trimester. In Doe v. Bolton, a case that went hand in hand with Roe, the court also decided that women have a right to abortion from six months until birth if her doctor decides it is necessary for her mental or physical wellbeing. A more recent case against which state laws are judged is Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In this 1992 case, the Supreme Court did away with the trimester structure of judging laws, instead settling for ensuring that laws against abortion do not create ‘undo burden’ on the mother and that the state must have compelling interest in fetal life (widely assumed to mean viability) before enacting such laws.

The central legal aspect of abortion has changed little in the last eleven years. Women still have the right to an abortion anytime before the fetus is viable and after viability if they will be mentally or physically stressed. The states and the federal government are not allowed to make laws intruding on this right. The main battles being fought now are regulated to side issues, such as partial-birth abortion, government funding of abortions (both domestically and overseas), parental-notification laws, and laws protecting the fetus from murder when the killing is done by someone other than doctor with consent of the mother.

Pro-lifers assert that human life deserves protection before the fetus has come to term. As a whole, they see no difference between a newborn baby and a fetus that is eight or nine months old. Yet one has the right to live while the other is subject to the willingness of the mother to take care of it. The majority of pro-lifers believe human life begins at conception and deserves protection from that point onward. They believe this for a variety of reasons. Those that are religious base their arguments mainly on Bible passages that assert God knows people before they are born. Others rest their belief on medical science, seeing that when a sperm and an egg meet, a new cell is formed with a genetic code unique from that of the mother. In half these instances, the new cell is of an opposite sex than the mother, providing proof that the new cells are not just a piece of the mother’s bodily tissue, but rather, a unique life. Pro-lifers believe that a fetus’s human right to live overrides the mother’s right to privately engage in medical decisions without government interference. They see the fetus as an equal to the mother in terms of rights, with the right to life taking precedence over the right to health or privacy. They also view the government as the answer to the problem of abortion because they see the government as a defender of human rights, which the fetus is entitled to, thereby justifying the invasion of privacy represented by abortion laws.

Pro-lifers’ main goal is to see abortion eliminated. Some pro-life groups advocate adoption as part of the solution to unwanted children being aborted. Almost all pro-life groups advocate the overturning of Roe v. Wade so that states can once again make laws making abortion a crime. However, since they have not been making headway with the Supreme Court, pro-life groups have settled towards chipping away at abortion rights under the premise that less fetuses will be killed if it is that much harder to obtain an abortion.

Pro-choicers, on the other hand, see the issue from an entirely different perspective. Instead of it being a matter of the fetus’s right to live, abortion is an issue of the mother’s right to control what happens to her body. If abortion is eliminated, pro-choicers argue, women would be forced to carry unwanted babies for nine long months, suffering from all the conditions brought on by pregnancy during that period. This would interfere with their lives and essentially turn women into incubators, people whose sole purpose in life is to produce babies. In addition to this, many women who conceive outside of marriage would be stigmatized by the rest of society and outcast. This would be especially noticeable in high school, where teenage girls would be facing their peers every time they walk down the hall. In addition, many of the reasons given for having an abortion revolve around lack of support for the mother. Some pro-choicers justify abortion by saying the fetus (at least in the first and second trimester) is just a ball of cells with no consciousness. They assert that it is not fully human and equal of protection on par with the mother. Others say that although the fetus may be human and has a right to live, it has no right to impose its presence where it is not wanted and since it is in the mother’s body, she can do with it what she sees fit. Still other pro-choicers set the limit for legal abortions at different stages of the pregnancy corresponding to where they see the fetus as human enough to deserve rights. Some pick the beginning of brain waves or a heartbeat. Others like the point when the fetus gains conscious thought more. Many pro-choicers think viability should be the cutoff point for abortions, using the reasoning that if the fetus can survive outside the womb, the mother does not need to kill it. However, this can create problems since medical technology is continuously improving and viability is not a set definition.

When it comes to pro-choice activism, levels vary from acceptance of certain restrictions (such as those on partial-birth abortion or parental-notification laws) to the extreme rejection of any law that remotely effects abortion in any way. By and large, the conventional wisdom on the pro-choice side is to deny the pro-life forces a foothold in order to keep them from endangering the right to abortion as a whole.

Now that we have seen both sides of the debate, I want to talk about how the pro-life side needs a fundamental change in its attitude if it wants to win the debate. Yes, this issue is polarizing; if you believe fetuses are human from the moment of conception, you won’t see much difference between the scourge of abortion and the Holocaust. However, telling the other side that they are participating in a holocaust is not going to make you any friends or save any babies.

So, what needs to be done is take what we have learned about both sides and have an actual dialogue on the issue. Perhaps the hardest thing to do when you are faced with a polarizing issue such as this one is to acknowledge the other side’s arguments and the reasons why it holds them. We as pro-lifers need to realize that we are viewed as overly idealistic, and that pro-choicers view themselves as realistic. Even if abortion is a bad thing, a fact many pro-choicers will acknowledge, it does not solve the problem of what to do with unwanted babies. This is a valid concern, and one that needs to be addressed. As pro-lifers, along with fighting against abortion, we need to look out for our unintended consequences. One of these consequences would indeed be an increase in babies that are either unwanted or can not be taken care of properly. Therefore, pro-lifers also need to stress adoption, both at a personal level and at a societal level. Pro-lifers should live their beliefs, and this should include adopting babies that would otherwise have been aborted due to lack of resources. They also need to push adoption campaigns through at the different levels of government, much like anti-drug groups got the government to sponsor commercials warning of the effects of drug use. Another area that needs to be addressed is the stigma of that comes with pregnancy to girls who are not yet married. Pro-lifers need to do all they can to help them instead of condemning them for fooling around. Maybe they shouldn’t have fooled around, but addressing that when they are already pregnant does not help matters at all. In fact, it does just the opposite: it makes the girl wish she was not pregnant, a wish abortion clinics can fulfill.

But compromise is not the be all and end all solution. We also need to insure we stand up for our core beliefs and make clear exactly what we believe and why. The pro-life movement’s current public stance fails to live up to that ideal. Instead, it allows itself to be defined by the pro-choice side as a group of fundamentalists trying to turn back the clock and take away women’s rights. We need to counter this argument not with words, but with actions. We need demonstrations. We need songs. We need marches. In other words, we need to have a second Civil Rights movement in this country. We can’t just stand on the side walk once or twice a year and expect to be taken seriously. No, we need to show we truly believe what is happening is wrong, and that we are willing to sacrifice for it. We need to put ourselves out in the public, bringing the issue to the people, instead of waiting for people to stumble upon the issue and letting ourselves be defined by the other side.

At the same time, we need to reevaluate our current strategy of changing abortion laws in this country. The first thing we need to do is take the focus off of overturning Roe V. Wade by bypassing it completely. The Supreme Court based its decision favoring abortion on the fact that it could not tell when if a fetus was fully human and had rights under the law. Instead of waiting for the court to overturn itself, we need to concentrate on legislation that would recognize the rights of fetuses. We may need to do this in stages, such as starting off with laws that acknowledge fetuses as human and worthy of protection under the Constitution at the third trimester. We can work our way towards conception from there. Overturning Roe v. Wade is a misguided objective. Not only is it not worth the effort to get judges on the Supreme Court willing to go against precedent that won’t be automatically rejected by the pro-choice crowd, but even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, the states could make their own laws on the issue. We would then have a hodgepodge of laws across the country, with some states allowing no abortion whatsoever and others with no restrictions at all. By bypassing Roe, we knock down these two problems with one stone.

A third thing we need to do is make sure our argument makes sense for everyone. Throughout the anti-abortion movement, Christian groups have been leading the way, because, by and large, they believe abortion is goes against God’s wishes as outlined in the Bible. This is a good thing, insofar as we do not use religious arguments to try to change a secular government. Yet, when religion is infused into this debate, it becomes a turnoff for people who do not believe exactly as Christians do. It serves to fragment the pro-life community, which is also composed of non-Christians (I, for example do not believe in any religion) who believe abortion is wrong just as sincerely as Christians do, as well as give the pro-choice movement more ammunition to defame the pro-life cause. They are able to say it is composed of religious people trying to inject religious law into the government. We need to change this state of affairs. Yes, Christians should still be welcomed into the pro-life movement, but they should reprioritize their arguments. Religious arguments do not apply to a secular debate. Our main focus should be on the humanity of the fetus, not on the morality of abortion. Everyone knows killing other humans is wrong, so convincing the majority of people in the U.S. that fetuses are human will suffice; there is no need to bring the Bible or other articles whose truth is based on faith into this. Religion is secondary to the primary argument of pro-lifers, and we should review our public stance to ensure compliance with that fact. Religion should be relegated to side arguments, such as discussions between pro-lifers and pro-choicers who both consider themselves Christians.

Both sides of the abortion argument are complex and worthy of acknowledgement from the other side. Pro-lifers need to be aware of the consequences of the changes they are advocating and pro-choicers need to recognize that pro-lifers truly believe that fetuses are human and are not using abortion as a cloak issue for taking away women’s rights. As for what the pro-life side can do to improve its advocacy; we need to be more understanding, but more energetic about our message at the same time. We need to stop being defined as people who condemn and look down upon women and instead adopt the message that “a person is a person no matter how small.”

Thursday, October 09, 2003

E-Mail Me!
Just wanted to let you know that you can feel free to e-mail me to comment on any of my posts or essays. In fact I hope you do. That way I would get an influx of ideas on what to improve upon, as well as constructive critisism, which is always a good thing. Unless you specify against doing so, I may post part or all of your e-mail on the blog.
The Truth is Out There, But Good Luck Finding It
This essay is one I just completed for my International Relations 160 class. We watched the movie Rashomon. It is a Japanese film made around 1950 that deals with a crime and the different remembrances of it by the participants and witnesses. I would say it is similar to 12 Angry Men, although I have not seen that movie recently enough to make detailed comparisons. Overall, it is a good movie and I recommend that you watch it both for its entertainment value as well as its thought provoking material. Anyway, here is the essay:

“Dead men tell no lies.” Unfortunately, priests do not always tell the truth. In the movie Rashomon, a dead man tells a lie, along with the three surviving members of the incident in question. These four participants all dispute the facts of the incident, but one thing seems to be the truth: a bandit happened across a man and his wife, the wife had sexual intercourse with the bandit, and the husband ended up dead. How exactly these events were brought to pass, however, can not be determined, as the four each have differing accounts of what happened. The bandit claims the wife willingly had sex with him and then begged him to kill her husband, which he did in an honorable duel. The wife asserts that she was raped by the bandit, and when she got no sympathy from her husband, she flew into a rage and fainted; when she awoke, her husband was dead, most likely by her hand. The husband believes his wife had been asked by the bandit to marry him and she said yes on the condition that the bandit kills her husband. The bandit is shocked, and asks the husband what he should do with his wife. She then runs away, the bandit follows her, and the husband kills himself out of grief. The witness claims that the wife was raped and then she convinced the two men to fight over her. Despite being terrified of each other, the bandit manages to get the upper hand and kill the husband.

In all of these versions, some details are agreed upon, but critical details such as who did what have become jumbled. So what did happen? There are three possibilities. The first is that there is a true version of events, but all the participants purposefully lie. The second is that there is a true version of events, but all the participants disagree because of their biases towards the fight. The third possibility is that there is no true version, so everybody should be telling a different story.

The third possibility can be immediately discounted. If there had been video cameras in twelfth century Japan, and they had been placed around the forest where the incident took place, they all would have told the same story. However, it is harder to discount one possibility from the remaining two. It is most likely some combination of the two, where some of the participants purposefully lie to make their case look better and others simply subjectively perceive the objective truth. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell the difference between purposeful deception and accidental self-deception, at least not in this case. For example, it could be that the bandit raped the wife and, because of his twisted mind, thought she was going along with it. Or it could be that the wife really did not like her husband and the sex was consensual. One story does not seem more likely than the other, especially when all four versions are compared.

Despite the fictional nature of this movie, its subject of opposing testimonies is mirrored in some real world instances. One of these instances involves what happened at No Gun Ri during the Korean War. One version of history has soldiers being ordered to fire on a large group of civilians. The other version of the incident claims that civilians were killed, but no order came down the chain of command to do authorize the massacre. Both sides of the story have multiple witnesses backing up the claims, and since the documentation of the war is for the most part unreliable, there is no way to know what really happened even though something clearly did happen.

Another such incident occurred during the Vietnam War. A Navy SEAL team, led by future Sen. Bob Kerry, was sent to attack a Viet Cong meeting. However, when they got to the town where the meeting was supposed to take place, they found nothing. This is when the accounts break apart. Kerry claims they started taking fire, so they fired back while they retreated, killing numerous civilians in the process. Six of his fellow team members back up this story. However, one other team member, as well as some witnesses to the event, dispute Kerry’s claims. They say the SEAL team gathered a group of women and children together and mowed them down with their machine guns. Is it the traumatic experiences of that night that are causing the stories to diverge? Is Kerry’s story a lie given to save his reputation? Is the other SEAL commando just trying to get some publicity or has memory of the occurrence been altered by his feelings of guilt after killing the civilians? The truth of the matter may never be discovered.

Rashomon and these two incidents illustrate how easily a situation can become ripe for dispute. Due to the many actors on the world stage, and the many contacts between them, the implications of different versions of the truth play a major role in international relations. The Palestinian-Israeli crisis is a good example of what effect such disputes can have. The Palestinians view Israel as oppressors who took away their homes and land. The Israelis view their control of the land as rightful due to their history in the region. The U.S. sympathizes with both sides, but views the terrorism used by the Palestinians as the more immediate issue. Each side has some part of the truth they are fighting for, but they are selective in their choice of it.

Another example of how two different accounts of an incident can figure on the world stage is the differing views on Christopher Columbus. In the parts of America heavily populated by European-Americans, Columbus is seen as a hero: an explorer who discovered the New World. In the parts of America with a significant native population, however, Columbus is thought of as an imperialist invader who brought with him the seeds of death, destruction, and slavery. The same man inspires such different reactions based on how the different groups perceive him.

History is full of examples of differences in perception creating conflict in international relations. From the China and Taiwan dispute, to the India and Pakistan situation, to the recent war in Iraq, differences in perception have been a negative force towards stable relations between nations. Although it is a fictional work, Rashomon serves as an outline for how one incident can be perceived differently by many different people. The truth is out there, but the means to obtain it may not be.

I just added a counter. I had to go register at another site to use the counter. You would think Blogger would have its own counter service. Oh, well.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Well, that did not take to long. I got the e-mail link to work.
Since I do not have the time or willpower to blog on current events on a daily basis, I have decided I will post my papers from my college classes here. I plan on posting them here the same day I turn in my final draft. I hope your like them and if you don't, feel free to offer constructive critism.

Yes I know I don't have any way for you to contact me. I will be working on that also.

Saturday, August 30, 2003


My name is Joe and I am starting a blog on current events and other extranous things that interest me.

Background information:

I am from Omaha, Nebraska and I am currently a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where I am majoring in Political Science and participating in Air Force ROTC. I have been interested in current events for about 3 years now and, having discovered blogs about eight months ago, I figured I should try my hand at blogging.
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