Saturday, January 29, 2005

Religious Evolution due to Politics

It can equivocally be stated that throughout history, the search for Political Independence has shaped the Religious direction of a given group. The belief in Religion so often attributed to singular faith, would have no basis if it wasn't for the intervention of Politics. I can list dozens of examples, but I shall endeavor to concentrate on one specific Religious Group, only because I know more about its political history then I know of others. Christianity, as we know it today, is not the same entity that emerged at first, as a branch within another religious philosophy (Judaism as we've been told). During the first few hundred years after Jesus, there was great chaos in deciding how best to represent the growing movement. There were thousands of different views on the matter, each influenced by some zealot, clergy member, or philosopher with ties to political groups and power.
Before I continue further, I would like to make a few statements and provide some background information that should help in better explaining the whole situation. I am working on the assumption that there was a man named Jesus (although this is the Hellenized version of his name), who had numerous followers, starting a movement within the Jewish population towards the inclusion of non-jews. Some religions, or even intra-religious branches, are highly exclusive. What this means is that these groups do not actively proselytize, trying to convert or accept new members. As a rule, Judaism is a highly exclusive religious, with the belief that the Jews are superior to other ethnic groups, and that they are the true Children of God. Some did not agree with this presumptively arrogant and exclusive viewpoint, and decided that why limit acceptance to heaven on one ethnic group? In other words, why be bound to religion through blood, and not through other means such as plain faith? Thus, Jesus and his followers traveled around, trying to spread the movement Within their religion, for inclusion. They didn't set out to start a new religion or even new branches, but they disagreed on a philosophical basis with the Dogma of Judaism at the time. Aside from this, I have purposely left out identifying the region that lead to the movement which eventually became Christianity. The reason for this is the loaded nature of naming a given place, especially one that has been involved in numerous political and ethnic conflicts throughout its history. Generally, it is better to refer to most places geographically then politically. Thus, I will not use modern political names, or even ancient ones of the region. I will not refer to Israel, Palestine, land of Canaan, or whatever else may be. I can say Western Middle East, but this is an awkward and broad geographical term. From here on, I will use Southern Levant when I refer to the region. Geographically speaking, the Levant is the Eastern Shore of the Mediterranean that stretches from modern day Syria, through Lebanon, to Southern Israel and Gaza.
In order to better explain the shaping of Christianity through Politics, it is important to understand the reason for the Major divisions within Christianity. Generally, there are three main branches, the First, being the Orthodox, the Second the Catholics, and the Third branch consisting of Protestants. The fundamental Division between these beliefs was a result of the search for Political Independence and Dominance.
During the early Chaos of Christianity, it was decided by the various leaders, that a council must be convened to decide on a solid and stable platform. A philosophy was intent on being found that would unite the various factions and result in a substantial foundation. Thus, in the year 325, the Council of Nicea was convened within Constantine's Empire, to attempt at an initial reconciliation. Many philosophies were discarded at this time, charging those who practiced them as heretical. Christian Gnosticism (Various branches) for example, was one of the discarded beliefs, and those who tolerated, and especially practiced it, where persecuted to their eventual deaths.
The Adoption of Christianity by Constantine was not a religious miracle, but a move for greater political autonomy and independence. At the time of Constantine, Roman power and might was fading quickly, and in order for some remnant of the once might empire to remain, Constantine decided to Settle on the Bosporus, in what we now call Istanbul, previously known as Constantinople. By Adopting Christianity, Constantine solidified his power and dominance, binding the Eastern end of the crumbling Roman Empire together.
By the year 451, Christianity had not only taken a hold, but was flourishing in an ever expanding empire. The only problem was although many different groups had adopted Christianity, Constantinople was pressuring them to lose political independence and become a fully integrated member of the Empire. When the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) was convened to decide on the true nature of Christ, many of the politically autonomous groups decided to solidify their autonomy and avoid gradual assimilation into the ever expanding Byzantine Empire. This is when the first major division occurred, with the Oriental Orthodox church, moving away from the main branch on theological grounds (but in reality, based more on political autonomy). The main subject of this division was on whether Christ had a dual nature, being both fully human and fully divine, or on a single nature of Divinity, called Monophysite. This first division led to the Armenian, Syrian, Coptic (Egyptian), Ethiopian and Indian Orthodox Churches.
As the Byzantine Empire grew Stronger, Rome was invaded by incoming nomadic hordes, and the whole Western region of the Roman Empire had become disorganized and Chaotic. As the years went on, Rome and the Western end of the once former Roman Empire eventually recovered and prospered. While the Byzantine Empire put political pressure on Rome, many of the rulers resented these "Eastern Overlords" and slowly drifted away to retain their political identity. Finally, after centuries of simmering tension, the Great Church Schism of 1054 occurred. In this, Rome made the decision to break away from Byzantine Religious superiority, and instead develop and strengthen what we now consider the Catholic Religion. Thus, the Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholics emerged from the political division that Rome sought.
Turks and Mongols eventually conquered the Byzantine Empire, but since the political strength of Christianity had once again shifted, this time from Constantinople to Rome, Catholicism finally retained religious dominance over Orthodoxy.
With Catholicism being such a dominant force, a new line of friction emerged with the Holy Roman Empire (not to be confused with the Roman Empire). The Holy Roman Empire (which was neither, Holy, Roman, or an Empire) was a conglomeration of political regions within what are now France, Germany and Austria. As Southern Europe increasingly felt the threat of Muslim Power, religious dominance once again shifted. By the 1500's, the Protestant Reformation was under way, resulting in the 3rd and last major split of Christianity. In this, the many regions within Central Europe decided they had enough political pressure from Rome, and in order to avoid assimilation and dominance, decided to adopt a new belief separating them politically from Rome. If one looks at the further divisions within the Protestant Church, it's again possible to see the political overtones. The Anglican Church, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, among many others decided to further attain political autonomy and adopt these beliefs.
As can be seen from all the examples, and a small amount of Church History, religion retains divisions not on personal belief structures but on political autonomy and independence. It's not as easy adopting a new language or alphabet, as it is adopting a slight religious difference to retain autonomy. I am not stating that it's not possible to adapt a new alphabet, because all one has to do is look at Cyrillic (the Russian Script) to realize that religious in not the only method of independence. However, Religion is far more effective then an alphabetical or linguistic change.
Finally, with all the previous information one has in mind, how can anyone be sure of the original intent of a particular set of beliefs? These beliefs were shaped by ecumenical politics, linguistic shifts and violent transitions. The bible for example, is often thought by many Christians as the sole unaltered Word of God. How is it possible, that a document can remain unaltered through so much change in the course of its given history? Aside from the numerous linguistic translations that are nowhere near to the original in connotation and meaning, one can also understand the politics that have shaped and molded the belief into what it has become today. To summarize, Religion cannot be taken literally, either as the word of God or written in its original form, because even if that was the case, which I highly doubt, the original meaning and intent would have shifted greatly due to politics, language, and the passage of time in general.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hypocracy and the Absence of Public Outcry (WMD's)

Now that the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction is over, where is the outcry from the same community that was screaming for the blood of Sadaam Hussein and every Iraqi that would not cooperate with the Western Overlords?
The US State Department, Media, as well as various instiutions had been tearing their hairs out accusing Iraq of stockpiling, producing, as well as even the distribution of WMD's. Since the search has so quietly ended, all these groups are responsible for the death of soldiers, innocent Iraqi civilians, and the resulting Chaos that we see today. Where are the Nuremberg trials during circumstances such as what we've currently experienced. Milosevich was accused of far less then these "responsible" bodies were. How is it that these people in charge of the various intitutions can just walk away from such a quagmire, with neary a scowl exhibited in their direction?
The whole notion of a pre-emptive strike has just been proven to be a bloody power struggle for regional dominance (Western Imperialism), as well as the exploitation of a sovereign nation. Manifest Destiny was not just a 19th century doctrine, but in fact, has been present, and exceeding any bounds originally intended.

Aside from the catastrophic failure of the invasion of Iraq, we now find ourselves in a Quandry. Another important story that will very soon be buried under mountains of BS news (such as Michael Jackson, etc.) is the recent kidnapping of an Iraqi Christian Priest.
Where is the outrcy from the Neo-conservatives, as well as all the Right Wing Christian groups regarding this matter? It's obvious at some point, they will use this story for their advantage, to prove how evil the Iraqi insurgents are. Instead, what should be seen is the invasion of a sovereign nation, setting off an escalating civil war involving ethnic groups, religious minorities, as well as many other elements. Althoug Iraq was an oppressed society under Saddam Hussein, at least the internal conflicts (aside from those supported by Special Forces, such as the exploitation of the Kurds) were kept to a minimum. The society had a rigid structure, specifically preventing the escalation of such ethnic differences. In order to better equate Iraq's treatment of Minority Christians, one should look at the power Christians had during Saddam's regime. Tariq Azziz, the second in command under Saddam was himself a Christian. How often has this fact been ignored by the media? Only 2% if that, of the Iraqi population is actually Christian, just as about 3% of the American Population is Muslim. Can one imagine a Muslim Vice President, or Secretary of State in the United States? Now, thanks to the invasion and subsequent occupation, Christians are being summarily executed, kidnapped, and even forced to leave their homes and relocate outside of Iraq. Whether Sunni groups win during the Iraqi elections, or Shiies instead, does not make the situation any better for Christians and other minorities. The kidnapping of the Catholic Priest, bombing of Christian Churches, and random killings will only get worse with time.

I will now post some links that will futher illuminate the situation, and hopefully reflect the true nature of the Iraqi Occupation.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Paradox of Modern Warfare in Central Asia and the Middle East

Modern warfare as we know it today, cannot possibly be as effective as it once was during World War II, especially when applied to the countries within the Middle East and *Central Asia. In order to be efficient in warfare, once must know the enemy as well as one's own self. It is impossible to commit to an escalated conflict, without realizing the psychology and social organization amongst the people recognized as the Enemy. Particularly difficult in assessing such situations, are conflicts that are not fought against a particular state, but a select few who have chosen a different path towards self-rule.
The current "war on terror" is not as delineated as the populace is lead to believe. What actually defines a terrorist as opposed to a freedom fighter? Terrorist is such a blanket term, that these days, can be applied not only to a group that sets the stage of fear on an international scene, but to groups that fight within their own ethnic soil to retain their land and values. When the American colonies decided to defy the British Crown by any means necessary, they were not viewed as terrorists today, but as Freedom Fighters, or Revolutionaries who struggled to retain self-rule and autonomy. When a group of Bostonians decided to dump tea into the Boston Harbor, they were revolting against what they saw as oppression by the British Crown. If Iraqi "insurgents" decide to explode oil pipelines and conduits that fuel what they deem as foreign oppression on their own soil, how is that action different from those of the American Revolutionaries? When Palestinians feel oppression through walls, barricades, constant humiliation, and checkpoints at every turn on their own soil, how can one not react to such external threats? The very fact that only a small minority of Palestinians or Iraqis actually rise to break the bonds that have resulted in exploitation and humiliation is constantly glossed over by the Western, and particularly American media. The fact is, in terms of the general population, many people resent oppression, but few actually feel so dissatisfied and inpatient, that they decide to turn to violence in order to achieve their goals of autonomy. By watching and listening to Media coverage, one is lead to believe that the threat of insurgency comes from every single individual, but in truth, that is not the case. If one looks at the actual figures, those that wish for peaceful means and resolution FAR outweigh those resorting to violence to achieve their objectives.
The borders of the countries that are found within the Middle East and *Central Asia are just lines drawn by Western Imperialist during the heights of their territorial extent. Afghanistan for example, should not be considered a unified sovereign nation as the United States, Germany, France, or any number of examples. Similarly, the borders of most of the African countries was demarcated by Imperialists establishing colonies, and not based on common ethnicity or values. When one looks at the extent of civil war and social upheavel in Africa, one must understand the range of exploitation and division that was thrust upon the many different people by European Impersialism. I will not dwell on the African situation too much yet, that will a seperate post, but it's helpful just as an extended example of the similar situation in Central Asia and the Middle East.
The fact that borders are recognized by cartographers, does not mean that the indegenous populations, especially those that are nomadic, also accept those "paper" lines drawn by others. Going back to the example of Afghanistan, all Afghans are definately not of one ethnic tribe or shared values. The Pashtun, Tajik, Hazaras, Uzbek, and Turkmen amongst many others do not share all the common values or goals between themselves. Each group would prefer to have their own leaders to that of the other's. When one speaks of warlords, it's a battle, both figuratively and literally, between the different ethnic groups (and in many cases, within one ethnic group) to provide a leader that can best succeed at the goals shared by the community. This unrecognized border is the reason for the porous nature between the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's not as though there are fences or other obstructive structures through the whole extent of the territorial lines. In fact, there are countless passes, and caves, that provide a ready made conduit between the two nations (as we recognize them in the West). It should be no surprise that Osama Bin Laden, or any other person has such an easy access between the two regions. It's unbelievably stupid and naive for one to know this information, and still believe it's an attainable goal to capture everyone sought after, especially deemed so highly within a region. Of course, many have been captured, thanks to modern technology, but just as many have evaded detection. Further, it would be extremely difficult to convince an ethnic group that share a border, and live between both regions, to decide and recognize the international lines.
Similar to the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq also has various ethnic groups vying for dominance, and hoping to either control their own region, or the whole of the nation. Generally, Iraq has three main divisions within it's populace. There are Sunni Muslims, generally living within the central region of the country, Shiia (or Shiite) with ties to Iranians, living within the Southern third, as well as the Kurds, found within the Northern extent of Iraqi territory. Hearing the leaders of the United States, as well as the vocal media, assuming that the Shiia would accept American forces with open arms seemed like an insane notion, especially when one understands the social intricacies within Iraq. How could the Shiia, with ties to Iran, an "Axis of Evil" nation, readily accept invading "Coalition of the Willing" (an interestingly stupid term) forces, when the Iranian leaders look to the West, particularly America with such animosity and contempt? It is impossible to win the hearts and minds of a people that don't want to have anything to do with the values and interests of the occupying forces.
One cannot win a "War on terror" or succeed in an occupation (even if it's labelled as a transitory democracy) with a people that are so divided, that their only common thread is the hatred of the foreign occupiers. Even the Kurds, with all the friendliness and help that they provided to the West, are constantly left to their own defense. They are used and discarded so often, that even a recycled bottle would be surprised at the extent of abuse.
With all this in mind then, how can one work to better the situation? What does one have to do under the current situation that we're presented with? Personally, in terms of Iraq, I believe a form of Confederation should be instituted. No central rule should be forced upon the Iraqi people. I think Iraq should be divided into three semi-autonomous republics, Kurdistan in the North, Central Iraq, and Southern Iraq (within the Shiia governance). This would be the fairest, and least conflict prone method of solving the situation. I realize it's far too late now, to suddenly pull back the occupying forces, because a civil war will ensue. Therefore, what the current forces should attempt is to allow the Iraqi's semi-autonomy within the regional powerhouses. This of course will never happen, because the resources would also be divided, and exploitation cannot occur at the extent to justify the conflict.
The same Confederate solution should also be applied to Afghanistan. Provide each region with ethnic majorities semi-autonomy, and allow the populace to vote. I realize the semi-autonomous republics would argue over the borders drawn, but that is what the United Nations along with the indegenous population could work out.
A detractor might say, where is the evidence for such a Confederate nation to succeed? I would like to point out Switzerland as an example. In a previous post, I've already discussed the Swiss configuration, so I'll try to keep it summarized. Switzerland is divided into 7 semi-autonomous cantons, with a rotating president among the different regions. The central government is generally weak, and presides over such bodies as the military, education, transport. I think a similar situation in Iraq would work, as long as there is international backing for such an endeavor. The same can be said for Afghanistan, and many of the countries within Africa.

*When I refer to Central Asia, Afghanistan is not the only conflict prone region. The fact is many of the former Soviet Republics, such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are also under a similar ethnic compositional difference as Afghanistan. The only differnce is the fact that those Central Asian nations have Authoritarian rulers, brandishing the laws of governance and commerce with an iron fist when applicable.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New Posts coming soon

It's been quite a while since my last blog, thanks to the vicissitudes of life. Things ended up quite busy, getting fired from one job, juggling for another as it came along, and just scratching by the skin of my teeth. I had originally intended to update some of my previous blogs, as I had many questions left unanswered. I had intended to post new blogs regarding the imperialistic invasion of the Middle East, the exploitation of countries regarded as friendly, as well as many other new topics. Further, there's a lot of support for previous blogs that I had intended to supplement (support such as links to books, and other information that can lead to further ones knowledge on the subject).
Also, I would appreciate any criticism, and thoughts, even antagonistic to my posts. Only through skepticism and critical thinking, can we begin to unravel the truth. Some things I may say may seem inflammatory, and certain people may get offended, I would appreciate to hear any and all comments, as long as it's put forth in an educated and contrite manner.
Updates should be coming along shortly. I would also like to post other topics, and interests that I may have. Look for new subjects coming soon.