Thursday, May 24, 2018

An American's letter to Sabika Sheikh

Dear Sabika,

It's been several days since the school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, where you, a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student, were among the 10 victims.

Since then, I've learned a lot about you from media reports and the moving testimonials from your family and friends.

You were blessed with many admirable qualities, but what particularly stands out is your pure and unadulterated optimism.

Indeed, in a deeply troubled world where many nightmare scenarios have come true, you still dared to dream of better things.

In a speech you made at a retreat for foreign exchange students in North Carolina earlier this year, you said you "prayed every night to wake up to a world of peace."

At a time when the US global image is suffering beyond belief, you still saw the good in America. Your father recalled that before you arrived here, you studied US history "to learn from the best."

You believed America provided a safe and special space to receive an education. You wanted to be a diplomat and hoped to help improve US-Pakistan relations.

You were from Karachi, where terrorism and other violence haven't been as frequent as in earlier years. And you lived far from Pakistan's most conflicted regions in the west and north.

Still, given your country's many afflictions — including the extremism that you reportedly sought to escape by studying in America — you had good reason to come of age too quickly.

Indeed, in Pakistan and beyond, so many conflict-scarred, disease-ravaged, and prejudice-victimised young people — and many more traumatised by the travails of their global peers thanks to the powerful vehicle of social media — have had to grow up way too fast.

In short, it wouldn't have been surprising if you'd become jaded.

Or at least a bit cynical.

But you didn't. You were an optimist to the core.

Until the moment you died.

How cruel and tragic that the country you so admired, and that gave you so much hope, didn't only let you down. It killed you.

Now you are one more victim of a sickening American gun culture that has literally been the death of so many people in this country—again and again and again and again.

I'm also struck by something else: your death has taken a powerful perception harboured by many Americans and turned it firmly on its head.

Nearly eight years ago, a Newsweek headline infamously declaredPakistan to be the most dangerous country in the world. Today, many Americans — who often fixate on the fate of Daniel Pearl and the discovery of Osama Bin Laden — continue to view Pakistan as a dangerous place, and especially for Americans.

And yet then there was you: a Pakistani student gunned down at school — by an American terrorist. In America.

It's as if the lens through which Americans view Pakistan has been inverted, bringing into focus an ugly and deadly dimension of the United States that many here are still unwilling to fully acknowledge.

This underside of America is all too real. It makes your determination to focus on America's better side all the more admirable.

Your father said he hopes your death will finally prompt America to reform its gun laws.

Sadly, that's not in the offing. Dozens of previous school shootings — including one in 2012 that killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds — haven't prompted change.

Neither has the most galvanising gun control movement in US history, spearheaded by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting in February.

We've already witnessed a familiar charade since the Santa Fe shooting: US political leaders blaming everything — video games, not enough religion, too much drug abuse, even too many doors in schools — but guns for school massacres.

Indeed, it's hard to find any silver linings. But it's worth trying, if only to honour someone who seemed to have an endless repository of hope.

Here's one. Even in your much-too-short life, you achieved your goal of becoming a diplomat.

Your first and only overseas posting was in Texas, where you served as a cultural ambassador — a well-deserved informal status for effective foreign exchange students like you.

How tragic that in the end you brought the US and Pakistan together in grief, not goodwill.

Here's one more silver lining: you offer a resounding reminder that young people are Pakistan's greatest asset. In a country where two thirds of the population is under 30, and where the median age is 23, there are many more Sabikas: young, smart, suffused with hope, and determined to make Pakistan, and the world, a better place.

Here's hoping we hear more about Pakistan's other Sabikas in the coming years — not because of their tragic deaths, but because of their inspiring acts in life.

And I'd like to think you'll be pulling for them all.


Why Do Christians Put Up With Trump? by David Mongomery

Why Do Christians Put Up With Trump?

"How can practicing Catholics and evangelical Protestants support a president as immoral as Donald Trump?" This question assumes that it is morally or intellectually inconsistent to do so — an argument that has been advanced in publications as ideologically distant as the National Review and the Atlantic

But are Christians who support Trump inconsistent or guilty of fundamental moral errors? 

To many conservative Christians, such as myself, Donald Trump offered the hope of making right what they saw as going horribly wrong in our country. Alternative candidates stood for policies that would make things worse and were beset with deep character flaws of their own. 

Candidate Trump was unabashedly pro-life and willing to defend religious freedom. He stood for a stronger national defense after eight years of appeasement and neglect. He understood and stated clearly that Western Civilization is under attack from Islamic militants. He supported Israel unreservedly. He saw how excessive taxation and regulation combined to give us the worst recovery from a recession on record. 

That is not to say that all Trump supporters support all of Trump's policies. I, for one, believe the president is wrong to promote the myth that immigration and imports kill jobs and hurt Americans. No candidate has a perfect policy platform. 

To be sure, Trump's rhetoric and personal behavior — his denunciations of Hispanics, tasteless remarks about women and sex, and marital infidelities — were negatives for many of us who voted for him. But, though sometimes excessive or offensive, his brash style was effective because it showed that he understood the feelings of those alienated from mainstream politics — those who felt left behind economically and angry at a federal government that was intruding into their lives, schools that were teaching their children things they did not believe, and celebrities, the media, and mainstream politicians who ridiculed them. 

In short, despite efforts to caricature him, President Trump presents a complex picture of sound and unsound policies and personal virtues and vices. Conservatives Christians felt (and continue to feel) that, on balance, the sound policies outweigh the unsound, making the vices worth putting up with — especially given the alternatives.

The President's Policy Agenda
Start with policy. On balance, and giving the most weight to the issues of public policy with the greatest moral significance for Christians — rights to life, religious freedom, and to a decent standard of living — the choice to support him has been clear to me and many others. Here Trump has delivered considerably well. 

The future of the Supreme Court was the overriding reason for many to vote for Trump. By appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, President Trump has given hope that the right of religious liberty will be preserved and the rights of the unborn and unwanted defended. His establishment of new HHS policies to protect health-care workers who refuse services like abortion on religious grounds and his executive order on organizations refusing to comply with the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act likewise remove past threats to freedom to follow religious beliefs.

On the economic side, before Trump was elected, economic growth was forecasted to stagnate atabout two-thirds what it was since World War II. My own studies and those of many other economists supported the conclusion that the proliferation of regulations and rising taxes since the Bush era were the primary causes of this stifled growth. 

President Trump delivered the largest revision of the tax code since President Reagan. While the tax bill could have been much better, it was still a move in the right direction, as I have writtenelsewhere. Trump has also made the first real progress in 40 years of sporadic attempts to rein in regulation. The number of regulations putting constraints on business in the first year of the Trump administration was only 32 percent of the number issued annually under Obama — not counting all the proceedings started to roll back regulation. Investment, employment, and the stock market all responded immediately. 

These are not just economic issues but issues of social justice as well. Starting with Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum" in the late 19th century, the Catholic Church has reflected at length on the nature of social justice, especially in terms of the well-being of the working classes. A consistent theme is that workers should have an income from their labor that will allow them to support their families, educate their children, and provide for their old age. 

At the same time, these "social encyclicals" condemned socialism for taking those privileges and responsibilities away from the workingman and imposing a government's preferences and values. Later encyclicals, such as "Centesimus Annus," having observed some consequences of the welfare state, warned perceptively about how welfare programs eroded self-respect, incentives to work, and the family. A key theme in this Catholic social teaching is that political and economic problems should be dealt with at the lowest level of social organization that can do so effectively — preferentially the family, church or community.

The Church also supports property rights and has condemned death taxes on the basis of human nature. Why? Because the worker who creates economic value and can anticipate the future should be allowed to own the property that is necessary to have some control over that future as well as provide for his children. As "Rerum Novarum" puts it, government actions an only be beneficial so long as "a man's means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation." Tax reform and deregulation both support these aspects of Catholic social thought. 

One aspect of deregulation, Trump's reversal of Obama's climate policy, is of particular note. Many of the president's critics, including Pope Francis, view this as a clear moral failure. My view is entirely different, as I have argued elsewhere.

The pope is, of course, correct that proper moral framework for evaluating climate policy is concern for the poor and vulnerable of the world. But the decision of what action to take in light of that concern is a matter of prudential judgment. Unilateral action by the United States government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would raise costs of energy and impose burdens on the poor in this country, and only help the global poor to a limited extent and in the distant future. More might be accomplished for the global poor by using the same resources that would be devoted to reducing emissions in the U.S. to make them less vulnerable to current natural disasters. 

Immigration is admittedly a tough issue for Catholics. This is in part because Pope Francis appears to condemn all limits on immigration as immoral. But this is a departure from the established position of the Church. The Catechism states that: "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions." This places the matter of immigration policy squarely in the realm of prudential judgment, since the "common good for which [political authorities] are responsible" is one that requires application of principles of justice and charity along with knowledge of facts about an issue and understanding of the consequences of various ways of dealing with it.

Although I part ways with Trump on broader issues of immigration, he is right that there are real risks here, which many mainstream politicians have been reluctant to admit. With the current wave of Muslim immigration, Europe has seen a rise in terror attacks, rapes, and other criminal and social problems. In our own country, violent felons and suspected terrorists have been apprehended who entered through the southern border. Not only lone wolves but wolf packsenter into the country this way, as evidenced by MS-13. 

The extent of these problems can be disputed on factual grounds. But having recognized that there are problems, the obligation of government to protect the lives and property of the innocent becomes a relevant moral issue. So does the practical question of how to provide that protection without sacrificing justice, charity, and other practical benefits of immigration. 

All in all, despite his offensive rhetoric, President Trump's actions on immigration policy do not amount to moral failings so much as a different set of conclusions in the realm of practical judgment. 

Christian Morality
What about morality? Does my willingness to weigh the good President Trump does against the harm imply that I am cooperating with evil? Not in my moral education. In "Pacem in Terris" Pope Saint John XXIII discussed at length how in this world most leaders do not share the moral framework to which we as Christians adhere. That makes it necessary to work for as much good as possible in public affairs, recognizing that we must as Christians settle for less than perfection. This means working with the moral infirmities and motivations of those in power, while at all times trying to change their moral framework. 

Of course, there is a limit to what actions a Christian can tolerate because some moral prohibitions override any incidental benefits. If President Trump were to intentionally violate fundamental principles of justice in wartime, support liberalization of abortion laws, or promote assisted suicide, these actions could not be condoned even if his policies advance the common good in other ways. But his positions on all such issues appear sound. As far as I can tell, the type of immorality the president's critics worry about either does not concern such inviolable moral principles or else falls clearly within the area of prudential judgment. 

One might, for instance, argue that the president's actions on health policy or the environment violate the principle of protecting innocent life because denying access to health care or harming the environment can harm or even kill people. But such an argument fails to recognize the distinction between direct and intended effects and indirect and unintended effects, which determines moral culpability. For example, relaxing air quality standards may increase mortality rates slightly for some vulnerable populations. That is neither a direct nor an intended effect, but a possible outcome that depends on uncertain predictions and many different factors, including potential responses to the change in the law. In a world with limited resources, relaxing air quality standards may also reduce mortality rates among those who bear their cost. Since it is impossible to eliminate all risk, policymakers must balance the costs and risks that remain in light of the common good. That requires prudence and practical judgment as well as a consistent moral framework.

Considered in this light, I conclude that President Trump's policies contain no grave moral errors, do some practical harm, and achieve a great deal of practical good. Far better than I could have expected of anyone else. 

Personal Character
Then there are all the personal misdeeds of which the president has been accused — mostly prominently allegations of sexual impropriety. 

Those who question how "conservative Christians" can support Donald Trump despite these accusations seem for the most part to be working with a caricature of Christian moral thought. According to this caricature, Christians are expected to denounce every public figure who violates any moral principle to which they adhere. But that sounds a lot more like virtue-signaling progressivism than Christianity. 

It is not that Christians are indifferent to sexual immorality. As one theologian put it recently, "The premise of the Sexual Revolution is antisocial, and its effects are socially destructive, as every pope since Leo XIII has shown, including Francis." This includes sex in any form outside of marriage, pornography, and the entire LGBTQ agenda. There is no question that we believe the sexual behavior of which Trump is accused to be gravely immoral. Although, ironically, those who are most preoccupied by these accusations do not appear to share that belief, since they have for the most part been vocal supporters of the sexual revolution and unlimited freedom for consenting partners to engage in any kind of sexual activity they choose. 

But the Christian also recognizes that "God's ways are not the ways of men." David had Bathsheba, yet is still honored as the greatest of the Kings of Israel and the ancestor of Our Incarnate Lord. Trump, at least, never sent Melania's husband out to certain death in battle so that he could marry her. The biblical God does not always select flawless individuals to carry out his plan for the good of his people. Of course, many have hoped through the ages for a compassionate, just and successful Christian king. But no head of state since St Louis of France (13th century) and St Jadwiga of Poland (14th century) has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Though it may come as a surprise to others, Christians admit — indeed, emphasize — that we are all sinners. Politicians are just more visible.

In fact, sexual escapades seem for whatever reason to be highly correlated with success in politics. To cite only the most clearly documented cases, Presidents Clinton, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Franklin Roosevelt all had extra-marital affairs. Even George H. W. Bush, that most honorable of men, had quite a reputation as a Navy pilot. Of course, this whole situation is wrong. We should not be letting news reports about sexual infidelities of prominent figures convince our children that such behavior is all right. But remember subsidiarity: That is a problem we can and should begin to solve at home by moral example and instruction. 

One of the most infuriating misconceptions about Christianity is the idea that Christians see themselves as perfect and so judge the morals of everyone they encounter. Christ's injunction was the opposite: to hold ourselves to the same standards by which we judge others. And we are all sinners, after all. Some are more virtuous than others, of course, but, unfortunately, that rarely seems to include successful politicians.

So lets get over the hypocrisy bit. Church attendance is not virtue signaling. We do not go to services to show off how perfect we are, we go because we are all sinners seeking to do better. More precisely, since Jesus walked the earth, we have been enjoined to do the latter and not the former.

Conclusion
I am convinced that we who voted for Trump did so for valid and urgent reasons and that, as president, he has done a good job delivering what we hoped for. Finally, I am confident that this is consistent with my Christian faith, despite the president's shortcomings, personal or political. 

That does not mean I am satisfied with any of this.

Conservative Christians tend to lack confidence in the inevitability of progress. We understand that this is and will always be an imperfect world, inhabited by imperfect humans. Our task, accordingly, is not to perfect this world but to make some part of it as much better as we can. At some points in history, the imperfection has been much clearer than at others. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the past 100 years (and more) provide clear empirical proof of the doctrine of Original Sin. In political life, we can only attempt to bring about as much good and avoid as much evil as is possible in an imperfect society with imperfect leaders. 

To that end, Christians engaged in the public square must act in accordance with moral law, while recognizing that it is sometimes necessary to cooperate with those who do not share their moral formation. This is the fundamental reason why conservative Christians can work with Donald Trump and find little benefit in moralizing about his personal behavior. 

That leaves us with more concrete political questions, such as: Which of President Trump's actions advance the common good and which do not? Could we expect better? Which violate clear moral laws and which advance their recognition? My answers are that the common good is advanced by his policies on tax reform, deregulation, and his defense of religious liberty and the right to life. I expect that the common good may be harmed by some of his positions, such as those on immigration and trade. On balance, though, I am convinced that the gain to the common good far exceeds the loss. I will always hope for better, but I did not expect even this much to be accomplished. 

As for President Trump's personal failings, they — like mine — will be judged by a Higher Authority than even The Atlantic magazine.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America.


Can you curb religious fundamentalism by “eliminating fake and extremist texts”?


What It Takes To Make Saudi Islam 'Moderate'

Can you curb religious fundamentalism by "eliminating fake and extremist texts"?

Sigal Samuel

Saudi Arabia is going to great lengths to present itself as "moderate"—or at least, as trying to embody "a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions," as the crown prince recently put it. Early signs suggest that the state's rebranding efforts are working. In May, U.S. President Trump praised the Saudis as they jointly inaugurated a counterterrorism center in Riyadh, and just this week the Israeli military chief expressed unprecedented willingness to share intel with the Saudis, saying that Israel will "exchange information with moderate Arab countries."

But how does a state associated with fundamentalism "moderate" the religion it promotes? One less-examined mechanism for the attempt is the King Salman Complex, a new center being built for the study of hadith, the reports about Muhammad's sayings and practices that form an important source of guidance for Muslims. And it shows the limits of the "moderation" push.

The royal decree that was circulated within Saudi Arabia last month to announce the creation of the King Salman Complex was apolitical in tone. It focused on the religious nature of the new center, which will be based in the holy city of Medina "in continuation of this country's service to Islamic law and its sources." By the time the story made it to the English-language press, however, the center was deeply political. The Ministry of Culture and Information had issued a statement saying that this "unprecedented initiative" would have scholars reauthenticate hadith "with the purpose of eliminating fake and extremist texts and any texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders, and terrorist acts which have no place in Islam, the religion of peace." It was this narrative that Western outlets like The Guardian reiterated.

"The original story was 'King Salman is a pious king who donated to the religious establishment,'" Joel Blecher, a hadithscholar at George Washington University, told me. "I get the sense that the Ministry of Culture and Information saw this story come across their transom and said, 'We could promote this as a counterterrorism story.'" (Saudi officials I contacted declined to comment for this article.)

Both narratives serve the royal family nicely, Blecher said. Within Saudi Arabia, establishing the King Salman Complex is good PR: The family derives a lot of legitimacy from the religious scholars, so why not look for new ways to spend money on them? It's also good—and much-needed—PR in the West: Saudis are often accused of exporting a fundamentalist brand of Islam known as Wahhabism—a term that has taken on pejorative connotations in the Westand they've been keen to prove (to Trump as well as to potential international investors) that they're a strong ally in the fight against terrorism.

Why has the counterterrorism narrative about the King Salman Complex gained traction? "Quite a few people in the West think Islam has a problem. So either we get rid of Islam, or we deconstruct Islam and remold it in another image," said H.A. Hellyer, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a scholar of religion and politics. "This [narrative] gives hope that we'll change Islam into something we in the West like … and we don't need to then ask difficult questions about why we have such good relationships with autocrats in many Muslim-majority countries."

Assuming that the hadith center does aim to curb extremism, though, it's not clear how it could succeed. Hadith authentication involves examining a report's train of transmission ("X heard this from Y who heard it from Z who heard it from Muhammad") and making sure the sources are trustworthy. "I would be very skeptical of the claim that this is going to root out extremism, because ultimately it's not the act of authentication [that matters]—because there are plenty of hadiththat are authentic that would very easily lend support to militant groups," said Blecher.  

The target audience is probably not extremists themselves (who could find support for their beliefs in almost any text) but those who are at risk of being radicalized. "It's very possible that what will happen at this center is that there'll be conservative Salafis—purists who often castigate the majority of Muslims for practices and ideas that historically haven't been problematictaking arguments that radical extremists have made and deconstructing them," said Hellyer. "When groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS argue that you have to revolt against the government, they'll deconstruct it and say that's not true and this is why."

But just as the government relies on the scholars for legitimacy, the scholars rely on the government for their salaries. So, Hellyer added, "They'll deconstruct arguments that are in conflict with the present needs of the Saudi state. But are they going to deconstruct all of the sectarian stuff? For example, will they now admit that Sunnis can legitimately be Sufis and not be described as deviants? I don't think so."

There's also no indication that they're going to undertake the intellectual overhaul needed to disentangle Saudi Islam from the extremist offshoot of Salafism that stems from the teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. That theologian's teachings date back to the 1700s, meaning that the root of the problem is nearly 300 years old—not 30 years old, as the crown prince said when he linked it to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The prince's statement was troublesome, and not just because the arithmetic was off; that he located the issue in such recent history suggests he's not interested in a major foundational shake-up.

If Saudi Arabia tackles the problem only superficially, there's no reason to expect it will effect deep change. Worse, it could backfire. "The unintended effect could be that this undermines Saudi religious credibility," said Annelle Sheline, a doctoral student at George Washington University who studies Arab monarchies' attempts to use state control of religious institutions to reduce extremism.

Saudi Arabia has so successfully promoted a particular version of Islam that if it tries to change that now, it risks empowering fringe voices who will claim to be sticking up for the old version. "You're going to have extremists who are very willing to trumpet the fact that Saudi Arabia isn't adhering to the real Islam, they're just in the pockets of the West, which is already a pretty widespread view," Sheline told me. "People are very sensitive to any perceived interference, so any efforts to 'moderate' the religion immediately smell very fishy."

If a new hadith center can't really disentangle Islam in Saudi Arabia from extremist Salafism, what can get the job done?

"The longstanding American view is that the answer is democracy," Sheline said. On this view, if the Saudi government were not authoritarian—if devout individuals were able to express their own views without being constrained—there would be a greater plurality of religious discourses. Some would be moderate and some would be extremist, but hopefully "this would allow people to see [the extremists] for what they are." (However, seeing extremists for what they are is different from not generating them. An emerging democracy like Tunisia may have a greater plurality of religious discourses, but it was still one of the top exporters of fighters to ISIS—with Saudi Arabia also at the top, per a Soufan Center study.)

For his part, Hellyer says the real solution lies in deep intellectual and theological reform. "It would require a recognition that the purist Salafi heritage that comes from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab—which is the underpinning of the Saudi religious establishment—is not normative, that it's a minority approach within the Sunni universe," he argued. "And that would require a reexamination as to whether Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's message is intrinsically the best way to go. … If they take that to pieces, then they will have accomplished a genuine counterreformation of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's message."


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn ordered to pay $9,000 in attorney fees

Check out this article from Ventura County Star:

Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn ordered to pay $9,000 in attorney fees

https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/2018/05/22/oxnard-mayor-tim-flynn-pay-attorney-fees-ballot-false-statement-lawsuit/631288002/


Sent from my iPhone by Nick Iqbal Quidwai Newbury Park CA

A rights group has accused the Egyptian army of unlawfully destroying thousands of homes, businesses and farmland in northern Sinai, as part of its campaign against the ISIL group.

A rights group has accused the Egyptian army of unlawfully destroying thousands of homes, businesses and farmland in northern Sinai, as part of its campaign against the ISIL group.

http://aje.io/z62ql


Sent from my iPhone by Nick Iqbal Quidwai Newbury Park CA