This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

September 21, 2006 - Two Books Worth Reading

[Disclaimer: please note that these are "LaRue's Views;" I am, it would not surprise me to learn, speaking for no one else.]

At the end of my last column, I talked about hearing, in London, from our Kurdish taxi driver about Saddam Hussein's devastatingly anti-Kurd regime. Our driver was frankly grateful for the United States' invasion of Iraq. However, he had no intention of returning, other than as a visitor, to his birthplace. He described it as backward and dangerous -- no place to rear your children.

My daughter's "host father" -- a former police inspector who volunteered to look out for my daughter in Germany, and give her some glimpses into German family life -- was more diplomatic, but less supportive of our international policies. He believes that President George W. Bush has "not been good for the United States."

Vice-President Cheney made a comment recently that Americans who protest the war in Iraq were like Neville Chamberlain's attempt to "appease" the Germans after Hitler seized Poland. But, from the German perspective, the situation is more like their own silence after the same event.

Hitler, the former police inspector pointed out, attacked a country that hadn't attacked Germany. He fabricated a story about Poland's threat to Germany. And it was the beginning of a round of fervent nationalist sentiment and unbridled executive power.

And that grew into World War II -- not just because the international community was ineffective in stopping the invasion, but because German citizens granted it implicit approval.

It is difficult for any nation to challenge the United States militarily; our defense budget exceeds that of the next 15 countries. Ultimately, a nation's actions are best directed and restrained by its own people.

My daughter recently sent me a thoughtful email from her school in Bremen. She wrote, "It's been fascinating, and in a strange way heartbreaking, to see how much Nazism haunts modern Germany. In our series of workshops on intercultural understanding, the German students stated outright how wary they are of displays of national pride. One girl said that thanks to the ferociously patriotic Nazis, no German today says, 'I am proud to be a German!' She referred to German history classes, and how critically students are taught to look at that period, 'to understand what a terrible mistake we made.' The only Israeli student in the room said quietly after that, 'I think then that is a very good reason to be proud to be a German.'"

I'm thinking about that, and thinking about a recent piece I read from Tom Tancredo about the "clash of civilizations" (after a book by Samuel P. Huntington of the same name). Tancredo's argument is based on two premises.

First, Islam is fundamentally opposed to modernity and democratic society. I think Tancredo is right about that. For a far more radical exploration of the same idea, see Sam Harris's utterly provocative "The End of the Faith: Religion, Terrorism, and the Future of Reason."

Tancredo's second premise is that we are in a war with Islam, and that we must confront and overcome those who embrace Islamic ideals.

I don't think it's that simple.

Harris argues that while Islam may indeed be a threat to modernity, and to our survival, it is not the only threat. According to Harris, there's another one, closer to home: Christianity. The Christian state, embracing the urgent imminence and necessity of the "End Times" could precipitate our extinction, too. All it takes is faith ... and nuclear weapons.

I was astonished to read, for instance, that under President Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell was invited to give a national security briefing on the End Times. While few modern and moderate Christians may endorse an ultimate war for Jesus, there aren't as many moderate Christians in and around our national government as there used to be.

A second threat might be the same kind of jingoistic nationalism that empowered Hitler.

A third grows from the others: out of control executive power.

What do I think? I think we need a better way. The battle shouldn't be framed as between one religion versus another. We are indeed in a war -- but it's a war of ideas. The war is not between faiths, but between reason, and the unquestioning faith (whether political or religious) that sanctions the murder of innocents.

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