Islamic Snuff Flicks

Tawfik Okasha presenting the beheading video

A couple of weeks ago, a video appeared on the internet.  Another beheading, but what made it unusual was that it was shown on Egyptian TV by talk show host Tawfiq Okasha, described in various postings as a liberal, on his show “Egypt Today.” Mr Okash said the crime took place in Tunisia and that the film  showed men beheading a Christian for the crime of having converted from Islam.

Some days later other posts and comments appeared on line saying that the video was first posted by the Free Syrian Army, and that the victim was an a Alawite, the Shia offshoot to which Assad belongs.

The internet is replete with this sort of thing, the decapitation of Daniel Berg in Iraq being the most widespread. Some years ago, I watched the film of Mr. Berg’s last minutes, and had not returned for more.

This time, I felt that if Mr Okash was brave enough to show this on Egyptian T.V., and ask the anguished question, “Is this Islam,” I would do him the courtesy of watching.

I don’t speak Arabic but have enough words to pick up a little of the gist.  The words “murtad,” apostate, and “mushrik,” polytheist – which Muslims consider Christians, with their concept of the Trinity to be – recur over and over again.

What did I see? I saw a man have his head slowly severed from his body, as I had seen before, the initial cut severing the carotid much the same as the that of the halal slaughter method, so one hears a gurgling as the victim continues to breathe though the blood.

The young man first lies calmly with the knife at his throat, calm, his eyes doe like, with either the peace of resignation, hope for the life hereafter, or perhaps drugged, although I very much doubt this kind of mercy was shown.

The first slice is shallow, and the blood starts.  Then the sawing begins, and it goes on for a very long time, as the killer slices and also bends the head away from the growing neck cut so that one is presented a grisly anatomy lesson. Within this time the life drains from the eyes and death triumphs.

When the head comes free it is lifted in triumph to cries of Allahu Akbar ( Allah is greater). Then as I had seen before, the head is set upon the trunk, much as one might display a hunting trophy,

Some days after the video appeared, posts appeared on line showing the video in earlier posts, and stating that it was not in Tunisia, but Syria, citing the use of the epithet “rafidi”( deserter), which they say is used for Shia, but certainly could describe anyone who left Islam. Not knowing the word then, I didn’t hear it, and have no desire to watch again so as to confirm this.  Most said it was the Free Syrian Army, who are Sunni, killing an Alawite . A few said the victim was Shabiha, as the informal militias of street thugs, and undercover secret police Assad employs are known. These commenters thought the man got what he deserved, and looked forward to more of the same.

Some thought the audio might have been dubbed, although I haven’t found that anyone has yet done any forensics to prove or disprove this.

In the end, It really doesn’t matter.  What does, is the answer to Mr. Okasha’s question, “Is this Islam?”

And the answer is yes, it is , and has always been thus.

The Islamic tradition of the end of the Jewish Banu Quraiza tribe after their defeat in Medina at the Battle of the Trench is iconic.

“The Jews were made to come down, and Allah’s Messenger imprisoned them. Then the Prophet went out into the marketplace of Medina , and he had trenches dug in it. He sent for the Jewish men and had them beheaded in those trenches. They were brought out to him in batches. They numbered 800 to 900 boys and men. As they were being taken in small groups to the Prophet, they said to one another, ‘What do you think will be done to us?’ Someone said, ‘Do you not understand. On each occasion do you not see that the summoner never stops? He does not discharge anyone. And that those who are taken away do not come back. By God, it is death!’ The affair continued until the Messenger of Allah had finished with them all.”

Al-Tabari, Vol. 8, p. 35, See Also Ishaq:464

Narrated Atiyyah al-Qurazi: I was among the captives of Banu Qurayza. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.

Abu Dawud 38:4390

And this rather odd detail related by Mohammed’ s child bride, Aisya:

Narrated Aisha: No woman of Banu Qurayza was killed except one. She was with me, talking and laughing on her back and belly (extremely), while the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was killing her people with the swords. Suddenly a man called her name: Where is so-and-so? She said: I  asked: What is the matter with you? She said: I did a new act. She said: The man took her and beheaded her. She said: I will not forget that she was laughing extremely although she knew that she would be killed.

Abu Dawud 14:2665

As for apostasy, the penalty is death, although beheading may not be the sole means of execution.

From “Reliance of the Traveler,” A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred law( ISBN 0-9159-5772-8), which represents the Hanafi school of jurisprudence which dominates in Sunni Islam. The translation is endorsed by Al Azhar Univeristy Cairo, among other authorities.

Section o8.1 “When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostasizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.”

And, lest one think that the word “deserves’ indicates opinion only,  08.2 goes on to say, “In such a case it is obligarory for the Caliph( or his representative) to ask him to repend and return to Islam.  If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.”

Given the example of Islam’s founder, beheading is understandably the method of choice, as in Saudi Arabia, although Iran has progressed to the Seventeenth Century or so, with hanging.

So, Mr. Okahsa, this is Islam. Clearly you were appalled, but if your horror is to have any meaning, you must look squarely at your religious tradition and admit what it is now, if you are to have any hope of changing it to something on which you could look on without being sickened

(This link is one of many that will take you to the video.)

Obama: the “Meditations”

Some say that the current furor over leaks – or releases, or communications of classified, or formerly classified information, or whatever, concerning intelligence operations against Iran and drone warfare in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen rival Watergate in, if not in illegality, extra constitutionality, especially the White House’s so called “Kill List.”.


One aspect of the situation without rival is the atmosphere of adulation in which the original story was couched in the New York Times.

From the NYT, 29 May 2012

A Measure of Change

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will

Will, huh?  Sounds a bit Nietzschean.  And then there was “Triumph of the Will,” not to mention G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography, “Will.”

Nice company.  But, hey, the President has “principles.”

Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.

“The purpose of all war is peace” Augustine of Hippo.
Since this administration engages in “kinetic actions” rather than war, its policies can’t meet the Augustinian test for a just casus belli.

To quote Rep Pelosi in another context,”Are you serious?  Are you serious?”

Really?  The President historian/geographer who gave us “Intercontinental Railroad,” “Malvinas are the Maldives, Hawaii is in Asia, and “57 States” is student of the philosophy of the Just War?  I would challenge anyone to produce writing or authenticated quotations form the president on this subject, referencing these philosophers.

One should be grateful perhaps that someone among the unnamed aides had enough cultural literacy to Wikipedia this stuff.  Or perhaps not.  The Times is always there for Mr. Obama, so might have helpfully provided a bit of color to flesh out the portrait of our drone commander.  I couldn’t find enough bio on the writers, Jo Becker and Scott Shane to indicate whether they themselves have the background to come up with this, but there must be a few old-timers around the Times who had a Western Civ survey course or two, or remember discussing just war theory in the context of the Viet Nam War, as was common in my theology classes in high school and College.

““In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign. Secondly, a just cause. Thirdly, a rightful intention.” Aquinas
In our Republic, sovereignty lies with the people, thus the legislature. As to cause and intention, that’s a longer discussion than can fit into a caption, but on intention, the Administration’s policy towards Islamic supremacy is questionable.

Although not yet to the same scale, we have another addition to the cult of Obama with its multiple manifestations, much like that of the Olympian Zeus, or perhaps Kim Jung Il: he is in turns, and at the same time, constitutional lawyer, writer, hoop shooter, golfer and crooner, and now, warrior philosopher.

““Everything is unfolding as it must, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.” Good advice from the Emperor, but a little hard to see in times such as these.

Think of Marcus Aurelius, scratching out his thoughts in the soft glow of an oil lamp, after a day of battle on the German limes, the light of reason warming the tent, the darkness of barbarism without.

Oh wait, that was in “Gladiator.”  That’s where the President’s latest persona, or evolution, or better, composite, comes from.  Wikipedia and the movies.

As for the cognitive dissonance of the Obama administration’s policies in the Muslim world in general, and the self defeating futility of the drone wars in particular, there will be more to follow.

Campaign 2012: Out of Touch and Worlds Apart

You don’t know what’s goin’ on,

you’ve been away for far too long

You can’t come back and think you are still mine

You’re out of touch, my baby, my poor discarded baby I said,

“Baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time”

The Rolling Stones, “Out of Time”


Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have been accusing each other of being out of touch. It’s an enduring and common ploy.  Many will remember the canard that the elder Bush was so out of touch he had never seen a supermarket scanner.

As Politico reported on May 24, the President had this to say about Romney:

There was a woman in Iowa who shared her story of financial struggles, and he gave her an answer right out of an economic textbook.  He said, “Our productivity equals our income.” And the notion was that somehow the reason people can’t pay their bills is because they’re not working hard enough.  If they got more productive, suddenly their incomes would go up.  Well, those of us who’ve spent time in the real world — (laughter) — know that the problem isn’t that the American people aren’t productive enough — you’ve been working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now, and the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade, is that harder work has not led to higher incomes, and bigger profits at the top haven’t led to better jobs.

The laughter in the report may have been at Romney, but outside the world inhabited by the President’s most steadfast supporters, world, in the world of work, trade and productive investment, the laughter was surely directed at the President. Pundits and bloggers were quick to point to Mr. Obama’s lack of private sector experience, and rather abbreviated curriculum vitae in general.

But, is this fair?

While he misunderstood the thrust of Romney’s remarks, the President was on to something: Clearly, Romney was speaking in macroeconomic terms, but macroeconomics may not be the way to connect with town hall listeners.

His  campaign makes much of his private sector experience, but a quick review of modern American presidential politics will show that such experience as many of our presidents have had was not in the manufacturing, retail and service jobs common to the work experience of most Americans.


Politicians typically spend a lot of time in politics.

In my lifetime, there was Harry Truman, artilleryman and failed haberdasher, yes, but for most of his life a mid-level functionary in county and state government. Ike was a soldier, and while his military successes required a high degree of organizational and executive skills, the Army isn’t the private sector.

As to JFK, the only job I can find him in outside of politics was a brief stint as a correspondent for the Hearst Chain, William Randolph Heart and Joe Kennedy being good buds. From 1947 on, it was politics for JFK.  LBJ taught school for a bit, and entered politics.

Nixon’s private sector experience was in private law practice, between his 1937 graduation from Duke and a short time as an Attorney for U.S. Office of Emergency Management, 1942, before he joined the Navy in the same year. He returned briefly to the law before his 1946 election to Congress, and again during his time in the wilderness after the 1960 election, this time a high priced New York layer rather than a storefront practice in Yorba Linda.  Gerald Ford, too, practiced law for a short time before his wartime Navy service, and for a couple of years before he ran for Congress in 1946.  And there he stayed.

Many jests were made at the expense of Carter, the peanut farmer, but he was good at it, taking a modest inheritance and turning it in to a successful concern. Reagan as a radio station announcer, actor and union leader can be said to have worked in the private sector, but not the areas familiar to most Americans. Yet his background, from a family of always modest means as his father drank and failed again and again, was the well spring for his ability to be supremely in touch, as his most critical detractors did and do acknowledge, including President Obama himself.

The first Bush worked in Texas oil and gas for a number of years. Bill Clinton worked some part time jobs in college, but was never in the private sector after graduation.  The second Bush also worked – with far less success than his father – in the Texas oil and gas industry before entering politics, first working for his father’s campaign, then on his own.

FDR, a lawyer without a law degree, having passed the bar exam before he had finished his studies, practiced law for around two years before entering politics. So, we have to go back to Herbert Hoover to find a big time businessman like Romney in the White House.  And you might ask, how did that work out? (Many argue that Hoover’s understanding of markets was defective, but that’s too large a topic for this piece)

Thus, presidents typically have had long political careers, with their private sector experience generally brief, and not in jobs accessible to most people. Nor is there any correlation in background to success or failure. Highly educated and successful farmer Carter is remembered as a failure, while Reagan, with his degree from an obscure college and second tier acting roles is considered a success.

This brings us to the incumbent.  The president held a summer job at Baskin and Robbins, which might have taught him a lesson on consumer choice that he seems to have missed.   Keith Koffler, of put together this handy chart of Obama’s “real world experience.”

At first, I thought Mr Koffler was being kind in counting community organizing as “real world experience.”  I would have included only the stint at Business International Group, as it is the only for profit group employing Mr. Obama after his Baskin and Robbins gig.

But it occurs to me that Koffler is right.  The real world is the world we live in and we don’t all live in the same ones; some overlap, some may as well be separated by interstellar distances.   The issue goes back to being in touch: to connect, the candidate must know the worlds of those whose votes he needs.

This is essential not only to electoral success, but to success in office. In political terms, a successful presidency is defined ultimately by popular perception.  Historians, economists, ideologues and partisans will debate and revise for decades, but the people’s definition of success remains remarkably consistent over time.  Good Presidents, in tribal memory, are those who connected with the American people and addressed what they saw as their needs at the time.

Hoover will forever be a cynosure for failure, while the patrician and autocratic FDR is still beloved of memory. Truman, JFK and LBJ were successful in their connection for a time; dour Nixon managed for a while, connecting with the slightly larger fraction of the electorate that didn’t care for peace marches.  The intelligent, avuncular and gifted athlete Gerald Ford is remembered as an incompetent boob. Carter’s failure to connect, and his successor’s mastery of the art, are both legend.  The Bushes too managed for while, but never neared Regan’s bar, while one can only think that Clinton must have been his secret disciple. His presidency is recalled with longing by a broad swath of the electorate well across party lines; Clinton could travel with ease the disparate worlds of the American electorate.

President Obama seemed a rising master in 2008, but in his execution has faltered. It may be too late for him to regain the worlds he has relinquished in the single-minded pursuit of his beliefs, and it remains for Romney to seize those he has abandoned.

Obama the Elder and Younger: Beer Summit Bullies

Some weeks ago, when detractors of Mitt Romney brought up an incident in which he purportedly bullied a kid who looked “different” (which was assumed to mean gay), supporters volleyed back with a passage from “Dreams of My Father” – demonstrating once again how few had actually read the book – In which he recounted shoving Coretta, a middle school girl because his classmates had teased them about being boyfriend and girlfriend.

I would hardly be one to criticize either man for this sort of thing.  At summer camp, I beat up Herbert Spataccini.  I remember little of Herbert, other than he was a bit plump, and word a striped tee shirt as most of did in the 50s when I looked down as I straddled him.

Why did I do it? Because I could, and like the President, I was embarrassed; in my case because I had already been shoved around quite a bit, and wanted to pass some on.  Herbert Spataccini is an unusual name, but unfortunately, the internet hasn’t found him for me.  I look now and then.  It would be nice to apologize.

        Alice Palmer

I don’t know if Mr. Obama has made any effort to locate Coretta – if she isn’t a composite – but it is clear that he has always had a proclivity to bully, from undermining long time progressive Illinois Senator Alice Palmer, essentially stealing her seat through intimidation by lawyer, to ramming thorough His healthcare “reform” that the majority of the American people did not,and do not want, and his consistently belligerent stance towards any who question him.

President Obama is a bully, and it runs in the family.

Early on in “Dreams,” he recounts this family anecdote about his father “recounting the

The Obamas, father and son.

time that my father almost threw a man off the Pali Lookout because of a pipe…” as they showed an out of towner the sights.

Obama’s mother laughingly speaks of the Senor Obama’s terrible driving, which ultimately killed him. She had given the President’s father a pipe of which he was very fond. His grandfather continues.  The visitor, a newly arrived African student asked to try the pipe, drew on it and fell into a fit of coughing, dropping the pipe, which fell over the railing, coming to rest a hundred feet below.

Barack Sr. waited until the man was through coughing then directed him to retrieve the pipe.  He sensibly offered to buy a replacement instead, at which point his host insisted, then in the face of further refusal, picked the poor young man up and dangled him over the cliff.

Obama writes:“I imagine myself looking up at my father, dark against the brilliant sun, the transgressor’s arms flailing about as he’s held aloft.  A fearsome vision of justice.”

What is fearsome is that the President could possibly construe this horrifying tale as being any way related to a concept of justice. Of course, in the view of the severe narcissist, this would be justice for any who did not acknowledge his superiority.

The rest of us would call it an incidence of troubling and dangerous bullying.

                                  Pali Overlook

“Anyway, after a couple of minutes, Obama’s grandfather continues, “ your   dad set the man back down on his feet, patted him on the back, and suggested, calm as you please, that they all go get themselves a beer.

And there we have it, the original Beer Summit, and the behavior is the same.  The President used his authority to intervene in a matter than was none of his concern, other than his connection to Professor Gates, so as to intimidate the Cambridge Police.

Realizing he had overstepped, he apologized and called it a “teachable moment.” As with his father, the silk glove to the mailed fist was beer and conviviality.

The anecdote concludes with Obama’s father saying to his mother, “Relax, Anna,” he said, I only wanted to teach the chap a lesson about the proper care of other people’s  property.”

Another teachable moment. What it teaches us is that collectivists, and their narcissist vanguard, value their own property and privileges, but no one else’s, and are prepared to use both force and guile to achieve their ends.

Like father, like son.