Sunday, November 22, 2015

Conversation with the CIA

In recent times—in the wake of Furguson, Missouri, and the many other places in which police brutality has reared its ugly head—it has become almost axiomatic, industry standard, among liberal audiences to presume the worst about all members of law enforcement, as well as most government agencies.  In my interfaith work, I have had the opportunity to work with a good number of people in law enforcement and a variety of government agencies who are truly good people.  And I cherish these burgeoning friendships and working relationships; they present a good face to law enforcement and government, particularly those who are working with the interfaith community and are helping to dispel fears about Muslims.  As a scholar, I am taught to see that there are always two sides to any story and that there are good and bad people in every group or organization.  And while it is no secret that I have been a lifelong critic of the CIA and other clandestine government agencies which regularly engage in covert actions that push the envelope (and sometimes tear it up completely) of legality, I am not so na├»ve or prejudiced as to think that the CIA is composed entirely of psychopaths and sociopaths whose utter amorality allows them to act with impunity against whomever stands in the way of the current regime’s policies.  And I am willing to learn something from educated people, expert in their fields, who have freely shared of their knowledge to help educate students and private citizens. 

On Saturday, November 21st, the Special Operations Division, Community Outreach, of the LA Sheriff’s Department, coordinated with me to present to my students and my campus a conversation with representatives of the CIA.  They brought Randy B., a CIA case worker, to campus to talk about the CIA’s role in international affairs, how it operates, and the good it does to protect the international community.  I have seen Randy B. before at other such forums put on by the LASD Spc Ops, Community Outreach, in coordination with one of their interfaith youth organizations.  Randy is always very informative, his lectures are truly riveting, and his presentations are enjoyable to listen to.  Obviously, he only addresses the positive things that the CIA does and has done, opting to avoid the more controversial topics, but the benefits are quite numerous and quite significant.  Central to his lecture, as a case study, was the role the CIA had in collecting verifiable intelligence about the impending nuclear war between Pakistan and India in the 1990s, and assisting then President Clinton in setting up lines of communication between these two adversaries and helping to avoid what could have ended tens of millions of lives. 

During the second half of Randy’s presentation, by popular request, he then began to address the issue of ISIS and Islamic fundamentalist extremism and violence around the globe, drawing upon the authority of years of expertise and study in this matter, as well as having been directly involved in the Middle East throughout his career.  He had some very interesting things to say, that I wish everyone in America could hear.  Let me repeat, this man is from the CIA and he has more information than your average politician or pundit. 

Here is what I learned:

·       ISIS is more of a revolutionary insurgent organization than a terrorist organization, on account of their attempts to gain land and form a state. 

·       ISIS has nothing to do, materially with Al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda has become, essentially, a franchise; and Al Qaeda in Iraq, the erstwhile roots of ISIS, took its endorsement by Al Qaeda central merely as an attempt to gain legitimacy and to attract funding. 

·       The frequent power grabs and the nature of the internecine struggle identify ISIS as having hardly anything to do with religion, at its core, but they merely use religious and apocalyptic trappings and rhetoric to unify their human drones, as do many other nationalist movements. 

·       While boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria are certainly needed to oppose and limit ISIS’ military advances, the best thing we can do is to discredit them and demonstrate to the world and to potential joiners, that ISIS is a failed state and cannot provide anything good to those who support it, thereby undermining their mission and limiting their growth. 

·       ISIS will not likely use refugee streams to infiltrate a country with sleeper cells or terrorist operatives.  It’s too expensive and risky trying to get such a person past the screening.  It’s much easier to use “home-grown” terrorists, as all the suspects and alleged assailants in the Paris terrorist cases appear to be. 

·       And the best thing that we citizens, stateside, can do to help is to not let their attempts to frighten and divide us succeed; to pull together in the interfaith organizations that we represented at that event, and to avoid fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric. 

Of course, Randy was only able to give his own educated opinions as an academic and a professional, and is unable to speak directly on behalf of the CIA.  But I wish that every Fox News viewer, and every Fox News newscaster/commentator could have heard his lecture. 

Thank you, Randy, for sharing your wisdom.  Thank you, CIA, for collecting this intelligence and allowing Randy to share it with us. 

So, for all those who persist in thinking that ISIS represents Islam, and that there is some kind of Axis of Evil that is run by ISIS and Al Qaeda in concert with one another, think again.  Your Muslim neighbor, oncologist, gas station owner, Cal Tech engineer, Business Administration grad student, and whatnot, are much more representative of Islam than the masked insurgents from thousands of miles away who seek to gain power and glory for themselves, and use religion (as have their counterparts in every other religion) as their excuse—their rationale, their justification.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vanderbilt Gang Rape. Society’s Fault???

In the early morning hours of June 23, 2013, a group of excessively inebriated college football players attending Vanderbilt University had non-consensual sex with an unconscious, inebriated young woman.  Our legal system defines this as rape.  And that’s what it is.  But the defendants, several of whom are now standing trial, are attempting to blame the culture at Vanderbilt for forcing them to drink excessively and commit non-consensual sexual acts upon an unconscious young woman.  They are blaming a culture which forced bystanders to ignore what was happening to an innocent victim of a group of sexually opportunistic predators.  This passing the buck of culpability is as old as the phrase, “The Devil made me do it.”

There seems to be plenty of blame to go around, but few are actually ready to accept that blame.  Yes, there is a culture of drunken debauchery that permeates many universities, and has for some time, in which inebriated sex is considered the norm.  However, to claim that the influence of excessive amounts of alcohol—such as the amount defendant Corey Batey claims to have been under, perhaps 14 to 22 drinks in one night—necessarily exonerates or exculpates such an individual of any personal accountability for wrongdoing while inebriated is nonsense.  In our current legal system, a drunk driver is still held accountable for the deaths he or she causes while driving under the influence of alcohol.  One cannot place blame upon the alcohol, exculpating the driver because he would not have done such a heinous thing if he were in his right mind.  Until we live in a world, or benefit from a legal system, that can determine the exact level of malice one might have had prior to the consumption of alcohol, or one in which we can entirely place the blame of one’s actions upon a bottle of booze and send it to jail instead of the one consuming it, we must still hold the individual accountable for his or her crimes.  In this case, it is the individual rapist who must be held accountable, regardless of whether he was excessively inebriated and had no control over his crimes.  Several of them in this case had enough control over their faculties to operate their cell phones and record evidence of the act for posterity—or perhaps bragging rights. 

The same goes for any situation in which some seek to blame a drug or a device or a thing for one’s actions.  Many have attempted to hold firearms manufacturers responsible for the crimes of the few mentally unstable or criminally inclined individuals who seize hold of them and use them to kill innocent people, even children—such as at Sandyhook—claiming that the manufacturers have made these weapons far too easily available to a market that should not have access to these, thereby endangering the rest of society.  This is part of a larger trend in which our helplessness against the unfairness or vicissitudes of life causes us to seek to blame larger structures instead of holding individuals accountable or recognizing that some tragedies are unavoidable and we are helpless in reversing or undoing them.  Or when the perpetrator is no longer available for punishment, as in the case of Adam Lanza, we seek the next nearest target for our blame and anger. 

Yes, there is a culture of omerta in many situations and organizations, in which no one wishes to get involved and stop a crime that they see happening.  Yes, there is a culture in which college students are encouraged to drink to excess and to have sexual relations with ever increasing numbers of people, as if one’s sexual organs were nothing more than toys.  And yes, there is a culture in which people no longer bother to speak up when they see something wrong, preferring to walk away or let someone else handle it, or worse yet, that it’s not their place to speak up and impose their will on someone else—even that of a rapist.  But a culture that exonerates mob mentality, and which seeks to shift blame away from the individual and onto society, does not invest sufficient value in the capabilities of human beings.  Without our individual consciences, we are nothing more than animals—and animals cannot be brought to trial.  Animals cannot be trusted to go to college, nor can they be trusted to operate a government, or safeguard the planet. 

Corey Batey or Brandon Vandenburg (the present defendants), or any in their position, might claim that they simply were too drunk to know what they were doing, and that they have no recollection of what they were doing, nor did they have any control over what they were doing.  Well, unfortunately for them, they were the entities living inside the bodies of drunken young men who failed to stop themselves from acting upon their basest, most animalistic urges to copulate with the nearest available female (willing or not).  And there must be accountability. On one hand, allowing herself to become so drunk that she was unable to ensure her own safety in a strange environment was not the wisest of choices for a young woman—much like exiting one’s vehicle in a wild animal park—but on the other hand, she most certainly did not bargain for this kind of treatment merely on account of becoming so inebriated that she passed out in a room that was not her own.  She did not ask to be raped.  If Batey or Vandenburg were not merely rapists, but murderers as well, who subsequently slit her throat after defiling her unconscious body, would critics still claim that the fault were her own for putting herself in that situation?  I think not.  And defilement is what this is; not a sex act, but an act of violence.  There is a difference.  The choice to be sexually assaulted was not her own.  Her lapse of judgment in engaging in excessive drinking is an entirely separate matter, hardly relevant to the matter of criminal culpability in a case of rape. 

I am reminded of an old college song called “Let Her Sleep Under the Bar, Boys,” in which the narrator playfully disparages the sexual recklessness of college men, and reminds the listener that for the sake and honor of all of their mothers and sisters, and women everywhere, not to molest or be unkind to the inebriated woman in their midst, urging the hearer to protect her and let her sleep it off in a safe place where no one will accost her.  We often consider the old days of all-male colleges as being less sensitive to women, and more rife with a culture of rape.  But I believe this song expresses a particular respect for women that has been lost to us today, even amidst our culture of professed liberation and enlightenment about gender roles.  Vanderbilt and other schools like it could take a lesson from this song from the days of yore.  Leave her alone and show her the respect that is owed to your mother or sister.