Women’s Chess

I am a bit confused by this article I read from PJMedia.

Sports competitors are often asked to conform to the rules of the countries they visit.

That might mean eating local cuisine or simply driving on the opposite side of the road.

For one elite chess player, embracing one country’s religious customs isn’t an option. And she may not be alone

U.S. women’s chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes won’t appear at February’s world championships to be held in Tehran. Female players will be expected to wear a hijab, which is mandatory by Iranian law.

That isn’t acceptable to her:

If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women’s World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.

Paikidze-Barnes may have company soon enough. Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia wants the 64 female players slated to participate in the event to protest the mandatory hijab garb as well.

“Sports should be free of this type of discrimination,” Heredia explained.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said the hijab ruling shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a matter of respecting local culture, Polgar says, adding the dress code will apply to all players.

It’s not the question of whether or not female chess players should be required to wear the hijab when playing in Iran that confuses me, but rather why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess, as opposed to Men’s Chess.


Sports and competitions involving physical prowess usual segregate between men and women. There are men’s and woman’s tennis, soccer, track and field, and so on. This segregation exists because men are generally stronger and more physically powerful than women. There are exceptions and a degree of overlap to this generalization; weaker men and stronger women, but the generalization is true enough that in any physical contest between a man and a women, the man will almost always have a decisive, and in sports an unfair, advantage. In most cases, a competition between a male athlete and a female athlete might not be interesting to watch. In mixed gender team, the female players might often be sidelined in favor of the male players who would be more able to make the goals, etc. Thus, we have men and women’s sports, to make the competitions fairer and more fun to watch.

Chess is not a contest of physical prowess but of mental ability. The difference in physical strength between men and women is entirely irrelevant in games like chess. Why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess? It may be that there are differences between male and female cognition. There may be some element of truth in the stereotype that boys are better at math while girls have superior language skills. Even so, the mental differences between men and women are surely more subtle with a far greater degree of overlap than the physical differences. Such mental differences as may exist also do not favor one gender as much as the obvious physical differences. I do not believe that anyone would contend that one sex is generally more intelligent than the other. Even if the specific skills needed to be successful at playing chess were more common in men than in women, the disparity would surely not be so great as to require separate leagues for men and women. I don’t understand it.




Lately,the news from Iraq has seemed very bleak, with the fanatics from the Islamic State (which has nothing to do with Islam, the Religion of Peace) poised to take over the country almost unopposed, but there is at least on group of people who have successfully managed to fight off the IS and is now getting help from the United States, the Kurds. There is even some chance that the Kurds will managed to finally get a state of their own, even though this is opposed by all the actors in the region.

The Kurds deserve their own state far more than the Palestinians. Unlike the Palestinians, they are a real nation with a language and culture of their own. They have lived in their homeland since at least the time of Alexander the Great and probably for centuries before. The Kurds have contributed their share of great people, including the Muslim warlord Saladin. What more do they need to get their own state?

Here is a story I read about their fight from the Bloomberg View.

With Cuba and North Korea dominating the headlines, Americans may have missed the good news from a corner of the world that has provided very little: Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga fighters have inflicted a series of defeats on Islamic State forces, freeing a broad swath of northern Iraq from the jihadists’ control.

These battlefield victories underline an equally striking change in U.S. policy: Starting in 2015, the U.S. military will be training three brigades of peshmerga and spending more than $350 million equipping them for battle with the fanatics tearing Iraq apart. While the Kurds have been semi-independent since 1991, with their own government, militias and foreign policy, this is the biggest step yet toward Washington allowing them to have a state of their own.

To understand the significance, recall that for the almost the entire Barack Obama presidency, the Kurds and the U.S. have been at odds. In Obama’s first term, the White House asked the highest-ranking Kurd in Iraq’s government, President Jalal Talabani, to resign his post in favor of Iyad Allawi, the secular Arab whose party won the most parliamentary seats in the 2010 election. (Talabani declined.) Obama’s diplomats consistently acceded to the sensitivities of Iraq’s Shiite-led government and refused to send promised equipment and weapons directly to Kurdish fighters. When the Kurds tried to fend for themselves by selling oil on the international market, U.S. diplomats warned oil companies not to purchase it.

The Kurds happen to be the most pro-American faction in Iraq, so of course Obama didn’t care for them. Smart diplomacy is helping your enemies while slamming your friends.

But then came the Islamic State. After Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell in June to jihadists using vehicles and weapons the U.S. had provided to Iraq’s army, Obama realized that the Kurds are America’s only competent friends left in Iraq. Indeed, last week Kurdish forces finally broke the Islamic State’s siege of Sinjar near the Syrian border.

This dependence on the Kurds to stop the jihadists complicates U.S. foreign policy tremendously. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have supported a “one Iraq” policy that commits the U.S. to discouraging Iraq’s Kurds from declaring themselves an independent country. Militarily, this meant the U.S. was committed to standing up a national Iraqi Army, not a regional militia that could challenge Baghdad’s monopoly of power.

“The unity of Iraq is absolutely essential both for longstanding U.S. policy and for regional stability; for American credibility and predictability with other partners; and for defeating IS,” James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq between 2010 and 2012 told me last week. Current U.S. officials working on the Iraq file echo this view. In short, Washington cannot be perceived by Iraq’s neighbors to be encouraging the dissolution of the country. For one thing, it could very well spur Turkey and the Persian Gulf States to defect from the international campaign against IS.

To understand why an independent Kurdistan is a problem, you have to look at a map of the region where the Kurds live.


As you can see, the Kurdish population not only lives in the northern part of Iraq and western Iran, but they also make up a considerable part of the population of eastern Turkey. After the Ottoman Empire was overthrown in 1922, the secular Republic of Turkey was formed by Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk wanted to bring Turkey into the modern age so his government deemphasized the role of Islam and promoted Turkish nationalism and every Turkish leader since Ataturk has insisted that Turkey be ethnically homogenous. The Greek population of Asia Minor which has been living there since before the time of Christ was expelled in the 1920s. The Kurds have been harshly persecuted by various Turkish administrations. There language and culture has been outlawed and there identity taken away. According to the Turkish government there are no Kurds in Turkey. Those people are Eastern Turks or Mountain Turks. Naturally, the Kurds in Turkey have not taken kindly to this treatment and there have been several revolts each brutally suppressed. The Turks have eased up on human rights violations against the Kurds in recent years, in order to be considered for acceptance into the EU, but the Kurds are still treated poorly. The Turks fear that an independent Kurdistan in neighboring Iraq will encourage the Mountain Turks to rebel once again, or at least demand to be part of the new state.

A new state may happen, whatever the Turks, and others might wish.

Yet the question of a Kurdish state is getting harder to avoid. In July, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, came out in support of a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq. The month before, Kurdish fighters had taken up posts abandoned by the Iraqi army in Kirkuk, a strategic city at the heart of disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdish region.

Even though Kurdistan is landlocked, it’s no longer such a stretch to imagine it being independent. Kurdish customs officials already stamp your passport at its airports. The Kurds have their diplomats and lobbyists in foreign capitals. And now, thanks to an oil deal reached early this month with Baghdad, they have staved off financial collapse and gotten Baghdad to agree to pay the salaries of their Peshmerga fighters. Over the summer Israel’s prime minister,Benjamin Netanyahu,  came out for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

The one thing the Kurds do not have, however, is a modern army. The peshmerga own some tanks, some rifles and have in the past worked very closely with American special-operations forces in Iraq. But they are still organized like a militia, with various commanders more loyal to local Kurdish political leaders than to the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG. Between 1994 and 1997, forces loyal to the two major Kurdish parties fought one another in a civil war.

On a visit to Washington last month, Fuad Hussein, Barzani’s chief of staff, told reporters that his government was now beginning the process of creating a centralized Kurdish army. And this is where U.S. training of three Kurdish brigades could make a major difference. If the peshmerga transforms from a localized guerilla militia into a modern army, then one of the remaining pieces necessary for Kurdish independence will fall into place.


For now, the Kurds are partners in helping to destroy the makeshift caliphate that has effectively erased the border between Syria and Iraq. For this the world owes them a debt of gratitude. But by training and equipping a modern Kurdish army to achieve this task, Obama may find that he is helping destroy Iraq in order to save it.

Perhaps “Iraq” is not worth saving. Like many other states formed in the aftermath of decolonization, Iraq doesn’t really correspond to any real nation. The region of Mesopotamia is composed of many ethnic groups and religions and it may be that only a dictator like Saddam Hussein could possibly hold it together. It might be wise to partition Iraq or to create some loose confederation on the model of a country like Switzerland. I think that the Kurds, at least, should be independent. They are already their own nation and the Kurdish region of Iraq has already adopted many of the attributes of a sovereign state. If the Turks don’t like it, well they haven’t exactly acted as our allies lately. I think a free Kurdistan should be American policy.

English: Flag of Kurdistan
English: Flag of Kurdistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Iranian Christians On Trial

It isn’t easy to be a Christian in Iran, particularly if you are a convert from Islam. Here is an example of the difficulties Christians face in Iran brought to us by FoxNews.

Five Iranian Christian converts who were detained late last year will reportedly begin trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court this week, according to a human rights group following the case.

The five men were among seven arrested in October when security forces raided an underground house church in the city of Shiraz during a prayer session. They will be tried at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz’s Fars Province on charges of disturbing public order, evangelizing, threatening national security and engaging in Internet activity that threatens the government, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious persecution watchdog group.

“Judging from recent cases, it is likely that, at the very least, those detained may face lengthy prison sentences,” said CSW spokesperson Kiri Kankhwende.

According to Kankhwende, the crackdown against Christian converts and house churches parallels a general increase in repression against many, including journalists, religious and cultural minorities and others as the government is leading up to June’s presidential elections.

They have to worship in their houses because converts are not able to attend churches.

he underground church network has been rapidly growing in Iran as a place where converts from Islam to Christianity can pray as they are forbidden to attend services at formal churches.

Alongside the growing network of home churches has been the increase in violent crackdowns and raids on these communities and arrests made on Christian converts, among them the internationalized case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, held for almost three years on charges of apostasy and more recently American Pastor Saeed Abedini who is currently serving an eight-year sentence for evangelizing and threatening national security.

“House churches are growing because the converts have nowhere else to go,” said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice,

“When you’re a convert to Christianity in Iran, you can’t go worship at the church on the corner, because conversion is not acceptable. If they were allowed to go to an official place of worship, there wouldn’t be a house church movement,” Barrans said.

“Essentially they have created the house church problem and now use it to persecute its own people.”

For all the talk of the dire threat of Islamophobia and the stories of the persecution that Muslims suffer in the West, it should be noted that no where in the world is it unlawful to convert to Islam, nor do such converts fear being imprisoned. On the other hand, anyone who dares to convert from Islam, it doesn’t matter if the convert becomes a Christian, Buddhist, or atheist, they fear for their lives.

Under Shariah, or Islamic law, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is on a par with someone waging war against Islam. Death sentences for such individuals are prescribed by fatwas, or legal decrees, and reinforced by Iran’s Constitution, which allows judges to rely on fatwas for determining charges and sentencing on crimes not addressed in the Iranian penal code.

All religious minorities in Iran, including Bahais, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, have faced various forms of persecution and political and social marginalization throughout the regime’s 30-year reign. But the government saves its harshest retribution for those who have abandoned Islam.

It is interesting, and a little encouraging that Christianity seems to be growing in Iran, even under the harshest persecution.


James Earl Obama

Is Obama really like Carter? There have been many who have made the connection based on the similarities of a faltering economy and a weak foreign policy. I don’t think the connection is entirely accurate based on the two men’s personality and presidential style. In personality, Obama is actually rather more like Nixon. He seems to be an introvert who doesn’t like people all that much and is not really a natural politician. He also has a nasty, vindictive side to his personality, like Nixon. Obama does not seem to be quite the intellectual Nixon was, though Nixon was careful to hide this in order to appeal to the ordinary people.

In governing style, Obama and Carter could not be more dissimilar. Carter was a micromanager, who oversaw everything that was going on in the White House, perhaps at the expense of losing sight of the big picture. Obama does not seem to be interested in the minutiae of governing and seems to leave the details to others. Perhaps he sees himself as being like Reagan who set the overall policies and left the details to his staff. Obama has taken this as far as largely outsourcing his legislative work, including his signature achievement Obamacare, to the Congressional Democrats.

In this column, in USA Today, Robert Pastor argues that Barack Obama is indeed like Jimmy Carter, and that is a good thing. Here are a few excerpts and comments.

Both think that war should be the last option, and that a multilateral approach is a better way to share the burden and to strengthen alliances. To rescue our hostages and mete out justice to bin Laden, Carter and Obama took risks. Carter’s rescue mission in Iran failed, though he did get all our hostages out safely. Obama succeeded against bin Laden, but we suffered a terrible loss at the U.S. Consulate in Libya with the death of our ambassador and three other Americans.

I don’t think that we have ever had a President who didn’t believe that war must be the last option. The trouble lies in understanding how to prevent wars. Obama and Carter both seem to believe that the US is the problem in the world and therefore if only we adopt a humbler posture, other nations will reciprocate. This really doesn’t work. In fact, potential aggressors are likely to view an apologetic America as a weaker America and will be more inclined to cause trouble. I do not think that it was a coincidence that the hostages were released on the last day of Carter’s presidency. The leadership of Iran reasoned that Reagan was more likely to behave aggressively and decided that the costs of continuing to hold the hostages was greater than the benefits.

Carter and Obama both understand that peace in the Middle East requires pressure on both sides. Carter paid a political price but succeeded at Camp David. Obama tried but failed. Believing our interests are identical with one side, Romney might not even try.

Threatening war against Iran and Syria as Romney has done might be more satisfying than negotiating with fanatics, but Carter’s goal was to gain the release of U.S. hostages and Obama’s is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. If we see negotiations as weakness, we will be left with no other option but war. Obama is not Carter, and the times are very different. But Carter’s legacy is instructive for both candidates. Strength should be judged by a willingness to make decisions that might be unpopular but would advance the national interest.

It may well be that war is the only option left with Iran. Whether or not the leadership of Iran is made up of fanatics, the simple truth is that there is little, or nothing we can offer them that might induce them to give up the quest for nuclear weapons. They are rational enough to understand that if they acquire nuclear weapons, they will be in a far better negotiating position. They interests lies in delaying any present negotiations until they gain nuclear weapons.

As for Camp David, Carter actually had little to do with that. The peace between Israel and Egypt came about because Anwar Sadat realized that Egypt would never be able to defeat Israel. He therefore decided that Egypt had more to gain with peace than by continued fighting. If Sadat had good reason to believe that Israel was weak and could be defeated, he would not have made peace. The problem in the Middle East right now is that Israel’s enemies have good reason to believe that by continuing their efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel, they can weaken and ultimately defeat Israel. Undermining Israel, as all of the people who profess to be for peace seem to be doing, only makes peace less likely because it gives Israel’s enemies hope that they can prevail.

And yes, our interests are largely identical with one side. Israel is a democracy with values similar to our own. Its enemies are terrorists and dictatorships who hate us, and our values. I do not believe we should be even-handed at all in our relations in the region. We should support our friends and oppose our enemies.

With that criterion, Carter’s decision to negotiate a Panama Canal Treaty — a very unpopular but essential decision — should qualify. Carter promoted human rights not just against our Cold War enemies, but also against anti-communist military regimes. He was not afraid to negotiate with adversaries, establishing relations with China and securing the release of 3,600 political prisoners and CIA veterans from Cuba.

I am not at all convinced that handing over the most important maritime trade route over to an unstable, corrupt nation is such a good idea, not to mention the simple fact that we were the ones who built it. The problem wasn’t with Carter’s willingness to negotiate with out adversaries. The problem is that Carter gave the impression of being a weakling who would turn against out allies to appease our enemies. It was all very well to make human rights a keystone of our foreign policy, but if we restrict our alliances to nations with perfect human rights records, we will find ourselves with very few friends in the world. We don’t often have a clear choice between good and bad. More often the choice is between bad and worse. Communism was the greatest threat to human rights throughout the Cold War, and by losing sight of this fact, Carter did the cause he professed to support a great deal of harm.

It’s time to re-define what we mean by strength and weakness. Strength should mean the readiness to take necessary but unpopular decisions. Leadership requires understanding the perspective of our adversaries and negotiating with persistence rather than assuming that our interests are incompatible and that only force can achieve our goals. Americans should be reminded of the many hard, but courageous, decisions Carter made and why we are better off because of them.

We are not precisely because Carter did not understand the need to be strong. International politics has not really changed all that much in the last five thousand years of recorded history. Names and customs change, but the realities of power do not. The most important of these realities is that if you truly want peace, you must be prepared to fight for it. Expressing an unwillingness to ever fight, or signaling that you want peace at any price is the surest way to war. Negotiations are good, so long as you are negotiating to advance your country’s interests and not talking for the sake of talking to avoid conflict.

Pat Buchannan is Still an Idiot

At least I think so, judging from his latest Townhall column. I might as well quote the whole thing.

What is Bibi Netanyahu up to?

With all his warnings of Iran’s “nuclear capability,” of red lines being crossed, of “breakout,” of the international community failing in its duty, of an “existential threat” to Israel, what is the prime minister’s game?

The answer is apparent. Bibi wants Iran’s nuclear program shut down, all enrichment ended, all enriched uranium removed and guarantees that Iran will never again start up a nuclear program.

And if Tehran refuses to surrender its right even to a peaceful nuclear program, he wants its nuclear facilities, especially the enrichment facility at Fordow, deep inside a mountain, obliterated.

And he wants us to do it.

How has Bibi gone about getting America to fight Israel’s war?

He is warning, indeed threatening, that if we do not set a date certain for Iran to end enrichment of uranium, and assure Israel that we will attack Iran if it rejects our ultimatum, Israel will bomb Iran and start the war itself.

Fail to give us assurances that you will attack Iran if Iran refuses to surrender its nuclear “capability,” Bibi is warning, and we will attack Iran, with all the consequences that will have for you, for us and for the Middle East.

This is diplomatic extortion.

Thus far, Obama has called Bibi’s bluff, assuming it is a bluff.

The United States has refused to set a date certain by which Iran must end all enrichment. Hillary Clinton said this weekend that we are “not setting deadlines.” And the election, which could give Obama a free hand to pursue his own timetable and terms for a deal with Tehran, is only eight weeks off.

If Obama, no fan of Bibi, wins, he can tell Bibi: We oppose any Israeli pre-emptive strike. If you attack Iran, we will not support you. Nor will we follow up an Israeli attack with an American attack.

Bibi’s dilemma: Despite his threats of Israeli strikes on Iran, Tehran is taunting him. His Cabinet is divided. The Shas Party in his coalition opposes a war, as do respected retired generals, former Mossad leaders and President Shimon Peres.

And the Americans have sent emissaries, including Secretary Leon Panetta, to tell Bibi we oppose an Israeli attack. The Pentagon does not want war. Three former U.S. Central Command heads oppose a war. And last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey said he does not wish to be “complicit” in any Israeli attack.

Implied in the word “complicit” is that Dempsey believes an Israeli first strike on Iran could be an act of aggression.

The Israelis were furious, but suddenly the war talk subsided.

From the clashes, public and private, between these two close allies, it is apparent the United States shares neither Israel’s assessment of the threat nor Israel’s sense of urgency.

Why not? Why, when Netanyahu says Israel is facing an “existential threat,” do the Americans dismiss it?

The first reason is the elephant in the room no one mentions: Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. If Fordow is a difficult target for Israel to destroy with conventional air strikes, it could be annihilated with a single atom bomb.

And Israel has hundreds.

Indeed, if Israel has ruled out use of an atomic weapon, even when it says its very existence is threatened, and neoconservatives claim that Iran’s mullahs are such death-wishing fanatics they cannot be deterred even by nuclear weapons, what is Israel’s awesome atomic arsenal for?

What this suggests is that the Israelis do not believe what they are saying. Their nuclear deterrent is highly credible to all their neighbors. Their existence is not in imminent peril. And the mullahs are not madmen.

When Ronald Reagan was about to take the oath, suddenly those mullahs, assessing that the new American president might be a man of action, not just words, had all the U.S. hostages winging their way home.

When the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988, the Ayatollah Khomeini, founding father of the Islamic Republic, ended his war with Iraq on unfavorable terms, fearing America was about to intervene on the side of Saddam Hussein.

Like all rulers, good and evil, Iran’s leaders want to preserve what they have — families, homes, lives, privileges, possessions, power. When suicide missions are ordered, you do not read of ayatollahs or of Iranian politicians driving the truck or wearing the vest.

Moreover, the latest report of the international inspectors reveals that while Iran increased its supply of uranium enriched to 20 percent since last spring, an even larger share of that 20-percent uranium has been diverted to make fuel plates for Iran’s U.S.-provided research reactor to make medical isotopes.

If there is no reason to go to war with Iran, there is every reason not to go to war. Notwithstanding the alarmist rhetoric of Bibi and Ehud Barak, President Obama should stand his ground. And on this one, Gov. Romney should stand with the president, not the prime minister.

Let’s do a little alternate history/fantasy here. What if there were terrorists operating throughout the Southwest, demanding that the region be returned to Mexico, its rightful owner? What if Brazil were ruled by fanatic Catholics who were funding these terrorists and demanding the destruction of the Protestant Entity to the north? What if we had good evidence that Brazil was developing nuclear weapons and its president proclaimed that the United Stated was a cancer that he would destroy? Does Pat Buchanan seriously believe that we wouldn’t be organizing military action against Brazil? Why in the world don’t we want the Israelis to defend themselves against a regime that has openly proclaimed its desire to exterminate them? Isn’t one holocaust per century enough?

And, contrary to what Pat Buchanan believes, this isn’t really a case of Israel dragging us into its war. Perhaps he has forgotten, but seizing a country’s embassy and holding its diplomatic personnel hostage is an act of war. Iran has, in fact, been at war with the US for over 30 years. Just because our leaders like to pretend that isn’t the case, doesn’t mean that Iran’s leaders are so blind. The truth is that Israel is preparing to do what we ought to have done a long time ago.


Exotic Vacations

If you want to go on vacation somewhere away from all those tourists, Yahoo travel may have just the destination for you. In this article, they present ten exciting locations where you can really get away from it all, maybe permanently.I actually would like to visit a few of these places like Iran and Iraq. Both countries have wonderful historic and archeological sites to visit. Iraq is still somewhat unstable but I think it would be safe enough with some obvious precautions, such as staying with a group and not wandering around Baghdad alone. Iran is also a bit unsettled but the population is not as hostile toward Americans as one might think. President Obama missed a huge chance when he didn’t openly support the protests in 2009.

Antarctica is almost completely unspoiled by human contact and unlike many of these destinations is completely safe, at least from war and terrorism. Still, I think it might be a little too cold for my liking. Cuba and Myanmar have fantastic natural scenery and Cuba was a popular vacation spot before Castro took over. I think, though I would prefer to wait until after the Castro brothers die or are overthrown. The same sentiment goes for the military junta in Myanmar. I would also prefer to avoid actual war zones like Libya and Afghanistan. I really wouldn’t want to get in the way of our troops in Afghanistan. They have a hard enough job without having to mess with stupid war tourists.

Chernobyl would be interesting. The population was evacuated after the disaster in 1986 and the town has remained untouched ever since. It would almost be like visiting a time capsule or a contemporary version of Pompeii. There is still a danger of radioactive contamination but I think if you followed the rules, the risk should be minimal.

Then there are the destinations that I have to wonder about. Places that no sane person would want to go to, like North Korea or Saudi Arabia. Why would anyone want to go to North Korea?

Nick Bonner of Koryo Group (which has been running North Korea tours for almost 20 years) says, “By visiting North Korea and interacting as much as you can, you have a positive impact on engagement. You are bringing civilians into contact with Westerners and providing job opportunities.”

No you’re not. They don’t let you talk to anyone.

Tourists in the country must stay with government minders at all times, and there are strict rules about what they can photograph and see.

Security personnel may also view any unauthorized attempt you make to talk to a North Korean citizen as espionage. North Korean authorities may fine or arrest you for unauthorized currency transactions, for taking unauthorized photographs, or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners. It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country’s current and former leaders, [Kim Jong-un], Kim Jong-il, and Kim Il-sung. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. …Persons violating the laws of North Korea, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.”

And Saudi Arabia?

Strict conduct rules govern visitors and locals alike. For example, women visitors must be met by a sponsor upon arrival into the country, can be arrested by the mutawain (religious police) for improper dress, and are not allowed to drive. Tourists are required to abide by local laws, as violations (including homosexual activity and adultery) may be punished with lashings or the death penalty.

There is nothing to see there except sand. Well, there is Mecca and Medina, but they don’t let you in there unless you are a Moslem, and I am not sure if I could fake it.

I think I will just stay in the US for now.


The Zoroastrians of Iran

Carving of Persian Soldiers with Farvahar on P...
Image via Wikipedia

I read this article from CNN about the persecution that the Zoroastrians in Iran have suffered.

As Zoroastrian funerary processions enter the graveyard overlooking the Tehran suburb of Ray, their sobriety is often shattered by the sound of explosions and gunfire. Frequently, the way forward is blocked by Islamic Revolutionary Guards conducting a combat exercise among the tombs. According to Zoroastrian custom, burial needs to take place within 24 hours, and the Revolutionary Guards will not halt their training activities there for the funerals.

This is just another sign of religious freedom fading in the Islamic Republic.

Much that is written about the Zoroastrians of Iran portrays them as a venerable and quaint religious community. But these followers of an ancient faith are not insulated from the tribulations of their country.

The Iranian government has persecuted Christians, Baha’s, Jews (are any left in Iran?), and others but the persecution and slow destruction of the Zoroastrian community in Iran is, I think, especially bad considering that Zoroastrianism is the indigenous religion of the Persians, until the Muslims invaded in the eighth century.

They were no mere pagans. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion, some believe the earliest monotheists. Their beliefs are thought to have had an important influence on the development of Judaism and Christianity. The Zoroastrians had a highly developed system of ethics. Cyrus the first ruler of the Persian Empire was unique among the kings and conquerors of ancient times in the mildness and tolerance of his rule. His example was followed by most of his successors.

The Zoroastrians have been persecuted since the Muslims invaded Persia in the eighth century. Centuries of discrimination have caused their numbers and culture to decline until only about 20,000 remain in Iran. About a thousand years ago, a large number migrated to India to gain the religious freedom denied in their homeland. About 70,000 of their descendants still live in India where they are called Parsees.

It should come as no surprise that the Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic made things worse for the Zoroastrians.

When the Islamic revolution occurred in 1979, fundamentalist Shiites stormed the fire temple at Tehran. There, Zoroastrians worship in front of a blazing fire, as a symbol of God’s grace, just like Christians face a cross and Muslims turn to a qibla pointing toward Mecca. The portrait of Zoroaster was tossed down, a photograph of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was put up in its place, and the congregation was warned not to remove the image of Iran’s new leader. Only months later could the prophet’s picture be mounted upon an adjacent wall.

Their schools and classrooms began to be covered with images of Supreme Leaders Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and with verses of the Quran that denounce non-Muslims. Those who do well academically nonetheless find no openings within state-controlled universities.

When the bloody war with Iraq raged from 1980 to 1988, young Zoroastrians were involuntarily drafted for suicide missions in the Iranian army. Rejecting the Shiite mullahs’ claim that military martyrdom would lead them to a heaven full of virgins was futile. Failing to offer their lives on the battlefield could result in execution for treason.

Then in November 2005, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, chairman of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, disparaged Zoroastrians and other religious minorities as “sinful animals who roam the earth and engage in corruption.” When the Zoroastrians’ solitary parliamentary representative protested, he was hauled before a revolutionary tribunal. There, mullahs threatened execution before sparing his life with a warning never to challenge their declarations again. A frightened community subsequently declined to re-elect him.

And yet, curiously enough, this old religion still has an attraction for the Persians.

Over the past two years, many Muslim Iranians have begun publicly rejecting the Shiite theocracy’s intolerant ways by adopting symbols and festivals from Zoroastrianism. Those actions are denounced as causing “harm and corruption” by ayatollahs like Khamenei and Jannati.

Sensing that popular sentiment among Iran’s Muslim majority is shifting away from the mullahs, even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has begun utilizing Zoroastrianism’s past for his own political ends. In September 2010, he arranged for the Cyrus Cylinder, a sixth-century B.C. document that speaks of religious tolerance and Iranian greatness, to be loaned from the British Museum. During a public ceremony in Tehran, Ahmadinejad lauded indigenous traditions as superior to Arab-imposed Islam. Privately, his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, even referred to King Cyrus as “a messenger of God.”

This is more a matter of patriotism for the Iranians. The Zoroastrians do not proselytize and do not accept converts. This means that their numbers are declining, even outside of Iran. It is likely that they will die out entirely in the not too distant future. That would be a shame. From what little I know of Persian culture, I do not think that Islam is a very good fit for them. I think the Iranians would be better off if there were some kind of Zoroastrian revival.


Ron Paul is an Idiot

Or at least dangerously naive. According to this article in the Washington Post, Ron Paul believes that we should be trying harder to be friends with Iran and not worry about the very real possibility of their developing nuclear weapons.

GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul says “offering friendship” to Iran, not sanctions, would be a more fruitful to achieving peace with Tehran.

The Texas congressman says fears about Iran’s nuclear program have been “blown out of proportion.” He says tough penalties are a mistake because, as he says was the case in Iraq, they only hurt the local population and still paved a path to war.

When asked on “Fox News Sunday” what he would do to deter Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, Paul said “maybe offering friendship to them.”

Paul’s remarks put him at odds with both the Bush and Obama administrations; U.S. policy has relied heavily on sanctions and diplomacy to try to convince Tehran to abandon its atomic program. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

The government of Iran has been effectively at war with us for over 30 years. Remember that seizing a country’s embassy and holding its staff hostage is an act of war. They have undermined us in Iraq and supported terrorists. They have plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, on American soil. They have threatened to destroy Israel. They have  not shown the slightest inclination for a rapprochement with the US.

A nuclear Iran would be dangerous. Even if they could be deterred from launching an attack on Israel, and I am not sure how rational President Ahmadinejad and others in the Iranian government actually are, there would almost certainly be an arms race in the most unstable parts of the world, as the Saudis and others tried to develop their own nukes. If Ron Paul has not consider any of this than he is not qualified to be president.

Israel and Latin America

One might think that Israel would have little interest in Latin America, since that area is halfway around the world and Israel has enough problems close at home. According to this piece by Jaime Daremblum in Pajamas Media, Israel has been taking an interest in Latin American affairs recently, largely to counter Palestinian influence, especially in the matter of recognising a Palestinian state.

The Washington Post noted that Palestinian officials were “taking advantage of the region’s growing economic ties to the Arab world and its eagerness to demonstrate its independence from Israel’s powerful ally, the United States.” They were also taking advantage of Israeli and U.S. neglect. After being very involved in (and receiving crucial diplomatic support from) Latin America during its early history, Israel had become somewhat disengaged from the region, at a time when leaders such as Lula and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez were busy cultivating pro-Palestinian sentiment. As for the Obama administration, it has treated Latin America as a complete afterthought. Thus, the remarkable success of the Palestinian diplomatic push caught both Jerusalem and Washington by surprise.

But now, it appears, the trend of recognizing Palestinian statehood has been reversed, or at least halted. Earlier this month, citing comments from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, the Jerusalem Post reported that “a majority of the 35 countries in Latin America are either against recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September, or are having second thoughts.” Ayalon told the Post that Israel had “stopped the [Palestinian] momentum in Latin America.”

There are other reasons, of course.

Beyond the Palestinian question, Israel has good reason to increase its diplomatic activity in the Western Hemisphere. Left-wing Latin American politicians have traditionally been hostile toward the United States, and they are now depicting Jerusalem as a mere puppet of Washington. Anti-Semitism remains widespread in Latin America, and especially in Argentina, a country with a deeply rooted fascist history. Unfortunately, the past few years have seen a disturbing jump in anti-Semitic violence. “Across Latin America, Jewish leaders say they are contending with a new level of anti-Semitism,” the Christian Science Monitor reported in August 2009, observing that the roots of this spike could be traced back to the December 2008 war in Gaza. “From La Paz, Bolivia, to Panama City, political expressions have turned increasingly derogatory, with graffiti and banners equating the Israel conflict with Nazism. There have been bomb threats in synagogues throughout the region.”

And, Iran is also getting into the action.

Finally, the Iranian theocracy has greatly expanded its strategic presence in the Western Hemisphere, mostly through its alliance with Venezuela but also through burgeoning partnerships with Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, all of which have left-populist governments. (Last month, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño declared that “Iran is one of Ecuador’s most strategic partners in political and economic fields and we would like all bilateral agreements and joint projects become operational.”) Meanwhile, in return for economic concessions, the Argentine government has reportedly offered to suspend investigations of two Iranian-backed terrorist bombings that struck the Israeli embassy (in 1992) and the AMIA Jewish Community Center (in 1994) in Buenos Aires. (The two attacks killed or wounded hundreds.) Iran’s economic relationships in Latin America have helped it to withstand the pain of global sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear program, which poses an existential threat to the Jewish state. Moreover, a 2009 Israeli foreign ministry report obtained by the Associated Press indicated that Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying Iran with uranium.

China has been quietly expanding its influence in Latin America for several years now. It would seem that the only country not taking an interest in Latin America is the United States of America. I wish the Obama administration would get on the ball with this. We really shouldn’t take our back yard for granted.

Ahmadinejad Allies Charged with Sorcery

From the Guardian. This is interesting and more than a little frightening.

Close allies of Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being “magicians” and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as “a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds”.

We are still in the 21st century, right? Well, maybe some of us are still in the 16th. These people may have nuclear weapons very soon. After Obama gets done congratulating himself on Osama bin Ladin’s demise, maybe he ought to do something about that.

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