Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tom Brady: Make America Great Again

Billionaire businessman, Donald Trump is now holding his most commanding lead over GOP rivals for the Presidential nomination according to the latest national polling data.  Data from a recent Monmouth University poll, reveals that 41% of likely voters in the Republican primary now favor the reality-TV show star, with his closest rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz at 14%.  The results come amidst Trump’s latest call to bar entry of all Muslims into the United States.

A true master of xenophobia, Donald Trump has openly targeted his hatred towards minority groups, including Mexicans and more recently, Muslims.  The tabloid-like American news media covers every move made by Trump, amplifying his message and creating an environment that fuels hate toward many Muslim-American--citizens that are made to feel unwelcome in Trump’s America.  Donald Trump’s crusade against Muslims in America has not only called for banning Muslims from entering the USA, but he has advocated for special ID cards to identify Muslims, and the closing of mosques.  Additionally, Trump has called for killing innocent family members of suspected terrorists abroad.  The popularity of Trump’s ideas in a polarized nation, has pushed his competitors to further such notions.  Neurosurgeon-turned-Islamophobe, Ben Carson has stated that a Muslim cannot become an American president.  Party favorite, Marco Rubio has openly called for closing down of Muslim cafes and gathering places.

Shunned by the GOP establishment, Trump largely counts on celebrity endorsements to add credibility and traction to his fascist-themed campaign. The list is an all-star cast featuring the likes of Wayne Newton, Stephen Baldwin, Dennis Rodman, Herschel Walker, Mike Ditka, Terrell Owens, Dana White, Gary Busey, Lou Ferrigno, and Ted Nugent.  Hulk Hogan and Charlie Sheen have openly called to become his Vice President.  Shockingly, the list includes Mike Tyson.  Tyson, a Muslim himself, says, “Anybody that was ever president of the United States offended some group of people or some groups of people were offended.  He’s still ahead in the polls and he deserves a chance.”  It may be argued that Tyson is a sellout, uneducated, or simply incapable of clear thought after taking too many blows to the brain in his storied boxing career.  

Perhaps, more surprisingly, Tom Brady famously endorsed Trump for President in September 2015: [on Trump winning the general election] “I hope so.  That would be great.”  After some gentle media pressure, Brady walked back his endorsement.  Later, the website Deadspin.com challenged reporters to query Brady on his support for Trump in light of his anti-Muslim comments.  On his local Boston radio show on WEEI (93.7FM), on December 15, 2015, Brady addressed his opinions on Trump:

“Donald is a good friend of mine.  I have known him for a long time.  I support all friends of mine…I’ve always enjoyed his company.”

“I support all my friends in everything they do.  I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s achieved in his life…and then getting into politics.”

Additionally, Brady has kept a Trump-monikered “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA.

While not clearly telling listeners to vote for Trump, Brady reiterated his friendship and support for perhaps the most reviled bigot in modern American history—perhaps something even worse.  Trump’s rhetoric has inspired white supremacists to protest with assault rifles at places of Muslim worship across the country, and fostered hate crimes including the firebombing of American mosques, shootings targeted at hijab-clad women, and the murder of a Somali-American teen who was thrown off a Seattle rooftop.  On air, Brady was given a clear chance to distance himself from this golfing pal, Mr. Trump --if not as a friend, at least from his racist policies.  By continuing to align himself from the Mexican and Muslim-hating Trump, Brady refused to do something that even noted war criminals like Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu did:  condemn Trump for his Islamophobic discourse.  In fact, even stalwarts in the intolerant and prejudiced Republican Party such as Paul Ryan have declared that "this is not what our party [or country] stands for".

While not as egregious as his support for an international terror force, Brady's assertion of friendship and pseudo-endorsement of his “remarkable” buddy Trump (and the dead raccoon on his head) is in contradiction to some other well-known NFL quarterbacks.  Recently, former NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers took time to criticize a fan who yelled “Muslims suck” (alternatively reported as “Death to Muslims”) in a moment of silence for Paris-attack victims before a Green Bay Packers game.  San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick has used his platform as an NFL celebrity to criticize Donald Trump by posting numerous memes and quotes on Twitter, in support of Muslims.

The failure of Tom Brady and his ilk is either one fraught of cowardice or hate.  In this current American era of championed bigotry, taking a stance against Islamophobia, is not a difficult, unpopular or even controversial—Iraq war architect and noted neoconservative hawk Dick Cheney has condemned Trump’s policies: “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”   Perhaps and possibly likely, Tom Brady who has previously endorsed the Israeli Defense Forces and attended George Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, simply agrees with Donald Trump’s stances on building walls to keep out Mexicans, a total shutdown of entrance of Muslims into America, the closing of mosques, killing the innocent families of suspected terrorists, and requiring American Muslims to carry special identification cards.

@TheRealOQ @PolymathKings

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tom Brady, the IDF, and the Normalization of Terrorism

"Football, beer, and above all gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult."
                                                                                ~George Orwell, 1984

At the outset, it must be emphasized that this essay does not attempt to question or minimize the accomplishments of New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, or his stature as one of the most formidable quarterbacks in NFL history. With Brady at the helm, the Patriots may quite well be remembered as one of the most celebrated dynasties in the history of American professional sports. But all of this is of little consequence.

The discussion that follows is relevant to all Americans with a standard IQ—be they high school graduates, working professionals, or indeed any thinking person with a particle of common sense. It deals with the elementary moral responsibility upon an individual to take a principled stance on matters that impact his fellow man, especially those affected by the actions of the United States and its proxies. It also calls for a reflection on the metaphysical consequences of subordinating basic considerations of humanity to the bread and circus served up by the modern world. This conversation is much less about Tom Brady’s personal beliefs, and more about the way in which celebrity is immortalized by neurotic fans whose moral judgment has been impaired by their love for a fantasy world of fun and entertainment.  The Tom Brady story is illustrative of a pervasive societal disease of ignorance and moral indifference which affects how we think and how we don’t think. 

Background and Introduction:

For background on the story, please refer to the Times of Israel regarding a trip made to Israel by Robert Kraft and Tom Brady  http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-super-bowl-matchup-pats-have-israel-connections-cornered/

In the summer of 2006, offseason for Tom Brady and the Patriots, Brady traveled to Israel with Patriots owner, Robert Kraft. As documented in the now-infamous report that appeared in the Times of Israel, Brady paid an inauspicious visit to a military base of the Israeli army, or the self-proclaimed "Israeli Defense Force" (IDF). A visit that, since its revelation, has been highlighted by pro-Palestinian activists throughout the world. Brady is seen sporting an IDF uniform and later partaking in target practice. The report notes that at one point Brady was so awed by the American-supplied pyrotechnics which were used to incinerate Gazan women and children, he exclaims, “Damn!”  

Certainly the photo-op of a beaming Tom Brady, who voluntarily draped himself in foreign combat gear, on a foreign military base, to honor foreign “soldiers,” cannot be characterized as a neutral or benign act--particularly given that his visit coincided with Israel’s hideous massacre of Lebanon that commenced that summer, known as the “Lebanon War of 2006." Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch pointedly condemned the IDF for its rampant use of lethal white phosphorous gas, and for exploding over 100,000 cluster bombs in densely populated civilian areas.  The Israeli offensive is said to have killed 1200 people and displaced over one million Lebanese civilians.  In parallel, two deadly operations were taking place to the south of Israel in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, on the heels of the so-called “2005 Disengagement Plan" -- operations that had started prior to Brady’s visit. The civilian executions in 2005 and the Lebanon massacre in 2006 summarily guaranteed that the criminal activity of the IDF would be an unavoidable topic of conversation during Brady’s trip to Israel. Indeed, Israel was being excoriated in the international (and even in parts of the American) press and was facing its greatest public relations debacle since the First Intifada (1987-1993).

Seeing this photograph, the stubborn or willfully ignorant may argue that Brady, affectionately known as “TB12,” did not fully appreciate the consequences of his actions.  That he didn’t know anything about the IDF and that his boss, Robert Kraft, an inveterate Zionist, is the true culprit and Brady was merely an innocent traveling companion. However, with a degree of reluctance, it must be admitted that Tom Brady is not an out-and-out imbecile. Brady is a graduate of an elite American college (University of Michigan), has led the Patriots to multiple Super Bowls titles, is known to be one of the most cerebral quarterbacks in NFL history, and surely knows how to use Google. When TB12 sat in an airplane for 13 hours, he had plenty of time to ponder about where he was going.  In short, it would be exceedingly naive to assume that Brady was oblivious to a full-fledged war taking place in his midst, one that was receiving unrelenting media coverage and being condemned in every quarter of the world, including large segments of the United States.

Moreover, any rational person must concede that Brady must have pondered the following questions before he physically entered a foreign country's military base, changed his clothes into the combat gear of a foreign fighter, and fired a foreign nation’s lethal weapons:

“Who’s uniform am I putting on?” 
“What do they do?”
“What do they stand for?”
“Is it wise for me to be appearing in a photo that is guaranteed to surface in the press?”  

The existence of this photo projects Brady employing his celebrity status to show the world that there exists a down-to-earth, friendly, and “hip” Israeli military—that the IDF is “just like us”; and that its actions in Lebanon and elsewhere were carried out in “self-defense.”   Contrary to the arguments posited by a legion of Brady apologists, there is no indication that Brady was pressured into this visit with a well-oiled terrorist organization. Certainly a player of his standing, often hailed as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, is able to dictate how he lives his life. Certainly TB12 does not need to concern himself with possible ramifications resulting from a presumptive disagreement with Robert Kraft. Tom Brady is to the New England Patriots what Michael Jordan was to the Chicago Bulls: owners and managers are at his beck and call, not vice-versa.   

In sum, whether implicit or explicit, the aforementioned photo is clearly an endorsement of the IDF, a terrorist organization that has been condemned by the world’s highest judicial body, namely the International Court of Justice. Absolutely no excuse can be made in defense of this endorsement of a mass murdering entity, which has wreaked havoc upon an utterly defenseless Palestinian population living under a brutal military occupation for more than half a century.  If Brady truly felt the photo was misleading or wished to distance himself from known war criminals, he could have offered an explanation of his indefensible endorsement or issued an apology. However, almost a decade later, including through the slaughter of Gaza in 2014 – a time when many famous people were vocal--no such explanation has been forthcoming.

Why Does a Picture Taken in 2006 Hold Any Relevance in 2015? 

Beginning in the summer of 2014, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the IDF carried out a brutal and indiscriminate massacre upon the civilian population of Gaza.  According to the United Nations, the so-called Israeli “Operation Protective Edge," killed 2104 people, over 500 of whom were children.  Crimes of war included the bombing of well-marked schools, UN shelters, mosques, multiple hospitals and clinics, and even a sanctuary for the handicapped. Social media was overrun with the most terrifying images and videos of dead babies with their remains gathered in garbage bags, young boys blown apart as they played soccer on a beach, despondent parents, traumatized orphans, destroyed ambulances, and indescribable scenes of destruction.  Outrage by people of all backgrounds and religions, and even famous celebrities, highlighted the murderous rampage in Gaza.  Worldwide protests in major cities were flooded with Palestinian flags and keffiyeh, in solidarity with the occupied, displaced, oppressed, and deceased. 

Gaza was crippled, and the aftermath of this 50-day onslaught continued through early 2015 as broken families tried to piece together what remained of their seemingly hapless lives.  UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and other independent bodies determined that the IDF assault had displaced one fourth of the Gaza population; nearly 250,000 people were forced to take refuge in UN shelters, and 150,000 citizens were attempting to survive in public parks.  The estimated losses totaled $5 Billion

At the time of the Super Bowl in 2015, the assault on Gaza remained fresh on the minds of the public.  This image of Brady with the IDF militia had re-surfaced and was circulated by the “Stand With Us” Israeli movement to congratulate Tom Brady on his Super Bowl victory, to show fans that even an NFL champion endorses the Israeli Defense Force, and, de facto, to celebrate a successful "victory" (i.e. a one-sided slaughter of largely civilians) in Gaza. It is by no accident that Stand With Us released the photo after the tail end of the Gaza massacre for its unique propagandistic value.

So, How Did We Feel About It?

Ultimately, we should be focusing less on Tom Brady’s position on terrorism and but instead we must introspectively reflect upon how we felt when seeing his endorsement of the IDF.  Did it stir our emotions?  For those who care about the Palestinian plight or choose to remain informed of current events, something is terribly wrong if one does not absolutely cringe when seeing anyone standing in solidarity with a murderous army.  Even worse, is the ability of fans to pass off the image as insignificant – implying their lust for football eclipses their compassion for humanity. 

The outrage felt by the this writer towards Brady’s IDF endorsement and the Patriots's Zionist ties is not a novel concept. Leading members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which is aimed at ending Israeli apartheid in Palestine, led the course of condemnation against Brady and the Patriots. The pro-peace website, Mondoweiss, published an article in February 2015 that went into considerable detail regarding the Patriot’s connection with Israel and illustrated how the Israeli hasbara propaganda-machine has leveraged this relationship. Members of the Palestinian freedom-seeking activist group, the Electronic Intifada, were also vocal on social media on Brady’s rifle shooting escapades with terrorists, expressing outrage that people of good conscience could possibly continue to support the team in the Super Bowl. 

A Thought Experiment Featuring ISIS and Lebron James

Not long after the 2014 massacre in Gaza began to recede from the headlines, new attention was given towards the violence and murder being committed by a lawless group of bandits, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or simply, ISIS.

News media outlets inundated the public with graphic coverage of atrocities committed by ISIS, leading to universal outrage against the group. Muslim-Americans in particular were rapidly issuing public statements on social media in order to disassociate themselves from ISIS’s barbaric activity:

"This is not Islam",
"They are not Muslims”
“Not in our name.”

Every effort was made to demonstrate that ISIS was acting in a manner that was antithetical to Islam’s most foundational ethical principles. The words employed to condemn ISIS were, of course, entirely appropriate--but the tenacity with which they were administered, and the singular fixation on this group seemingly stemmed from a fear of being associated with ISIS and its demonic ideology. 

ISIS’s effective propaganda techniques have made certain that lurid images of terror are well-covered on the Internet and by major news outlets.  The press highlights each beheading and develops stories and discussions around each sensational act for weeks on end. ISIS's strategic atrocities are murderous, terrifying, and cold-hearted; the Paris attacks in November 2015 are again an example of employing outrageous methods of terror that increase their deathly brand.  The murder of over 150 innocent lives, the hundreds injured, and the thousands who will continue to grieve for life is what should strike us the most.  It is worth taking note that equally well-planned propaganda techniques are employed to shelter the self-proclaimed IDF’s half-century of ruthless occupation, apartheid, and murderous attacks. Year after year, the IDF carries on with impunity and with the unconditional backing of the United States both at the governmental level and with brilliant public relations strategy.  Because of these propaganda techniques, including using the celebrity status of the likes of TB12--the death of 500 children at the hands of a well-advanced, and well-funded, and celebrity-endorsed army has been sanitized in our minds. 
Consider, now, if a star player with high celebrity status had flown across the Atlantic and went on a firing range with battlefield soldiers of ISIS.  This was not intended as an innocent “meet-and-greet.” Rather, the celebrity went so far as to change his clothes into the terrorist group’s signature "jihadi" gear of black cloth with face masks, and picked up weapons to engage in target practice with this criminal entity.

Also imagine that the owner of this organization, the man who reaps the proceeds from the paraphernalia you wear and tickets you spend hundreds of dollars on, was a major supporter of ISIS. He autographs helmets and knows the terror leader on a first-name basis, "Ozzy" for Osama Bin Laden, for example. He writes a letter of condolence to the proud family of a terrorist who sacrificed his life in the name of the religious state (as Kraft has previously done for IDF soldiers).  Any principled person would feel a sense of disgust and immediately disassociate himself from supporting and funding such terrorist backers.  

What if an analogous picture of another American sports celebrity, say, Lebron James, surfaced? Can one fathom James decked in jihadi gear, smiling alongside an ISIS commander, and brandishing the very swords used to behead journalists? Jaws would drop, total shock and awe would ensue; the country would shudder in disbelief and there would be denunciations on the news and social media, with no end in sight. Would anyone make the argument that Lebron didn’t know what he was doing?  That he didn’t take the time to even think about who he was going to meet even when flying all the way to Iraq? Can the excuse be made that the team’s owner, a personal friend of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadhi, just took James for a fun trip thousands of miles away, and LBJ simply didn’t want to displease him?  Can we argue that picture is 9 years old and that he doesn’t feel the same way now, even if he has made no penitence for his action to this day?

Brady's visit with the IDF is no different than an American intentionally traveling to Iraq to consort with ISIS, or going to Yemen to rifle shoot with Al-Qaeda, or flying to Nigeria to show support for Boko Haraam. Swap Lebron back for Brady, and ISIS for IDF, Al Baghdadi for Benjamin Netanyahu, and you will understand the filthy and corrupted mentality of Patriots fans who know about this story, have seen the picture, and remain unwilling to condemn Brady. Why is the Brady zealot not interested in an explanation or a clarification of why Brady was consorting with the terrorist entity IDF? 

In reality, the only thing that can be inferred at this time is that Tom Brady is not sorry for his ringing endorsement of the IDF.  In fact, if one generously characterizes Brady’s endorsement in 2006 as only implicit, by the Gaza massacre of 2014, a time where celebrities and sports figures of all sorts were making denunciations of the butchery of the Palestinian people, we should consider Brady’s 9-year long silence as an explicit and still-standing IDF endorsement.  Brady fans should be questioning him, not trying to fend off or explain away the ugly incident.

Normalization of Terrorism

A highly visible and beloved celebrity like TB12 has the power and ability to humanize what should otherwise be regarded as pure savagery. Imagine, in a parallel universe devoid of propaganda, an army that killed over 500 children in 50 days: it would universally be regarded as menace to humanity.  In today’s world, riddled with distractions and amusements at every turn, being friendly with the IDF does not cause us to turn our heads, or even bat an eyelash.  It is an all-American stance to support a so-called “freedom-loving” country--one just like our own.  Fellow man must make the extra effort to pay attention to what is happening in the world around him.

Constant media bias and extraordinary propaganda efforts have made the Israeli Defense Force appear acceptable to the everyday American. A story recently surfaced involving an Israeli Solider costume for kids that went out of stock at Wal-Mart for Halloween 2015. The description of the terrorist uniform encouraged unsuspecting children to "step into their Jewish heritage."

Many Americans have been duped into believing that the IDF is a noble and just army. It is of little surprise that Robert Kraft’s wife said, without consequence, that while she would not let her sons fight in the United States military, she would be proud if they enlisted for Israel, a foreign country. In short, thanks to the efforts of people like Brady, who have helped sanitize the worst of the IDF’s atrocities, Americans can openly show support for the merciless slaughter in Gaza.

It bears noting that the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, David Blatt, was vocally supportive of the 2014 massacre in Gaza and is quoted as saying “in my opinion, this war is Israel’s most justified war I can remember in recent years.” Sportswriter David Zirin brilliantly highlighted the duplicity and shameful position of the NBA when letting Blatt’s attitude slide whereas “NBA players were being excoriated for just posting messages about the loss of innocent life during Israel’s war on Gaza.” This author’s thoughts on public support and acceptance for Brady follows very closely with Zirin’s observations of how the NBA fails to take issue with supporting the racist and genocidal regime of a foreign nation.  Zirin mocks the insipid remarks by Jeff VanGundy who characterized Blatt’s relationship with Netanyahu as “impressive.” Again, it is because of the power of propaganda, that attitudes towards Israeli politics remain unchecked.

In no small part due to the efforts of people like Kraft, and an instrument of propaganda like Brady, any American can freely show unwavering support for Israel’s dubious military operations, regardless of hard facts and figures that implicate the IDF in the worst possible ways. It seems to be the patriotic thing to do: “support our ally.” To even question Israel’s military operations and its racist policies is a position that few people are willing to vocally express. Although Zirin's comments on Blatt are common sense, he should be commended for taking such a bold position.

For those who have concern for their fellow humans--and if you can understand that the IDF is at least evil as ISIS--how can those hearts that were so ostensibly attached to the “people of Gaza” in 2014, and those hearts that showed outward support all over the Internet in the name of “brotherhood and solidarity,” have the ability to pardon their favorite player who palled around with mass murderers?

Many people clamored online about the IDF being a terrorist organization, but what happens when good ole TB12 is endorsing that very terrorist organization? Why should God bless our efforts and advocacy when it is marred by such hypocrisy?  When it is totally lacking in true sympathy and feeling? Regrettably, pro-Palestinian advocacy has been reduced to a Facebook fad for many of these people. The hypocrisy is glaring as such people “speak up” only to the extent that it does not interfere with their true priorities: football, Tom Brady and his “GOAT” status, and fantasizing about more Super Bowl championing rings.

The Metaphysical Consequence of Indifference

Tom Brady fanatics may find it ridiculous to complain about Mr. Brady’s endorsement of terrorism because he has not directly “hurt anyone” and that “nobody knows about it.”  Indeed it does hurt; it hurts a lot. It is a sign of a suffering heart to have no feeling towards an individual’s endorsement of child killers. Constant acceptance of the unacceptable can affect a person's heart in ways that are not immediately obvious.  We subconsciously become immune to death and destruction, be it in Kenya, Somalia, or Burma. Continual indifference can also be virulent; “if my dad, brother, and friends are not bothered by TB12 endorsing perpetrators of mass terror, why should I be?”  Football is one of America’s favorite pastimes, everybody loves successful celebrities and star players, it is just what people do; and politics and football are two separate issues, we are told. People do not want to let their passion for football get muddled by dirty politics because it is seen as a time for escape.  However, in cases like this, when the association is clear as day, there is no excuse for ignoring what is flagrantly obvious. Indifference in the modern American context means blinding oneself from what takes place outside of a bubble of consumerist culture; it dulls the ability to feel genuine sympathy and compassion for others. Neurotic sports fanship is a culprit in America’s empathy gap. Choosing to ignore the ugly truth of slaughtering children, indiscriminate bombardment, and torture in order to “respect the game,” severely impacts the psyche. The ability to ignore these egregious details with equanimity and detachment is a sign of a heart bereft of life.  

Again, this conversation is not primarily about Tom Brady and the Patriots; it is about internalizing a dangerous frame of mind which makes us content with how things are portrayed by media and propaganda; it leaves us disinterested in seeking a clearer picture or even knowing the truth.  We are left in a state of moral disengagement, meaning we convince ourselves that our own ethical standards do not apply in cases where we are involved (here, our involvement is the love for the “greatness” of TB12).   We convince ourselves to remove reality from our love affair and, in turn, the misfortune of people in a foreign land is not worth our time. To the contrary, it is not worth our time to care about prime-time celebrities throwing deflated balls on grass fields. In fact, it is detrimental to the soul to give it a priority over holding war criminals and their endorsers responsible for their actions. Who are we?  If we are true to ourselves, why would we feel it is okay for someone to endorse those who have been savagely killing innocent people?  It seems that Tom Brady and his ilk can get a pass because they have more to offer – they are the “Greatest of All-Time” and must be respected for "their game."

As the Brady faithful’s zeal drives him to develop sophisticated arguments and apologetics, they eventually convince themselves that an association and endorsement of the IDF is not problematic. The Brady faithful also cling to the notion that the argument against the Patriots emanates from the disingenuous and jealous “haters.”  The truth is—this author’s anger and disgust is not aimed at Tom Brady, Robert Kraft, or the scandal-laden New England Patriots. At the end of the day, Kraft will be Kraft and Brady will be Brady. Having acknowledged the greatness of TB12 as a quarterback, this is not an argument born of jealousy. Rather, this writer’s ire is singularly directed at the neurotic fans who are unmoved by the Brady’s endorsement of the IDF.

Bread and Circus

In ancient Rome, a society completely entrenched in war, compassion was a detestable vice which was considered decadent and effeminate.  The brute and masculine events in the gladiator arenas were seen as a way for men not in active combat, to at least belong to the warrior culture and stave off any perceived weakness.  Today, lack of compassion and empathy is a product of the emphasis society has placed on “manly” commercialized sports such as football.  The expression “bread and circus” has been used for centuries to capture the lack of political awareness by a society that remains satiated with the shallow distractions of food and entertainment – notably, the Roman gladiator games and chariot races. The Brady fan’s ability set aside Brady’s terrorist associations, so he can enjoy his bread and circus is very revealing of how this phenomenon is alive in the modern day.
When people choose to not think beyond the scope of sports on TV, ESPN gossip, and fantasy sports leagues, one cannot expect them to comprehend reality outside of their cocoons.  While it may seem as such, this is not an indictment of a person’s intelligence.  Although a desire for entertainment in moderation is normal, entertainment becomes pernicious when people are unaware of the impact it has on their overall mentality.  Many brilliant people who are sports fanatics are unwilling to accept that their allegiance to teams and players is clouding their moral judgement.  The corporate-manufactured culture that has indoctrinated Americans for generations, has motivated us to become masters in the statistics and histories of players, and our time is spent studying "expert" commentary in order to memorize the sophisticated strategies involving making the right plays. All of this leads us to become exponentially more oblivious to matters of consequence--such as the welfare of humanity.
Sports fanaticism can lead to a detachment from the world, causing one to subordinate fundamental ethical principles to an allegiance to a team. The manufactured world of sports creates a belonging and relentless commitment that would be the equivalent to what one could call an "extremist" or a "fundamentalist" in religion. It creates an environment so involved in these corporate entities that people wear their insignia-laden clothes, attach team names on their car bumpers, and even fly flags outside the doors of their homes.  When asked to write a brief biography of the self, it is common to see something like “Diehard Patriots fan!” as one of the key bullet points.  It is not always problematic, but it can lead to extremism and such extremism results in the ability to overlook critical flaws, acts of repulsive behavior, or simply not care about anything besides what happens on the field.
True empathy is the ability to put yourself in another's shoes.  Try it, just for a moment: imagine a colleague lauding and appointing the label "Greatest of All-Time" on the man who used his fame and celebrity to endorse the militants who are responsible for the purposeful murder of each and every one of your children. Think about your own kids. This belligerent behavior is akin to defecating on the face of grieving parents during their most traumatic hour.  At the very least, for the sake of the grieving parent, the widow, and the orphan, the Brady zealot should conceal any trace of outward support for this man.  

If Tom Brady's endorsement of terrorism does not bother you, if a picture that appeared not far removed from the apex of the 2014 massacre in Gaza does not stir any emotions, it should be very concerning. Ask yourself: has propaganda taken a hold of you to the point where you haven't realized it?  Have you become emotionally immune to information overload of death and crime?  Is concern for others and compassion for humanity just not on your priority list?  Whatever the case is for ignoring terror and continuing to idolize TB12, just keep in mind that it is highly offensive to others.

Logical Conclusion

For a lifetime and diehard fan, the only task is to tap into your moral beliefs, be a principled citizen, and issue an explicit condemnation of Tom Brady. From the said analogy, there is no excuse for a socially conscious person, who condemns supporters of ISIS (or any other organization that sees no restriction in the murder of civilians) to not also vociferously condemn Tom Brady for his nine years of deafening silence. Pop culture in America makes us think of the Palestinians as sub-human (or as the Nazis would say, untermenschen)--they are caged up in small parcels of land and are never dignified with the respect that any human being should command. At the end of the day, they are people, just like you and me.  
Any true fan of Brady should be curious to demand an explanation from TB12 as to why he cavorted with terrorists, and whether he still believes if it was the right thing to do.  At the very least, the fan should demand the truth.

If you cannot condemn Tom Brady after everything that has been discussed, it is logically fair to conclude:
  1. You deny or are unmoved by the magnitude of terror caused by the Israeli military--500 butchered children in 50 days is not convincing enough.
  2. You are unconvinced that human life should be valued equally: unconvinced that the death of X number of people killed by the IDF is just as problematic as X number murdered by the hands of ISIS.
  3. You would have no issue with someone dressing up in jihadi gear and going to a training base for a rifle shooting session with ISIS, and then staying silent about it for 9 years.
  4. You are okay with the star player of your favorite sport’s franchise endorsing foreign terrorism, and have no compunctions about supporting him in his trade.
  5. You feel no guilt or shame upon learning that the celebrity that you champion has endorsed lawless bandits who killed innocent children—children who are considered sub-human merely because of their race, religion, and place of birth.
  6. You simply don't care.

Thanks for reading, you can reach us on Twitter @saq333

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bringing Down the House

The revolutionary cauldron of Arab dissent has been percolating throughout the Middle East. It has cooked up a storm in Tunisia and Egypt.  It is heating up in Bahrain, Iraq, and Iran.  It has reached the boiling point in Yemen.  In Libya, it has spilled over.  This leads to the inevitable question, what exactly is brewing in the grand daddy of them all, the House of Saud?

Saudi Arabia is unquestionably the spiritual leader of the Islamic world. It is home to the holiest of cities--Makkah and Madinah; it serves as the destination of the pilgrimage, Hajj;  its ulema, or Islamic scholars are amongst its most respected.  The Kingdom is the focal point for a cool 1.5 billion people--over 20% of the Earth's population.  The religious significance of this desert peninsula can not be overstated.

Contrary to what many false believe, Saudi Arabia is not a theocracy--it is a monarchy, albeit with a strong Islamic influence. The ruling Al Saud family has held power for centuries dating back to historic battles with the Ottoman Empire. The power and traditions of the Saud are quite established.  The transition of power in the royal family is by agnatic seniority--the order of succession to the throne is to the monarch's younger brother, not to the monarch's son.  Transition to the next generation occurs after all the elder males have been exhausted.  This can take quite some time given the enormous family size of the royals.  The current leader, King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz is the fifth of thirty seven brothers.  Politics, ability, and factionalism play a large part in the choice of a successor as some princes are elevated, and others bypassed altogether.

Proponents of the House argue that its kings are benevolent dictators.  The acts of charity are undeniable:  $125M to Pakistan for the 2010 floods, over $80M to Asian victims of the 2005 tsunami, and  $50M to Haiti for its earthquake of 2010.  In addition to natural disaster aid, donations are innumerable ranging from subsidizing oil in Pakistan, to eradicating hunger in the Horn of Africa, to the construction of mosques across America.  Many foreigners thus look up to Arabia for leadership given its enormous wealth, influence and status.  Furthermore, Saudi is considered to be a land of opportunity for professionals in the Muslim world--doctors, lawyers, and engineers find stable jobs with a good income.

Monies are not limited to international assistance and expatriates.  Citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are entitled free education to whatever level or degree they desire to pursue, domestic or abroad.
The government funds the purchase or construction of a home--which remains free of charge if the individual is married, or a governmental employee.  Health care is free. There is the provision of cheap petroleum; in fact, it is cheaper than drinking water.  A gallon of gas is 91 cents.  KSA pays for marriages and wedding ceremonies as long as they are requested by the family. There are numerous other benefits that make the value of a Saudi passport, an excellent one.

As cherished as Saudi Arabia is in certain circles, it is equally if not significantly more despised in others.  The reasons are numerous.  It begins with a medieval, hierarchical setup--a sick social experiment, gone wrong.  Modern day monarchies are largely symbolic or constitutional, but in the land of Al Saud, it is absolute.  The elite branch of royals, descendants of Muhammad bin Saud, are referred to by the title "His Royal Highness" (HRH).  These are the power brokers of the the Kingdom, some of whom are in line for the succession of the throne.  Secondary, or cadet branches of royals hold key positions in the military, government, and the establishment.  Although they are not in contention for kingship, they are referred to as "His Highness" (HH) and wield considerable authority.  Below the ruling classes are varied tribal lineages with differing levels of power and respect--but in general, the citizens are almost uniformly of Saudi Arabian descent.  Given the economic advantages afforded the citizens, it is a nearly impossible for a foreigner to achieve such status.  There is a point system to earn citizenship but in reality, unless there is blood relation to a Saudi male it is not usually granted.

The local Arab population has more rights and social standing over foreign, professional workers--be they American, European or South Asian.  Generally speaking, even within this subgroup, detractors state that westerners are preferentially treated.  There is an ethnic stratification system below this level that features non-Saudi Arabs, Filipinos, and near the bottom of the barrel, poor guest workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  The destitute South Asian workers have few rights and in some cases, have conditions akin to modern day slavery.  Duty hours can exceed 18 per day, and workers are often not paid for months.  Their also have been many reported cases of abuse, including that of a Sri Lankan maid who had nails hammered into her. Although this particular event is likely an outlier, the squalid working and living conditions prevalent in worker colonies is not.  Their life is aptly portrayed in the motion picture, Syriana, about a fictional Gulf state. Supporters of KSA argue that poor Asian and African workers come to work according to their free will.  While this may be true to a certain extent, it is more of an indictment on the financial climate of their home countries than a referendum on Saudi Arabia.  In addition, many laborers are unaware of the actual conditions and limited reimbursement available to them in the Kingdom.  Some try to leave but are essentially stuck for years since their passports are withheld by their local employers.  This situation was recently highlighted by an Indian stowaway who escaped to his homeland by hiding in the toilet of an Air India flight.

Apologists for KSA argue that complaints about this twisted, class and race-based system is due to jealousy and unfounded accusations.  The reality, however, is that there has been development of a modern day caste system that completely contradicts the egalitarian spirit of Islam that descended upon the peninsula over 1400 years ago.  The lack of justice and freedoms for the poor and the immigrants is glaring.  And the numbers of immigrants is quite high--almost 22% of the population.

According to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist, Saudi Arabia has the 7th most authoritarian regime in the world.  It betters only a few states such as Uzbekistan and North Korea--regimes that sport atrocious human rights records.  KSA's record on women's rights is well-documented and universally considered as poor.  Although there is much media scrutiny on the inability of women to drive a car, what is more worrisome is the lack of employment opportunity for educated females.  Approximately, 78% of unemployed females have university degrees.  In total, up to 10% of the population is unemployed--but this masks the alarming rate of unemployment in the 20-24 age category: 39%.  What exacerbates these numbers is the burgeoning youth population, as 47% of citizens are 18 or younger.

According to the Emirate Times, 90% of private sector jobs are held by foreign workers.  Saudis lack the  skill set or desire to work in the most competitive jobs.  Many choose to work in easier government jobs if available.  However, given the unemployment figures, it is obvious that enough of these do not exist.  It reasons that the House of Saud has inadvertently (or skeptics say, intentionally) created a giant welfare state.  The government is willing to provide its citizens with many benefits, free of cost.  Some are essential (health care) or certainly benevolent (education).  However, some of the other "handouts" have stifled a desire to work and killed motivation and entrepreneurship--leading to slow, internal rotting.  The result is joblessness for many and a nation that functions almost exclusively by importing outside talents.  The current employment patterns are not sustainable long term and present a dire set of problems.

The House of Saud can be as easily referred to as the Kingdom of Oil.  The ability of the House to fund all the programs previously mentioned is due to its good fortune--it sits atop reservoirs of liqud, black gold.  The Ghawar oil field is the world's largest spanning 170 miles long by 19 miles wide.  It is also home to vast amounts of natural gas.  The Khurais, Qatif, Safaniya, and Shaybah oil fields--like Ghawar are in the Eastern Province and in adjacent, offshore locations.  The oil wealth filters through the open palms of the ruling Saud, making them all wealthy beyond measure.  The monarchs are able to take advantage of their position and have ownership in oil harvestation and production, in conjunction with large multinational companies.  However, the land that produces the oil is inarguably that of the people of Saudi Arabia, and so should be its spoils.  The "benevolence" of the dictators is as much an act of compulsion as it is one of giving.  Without a tiny piece of the pie, the locals would be up in arms.  This raises another a question--if the oil belongs to the people and they (the citizens) are already deriving some benefit of it--how and where should all the money be spent?  Isn't it being properly utilized already?

There is no easy answer to this trillion dollar question.  It certainly should not be limited to the hands of the HRH and HH crowd--for their personal pleasure and exorbitant lifestyles.  And it shouldn't be entirely applied into the creation of a welfare state which will inevitably result in the decay and demise of future generations.  The judicious use of funds is certainly in order--developing education, infrastructure, and for technologic advancement.  Facilities and institutions need to be created so that unemployment doesn't destroy the fabric of the nation.  There should be an investment in alternative and green technologies as oil is a limited resource.  The end of oil should not spell the end of Arabia--because this possibility is certainly a distinct one. The wealth that Saudi has accrued over time should have been enough for it to position itself, as a world superpower.  Instead it has simply pumped oil for the West, mired with a vast array of social ills.  Another issue for KSA to consider and answer--what are its long-term strategic plans regarding its oil reserves?  The United States is careful not to tap into Alaskan oil and similarly, Russia has plans to safeguard oil for future generations.  Is Saudi going to run itself dry?  Saudi boasts about being able to increase the production of oil enough to actually drive down the price of a barrel. While this may offer some advantages in the near term, it raises questions whether there is truly a vision for tomorrow.

The money that is minted when Arabian oil is exchanged for dollars is quickly reinvested into the West by the purchase of arms. Saudi defense spending in 2009 ranked 8th in the world, at over $39 billion dollars.  This accounts for 8.2% of its GDP. In comparison, the US spent 4.3%.  The glaring difference is enhanced  when realizing that Saudi is not actively engaged in open combat, whereas the US is mired in two occupations and has opened up a global war on terror with a multitude of fronts on many different continents.  Simply put, Saudi defense spending doesn't make any sense. Western powers including the US, as well as Israel have successfully created a perpetual fear of Iran, within the House.  Although, theologically divided--Sunni Saudi and Shia Iran; there is no real reason either nation should fear the other.  Both sit upon ridiculous proportions of natural resources and maintain a strong sphere of influence central to their sects.  Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia unwittingly has come down on the side of the West in its continual ostracization of Iran.  Saudi Arabia and Iran thus fight a proxy war--one that fuels the economy of weapon-producing nations.  This proxy war takes the form of a brutal cycle of Sunni-Shia sectarian violence, in many flash points including North Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon. [Of interesting note, US has had supposed secret negotiations with KSA rival Iran, regarding the stability of Iraq]

The airtight relations between KSA and the US also results in less than enthusiastic support of the House amongst many locals, as well as much of the Muslim world.  Al Saud has been friendly with a multitude of administrations including the recent Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal.  In fact, many feel that the Kingdom has been partially co-opted by America.  It served as the launching point for Gulf War I against Iraq in the early 90s. To Saudi's credit, there are no longer any (known) US bases on its soil--but the damage to its reputation has already been cemented.  Additionally, Saudi religious scholars blessed the US military action against Iraq infuriating much of the Muslim world.  In conjunction with turning a blind eye to wanton Royal excess and dubious investments in western financial institutions (outlawed by Islam), the Saudi scholars lose much credibility.  They are seen to be simply rubber stamping the policies of the HRH--whether political, social, or religious.

Following the wave of recent protests, King Abdullah announced a $36 billion assistance package for the country featuring loans for homes, increase in governmental salaries, and unemployment benefits.  Its intent undeniably is to pacify the population and stave off any potential thought of uprising against the House.  This may be able to slow down such a process--in fact, the population of Saudi is likely to be more content than that of neighboring states.  However, given both its developing and pre-existing conditions, it is only a matter of time--be it months or years before the revolution hits the Saudi street.  It is critical for the Kingdom to accept this reality and evolve accordingly, before a potentially violent ouster.  A class-based system with an all-powerful monarchy will simply not survive in the 21st century.  A representative government with a stronger focus on civil and human rights is both paramount and necessary, for the survival of KSA as an independent nation.  The House must relinquish its power to the people or it will ultimately face the fate of its tyrannical friends, Mubarak and Qadafi.  Unfortunately, given the ongoing history lessons of those in power, Al Saud is unlikely to dissolve itself leading to a murky future.

If the going gets tough in Kingdom of Oil, Western powers will surely be at its doorstep.  The proven oil fields of the East are the drug that fuels the world, and in particular, the United States.  Control, access and distribution of this black gold is beyond critical--and if Saudi is unable to take care of its brewing internal problems, a foreign invasion is a distinct possibility--regardless if Obama bows to the King.  The oil-containing eastern coast is where the Shia population, which makes up 10-15% of the country, resides.  The neoconservatives of the American Enterprise Institute have already outlined contingency plans to Balkanize Saudi Arabia, in order to maintain dominance of the oil.  In their book An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, Richard Perle and David Frum note:

the Saudi government has long feared “that the Shi’ites might someday seek independence for the Eastern Province—and its oil.… Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state. But it might be a very good outcome for the United States. Certainly it’s an outcome to ponder. Even more certainly, we would want the Saudis to know we are pondering it.

Another interesting tidbit to digest, particularly in the context of Balkanization--the western third of the Arabian peninsula allegedly holds monstrous deposits of gold, silver, and copper according to an Ohio State report based on evaluation by global imaging system technologies.

The House of Saud is at a crossroads.  Although the timing remains unclear, it will eventually collapse.  Will it cede its might willingly, and in the best interests of its many unhappy and repressed people?  Or will it try to cling on to its intoxicating power until the very bitter end with the prospect of violence, anarchy, and be potentially carved up to the whims of the West?  It must know that the current path is not sustainable.  And it must not forget the words of Henry Kissinger, "Oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs."

The House is on fire.  It just doesn't know it yet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Properly Defining "Sea Change"

The phrase sea change is tossed around with reckless disregard by the media.  Everything and anything that is new or different is labeled as a sea change.

The release of a new iPhone model is not a sea change.
Carmelo Anthony joining the Knick is not a sea change.
Republicans winning more seats in Minnesota's state senate is not a sea change.

A few day span featuring protesters revolting, air force pilots defecting to Malta, ambassadors resigning, defense and interior ministers switching sides, cities falling, and the potential end of 42 years of tyrannical rule in the Libya?  Sea change, in the southern Mediterranean.

Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's recent antics have been of typical fashion--ranging from the maniacal to the diabolical.  Lunatic rantings about how Egyptians were coming to steal petroleum; that the youth had been given hallucination pills to turn against him; to sending French-made Mirage jets to strafe residential neighborhoods in Tripoli.  He's pulling out all the stops to hold on to his quickly evaporating power.

Gaddafi plans to make the inevitable end of his reign as bloody as possible, vowing to fight to the very end.  His hiired thugs are roaming the streets and sub-Saharan African mercenaries are reportedly on killing sprees [see prior post for story on Bahraini mercenaries].  The following days for Libya are likely to be both chaotic and deadly--with the distinct possibility of a violent ouster of the despot who once allegedly plotted to kill the King of Saudi Arabia.  This indeed qualifies as a sea change.  AT&T's offering of free mobile-to-mobile minutes, does not.

Correction:  Updated reports describe the Libyan jets that defected to Malta as MiG-23s, not Mirages.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bahrain's Mercenary Army

The unrelenting seeds of North African revolt have been deeply planted in the island state of Bahrain.  The archipelago, home to 1.2 million western Persian Gulf residents of predominately Arab descent, has experienced a catacyslm--its people have awoken from a deep slumber.  And they are now empowered by an elusive, recurrent dream: freedom.

Last week, protesters gathered in the Pearl Rounabout in the heart of the capital city of Manama, to express their newfound voice.  They passionately called for fair elections, the release of political prisoners, and social reform. Their requests were instead met with rounds of live ammunition resutling in scenes of utter horror and death. The demonstrators were not silenced. Instead, they returned with more fervor and a new, stronger demand: the immediate departure of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain is 99% Muslim, and approximately 70% of the populace is of the Shia sect.  The ruling Al Khalifa family, which has held power for two hundred years, is Sunni.  The Shia are essentially a disenfranchsied majoirty with diminished civil rights--unable to procure jobs in the military and positions of influence, power and wealth. Although the protests were largely framed as political, they were overwhelmingly dominated by the Shia; the sectarian flavor, obvious. Nearby international powers understand this paradigm and are well aware of the potential implications. Riyadh fears a spillover of dissent into the oil-rich, Shia populated eastern Saudi Arabian front.  Washington fears that a possible Shia takeover will lead to undoubtedly friendlier relations with Iran, and the dismissal of the US 5th Navy Fleet stationed in Manama.

The Bahraini government has attempted to shift the Shia-heavy population balance by granting citizenship to over 50,000 Sunni foreigners. These immigrants from South Asia and other neighboring Arab countries are granted passports by Manama. Notably, it is nearly impossible for foreigners to naturalize in Gulf states--given the context, this policy is a very, big deal.  Much like the importation of ethnic Han Chinese into Tibet, the Sunni newcomers are offered many advantages and benefits, slowly changing both the character and composition of the nation.  In addition, many guest workers competing for employment are non-local, South Asians, further engendering class-oriented, ethnic, and religious strife.

The Bahraini Defence Force has been suppressing the current revolution as well as prior political uprisings.  It acts in concert with special forces and civilian paramilitary units.  Military and particularly special force recruits are composed of many Sunnis from abroad, promised with money and quite often, citizenry.  The foreign recruits are chosen for a particular reason--their differing ethnicity, language, and religious leanings will allow them to control the local population with less qualms and the absence guilt.  A mercenary army has been created.

The mercenaries hail from Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq (former Ba'athists from the fallen regime of Saddam). The officers of these disliked special forces are from the Arab states.  According to Ian Black of The Guardian, "a Jordanian official is currently described as the organisation's [national security agency] 'master torturer'."

The largest contingent of the mercenary army is from Pakistan--up to 35% of these forces are from its southwestern province of Baluchistan. They primarily serve as foot soldiers. Reports of recruiting Pakistanis of Baluchi descent date back to 1992.  There is an alleged Bahraini recruitment delegation that makes trips to the southern coastal strip of Makran, on the Arabian Sea. This region, once a stronghold of the Persian Empire, is where modern-day warriors are now lured westward, with promises of cash and power. The Baluchi soldiers of fortune are often from destitute backgrounds with little hope of economic betterment in their homeland.  Their fiscally motivated departures to Bahrain are met with much chagrin among the locals.  Leaders of the many Baluchi secessionist movements--the Baluchi Liberation Front and the Baluch Republican Army among them, plead for them to stay home and utilize their energies and restiveness against the subjugating Pakistani Army.  They want these would-be mercenaries to fight the local tyrants--not cross the sea, and work for another.  Not surprisingly, money wins out.

The Bahraini military and mercenary forces have been known to act in concert with armed, "imported" Sunni civilians to quell political disobedience. Reportedly, they have participated in raids to pursue and abduct activists and demonstrators.  Use of internationally recruited soldiers is banned by international law. Human rights organizations in Bahrain understand the governmental manipulation of turning impoverished Baluchis into legionnaires. They have called for improved education within Baluchistan regarding the illegality of this work as well as direct condemnation of the Al Khalifa policy.  However, as long as there is a financial incentive from Bahrain, the flow of professional soldiers across the Persian Gulf is unlikely to stop.