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by Phil Klay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.40
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4.0 out of 5 stars Am I Going to Listen to a Veteran?, April 13, 2015
This review is from: Redeployment (Paperback)
Author Phil Klay is scheduled to come to my city, Augusta, GA, on April 17, 2015. I intended to go and confront him, not because I knew anything about him or his book, but mostly because of my anger over the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the worldwide assassination program by drone and other global war on terror calamities. 'Murica's embrace of the movie American Sniper also increased my bitterness, which I expressed on Twitter. This one best sums up what I thought I'd feel about Phil Klay and his book:

Until #USA pols in #prison for #WarCrimes, any movie which focuses on psychological trauma of US soldiers is war propaganda #AmericanSniper

And yes, I've neither read American Sniper nor seen the movie.
What I'm doing for this blog entry is dictating a note to myself on my Android phone after each story in the collection. Sometimes the note deals with the story, and sometimes the note is just a thought which the story inspired occasioned. I read the stories over a number of days.

A major theme is the contempt the veterans hold for nearly everybody at home, but particularly socio-economically privileged war critics. Two interactions, however, seem to go better than most.

In the first, a stranger civilian listens to the drunk narrator narrate a lengthy story about his time in Iraq. When the stranger expresses respect and sympathy, the narrator berates him. The stranger then became silent. (pp. 69-71) (Lest you consider this to be a negative interaction, you need to read the whole book.)

The second is the veteran's interaction with Zara in "Psychological Operations." Zara entered with preconceived ideas. She listened, asking questions, challenging assertions and accepting the veteran's view of his experiences. Most importantly, she indicated the possibility of another encounter.

As you can already see, I see a lot of myself in Zara. I hope that I can do as well as she did listening to Phil Klay and any other veteran I meet.

Here are my impressions of each story. A lot of summary, not much deep analysis. There's also some more general comments at the end.


Narrator describes trip from Iraq to home in North Carolina. Narrator describes going to the mall and not being able to separate that he is not in a hostile environment anymore and his wife has to drive on the way back because he is driving as if he is in a combat zone. His training takes over when he has to euthanize his dog. The story had begun with Operation Snoopy. Operation Snoopy was what the soldiers called their shooting of dogs in Iraq.
The narrator makes me think of high functioning substance abusers. Or high functioning illiterate. These individuals overcome their disabilities by a rigorous methodology. Likewise the veterans returning from the horrors of war have to use a rigorous methodology to function in society postwar.


PFC Dyer is bothered by the death of the al-Qaida insurgent who was torturing the two Iraqis. He doesn't have it together enough to eat the cherry cobbler. The narrator helps him by placing the spoon in his hand. Others in the units are haunted by the state of the two Iraqi torture victims.

The profanity and vulgar bravado shield the soldier from vulnerability that war has created in him. War has reduced the defenses of sanity and exposed the soldier's soul to ruin.

After Action Report

Why are the Marines on convoy all the time?

After killing a 16 year old insurgent in a firefights, the narrator and the soldier who killed him discuss what the effect of that psychologically is on the killer. The narrator shoots .50 caliber machine guns in the direction of two suspected insurgents but no kill is confirmed. This does not seem to affect him. The soldier who killed the 16 year old insurgent had more concern over the fact that the dead boy's family witnessed the killing.


The story describes the work of Marines who are charged with collecting the remains, primarily of US soldiers but sometimes Iraqis, including insurgents. The soldiers recognize their work is very grim, and they don't pretend to think that it's other than that. The narrator returns to his hometown, a small town that is left unidentified.

He notes with disdain that people thank him for what he did even though they don't know what he did. His relationship with his high school girlfriend ended when he deployed. One incident which he recounts is that she sent to him during basic training nude pictures of herself. The squad leader inspect all packages the recruits receive. When people receive naked pictures of their spouses or girlfriends, the squad leader would typically distribute these pictures among all people of the unit.

The people of the world don't care about your crappy little town which didn't provide you with enough education or job opportunities. The people of the world see you as a mercenary and part of a imperialist force coming to kill them. People of the world don't care that when you return home you can't have relationships with other people in your society who persevered through the society's problems and didn't use killing other people as an escape valve.
One also has to question the whole concept of the army as a value building institution. Certainly the aspects of training that the author describes are meant to dehumanize the person, to basically undo the effort that we in society have done to make a person functioning piece of our society.


This narrator is nominally about an officer who distributes Commander's Emergency Response Program money to Iraqis whose convoy, en route to such a distribution, is attacked, resulting in two killed and three wounded. The narrator decides to reenlist and ship out in Afghanistan's Operation Enduring Freedom.

The text is filled with acronyms. These acronyms are just another barrier in communication between veterans and civilians.

The full text is available online.

Money as a Weapons System

This story satirizes the so-called Iraq reconstruction efforts. Equal parts blame to both Iraqis and civilian USA authorities. It is set in 2008 near Tikrit.

The only successful project is managed by two Iraqi women, Najdah, a social worker, and her sister, a lawyer, who run a health clinic for women, which is what the Iraqi women in the area actually wanted.
In Iraq, it's hard for women to see a doctor. They need a man's permission, and even then a lot of hospitals and small clinics won't serve them. You'll see signs reading, "Services for Men Only," sort of like the old "Irish Need Not Apply" signs that my great-great-grandfather had to deal with. Health services were the hook to draw people in, but key to the broader functioning of the clinic were Najdah, a dogged social worker, and her sister, the on-staff lawyer. Every women who came in was interviewed first, ostensibly for the clinic to find out what health services they needed but actually to allow us to find out what broader services we could provide. The problems of women in our are went far beyond untreated urinatry tract infections, though those were often quite severe --- women's problems were usually not sufficient pretext for a man to allow his wife or daughter or sister to go see the doctor ... One girl, a fourteen-year-old victim of gang rape, came in because her family planned to sell her to a local brothel. This wasn't uncommon for girls whose rapes destroyed their marriage prospects. It was actually a kinder option than the honor killings that still sometimes happened. (pp 83-4)
I've asked several Iraqi activists if they recognized the discrimination against women described in this passage. One has responded that he did not. I'm hoping the Phil Klay would reveal the basis for this passage.

The narrator is not virtuous either. He joined the "reconstruction" effort to pad his resume for the United States Department of State.

In Vietnam They Had Whores

Before departing for Iraq, a soldier's father talks to him about whores in Vietnam while getting drunk. Upon returning to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the soldier visits a whorehouse and has a depressing experience.

Prayer in the Furnace

This story is perhaps one of the most dramatic because it has a lot of carnage. Its protagonist/narrator is a chaplain in regiment with dysfunctional leadership in a violent period of the occupation of Ramadi. The commanding officer has a competition among the units for frequency of firefights. This leads one unit to seek such firefights with risky behavior, and one of its marines is killed. A marine come to the chaplain hinting at the problems in the unit but did not want to reveal them completely for fear of becoming a whistleblower and for his own uncertainty. The chaplain tries to present these concerns in the chain of command but the chain of command is unresponsive, telling the chaplain that this is in fact rather typical of the war in Iraq.

The chaplain does some soul searching which includes reading St. Thomas and writing to a teacher in the United States. The teacher write writes back telling the chaplain to continue to advocate for the values of Christianity, meaning that despite the bitterness the soldiers endure their situation is not unique and they must, if they believe as Christians, follow the path of Christian love.

This leads him to deliver a sermon in which he condemned the Marines' self pity and told them that many other people were suffering including some of the enemy and that all should be treated with love.

When the unit return to the United States, the chaplain delivered a platitude-filled eulogy to its dead. Over the next several years, several of the veterans of the unit were killed or injured in suicides or accidents or committed crimes and were imprisoned. One of the veterans of the unit participated in the Winter Soldier event organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War.

The chaplain runs into another veteran who criticizes this participants in the peace group. Later the chaplain runs into the original erstwhile whistleblower. He had received a suicide note via email from the commanding officer. After reading the suicide note, the chaplain asks soldier if he wanted to confess. He realizes he wanted the soldier to confess for himself as much as for the soldier.

Psychological Operations

In this story a veteran who worked in psychological operations in Fallujah interacts with a student at Amherst College. The veteran is a Christian of Egyptian descent named Waguih. Zara, the student, is an African American woman from Baltimore. Her beauty and excitement attracted Waguih to her when they took a class. Later, after Zara had converted to Islam she, comes to question him about the time he spent in Iraq.

That first conversation ended when he let his guard down and slipped into Army talk, saying that his religion encouraged him to kill Muslims.

After an encounter with the school dean in which Waguih feigns war trauma & the dean and Zara accept that excuse for his statement & decline to charge Waguih with a violation of the college's code of conduct, Waguih feels guilty at his deception & asks Zara to come to his house to hear a story which would answer her question.

In their conversation, Waguih mixes psychological operations with personal sharing. He is happy when the pre-conversion Zara personality reappears, interrogating & clarifying.

Zara unsettles Waguih by not reacting the way he had intended. Instead, she leaves, positive about the conversation and leaving the door open for more dialogue.

War Stories

The narrator, a veteran, and his severely wounded comrade agree to meet with a civilian friend of a veteran who is writing a play about IEDs in association with Iraq Veterans Against the War. The narrator is extremely hostile in his thoughts toward the civilian, perhaps because he thinks he doesn't have a hope of having sex with her. The narrator never confronts her openly, but expresses to her friend his belief that his wounded friend is being exploited.

Unless It's a Sucking Chest Wound

The narrator is an adjutant going to law school or just graduating from law school. his experience in the Arak was non combat he wrote documents to facilitate matters for people in his battalion. His most exciting work was writing the letter of recommendation for a Medal of Honor for an officer killed in battle. Two soldiers involved in the incident are mentioned in the story 13 and lists and is killed in Afghanistan. The other visits him in New York City during leave from a non combat mission in Afghanistan.

Ten Clicks South

The narrator is an artilleryman who finds the office at his base which processes the bodies of dead USA soldiers. He considers a scene he had witnessed earlier of corpses removed from the clinic. Marines stood in silence, as they would in the corpses' waypoints until they arrived at their surviving relatives' homes, where the silence would end.

Even with corpses, civilians and soldiers communicated differently.

I also recommend people read Falcons on the Floor by Justin Sirois.

I've recommended David Swanson's War is a Lie. In it, he half-facetiously suggests that "war crime" is an oxymoron, since war itself is the crime. So whether you obeyed the amazingly bloodlust-justifying rules of engagement, as the military ruled in the case Collateral Murder massacre, or, due to the frequency of similar incidents, you decided that the killing of 24 civilians in their homes by USA marines in Haditha didn't warrant investigation, or, you were the most conscientious soldier occupying Iraq and never fired a shot or beat a prisoner or entered a home, you were participating in the crime.

But then I read this bloodlust-article praising Federal government destruction of civilian property in rebel-held areas during the US civil war, and because I disliked the rebels, I was much more sympathetic. Does that contradict my so-called principled opposition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?

The War Nerd: Why Sherman was right to burn Atlanta | PandoDaily #WarIsHell

@DeadHellonEarth: @Shanfaraa I wonder if the Iraq and Afg wars would also be written about in this way in fifty years from now. "Iraq needed Democracy"
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 26, 2015 1:30 PM PDT

The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age
The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age
by Martha C. Nussbaum
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.56
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5.0 out of 5 stars Religious Pluralism Rests on a Three-Legged Stool, April 9, 2015
How can the industrialized, formally democratic societies of Europe and North America increase religious pluralism? European nations "have understood the root of nationhood to lie first and foremost in characteristics that are difficult if not impossible for new immigrants to share. Strongly influenced by romanticism, these nations have seen blood, soil, ethnolinguistic peoplehood, and religion as necessary or at least central elements of a national identity." (p. 13) Other nations, such as the United States and India, define "nationhood in terms of political ideals and struggles," thus somewhat opening the door. (p. 16)

While understanding nationhood as a political ideal facilitates religious pluralism, the chief determinant is a society's response to fear. Fear begins with a genuine problem. It "is easily displaced onto something that may have little to do with the underlying problem but that serves as a handy surrogate for it, often because the new target is already disliked." Fear is amplified by the enemy's disguise ("They pretend to be like us."), which can only be penetrated by the racist, xenophobic, patriot or religious bigot's superior insight. Humans share the emotion of fear with many other animals, and it is no doubt biologically necessary, especially in pre-agrarian societies. But "human beings [in industrialized societies] have to make decisions in a world for which evolution has given them only a very rudimentary preparation." (p. 29):
Fear is a "dimming preoccupation": an intense focus on the self that casts others into darkness. However valuable and indeed essential it is in a genuinely dangerous world, it is itself one of life's great dangers. (p. 58)
So how can human societies choose wisely despite genuine and misplaced fears?
I'll be arguing that to get a handle on our fears we need a combination of three things: sound principles involving respect for human equality; arguments that are not self-serving, targeting an alleged fault in the minority that is ubiquitous in the majority culture; and a curious and sympathetic imagination. But first we need to understand more about fear and how it works. (p. 21)
Chapter 3 discusses the first of the three legs of Professor Nussbaum's stool of religious pluralism, sound principles. If one accepts that all humans deserve dignity, regardless of their physical traits or social status or capacity for reasoning, and, if one rejects the extreme argument of the ancient Stoics that outward circumstances can never injure a person's conscience (an expression of dignity), then "we get the principle that liberty should be both ample and equal." (p. 68)

The Anglo-American legal tradition is a result of the migration of Europe's religious dissenters, which, when combined with the religions of the Native Americans, created a religious pluralistic population. The Americans rejected "toleration" as a feature of hierarchy and adopted freedom of religion as an expression of inherent natural rights. The effort to define the proper standard for government to protecting liberty of conscience found expression in two strands of thought which have persisted in United States jurisprudence until today. The first is associated with John Locke, a seventeenth-century English philosopher. The government is forbidden from enacting laws which penalize religious belief and discriminate against practices. although they may incidentally impose burdens upon those practicing them. The second tradition, which Dr. Nussbaum supports, calls for accommodation of religious minorities practices, including atheists, since laws will typically reflect the majority's practices.

Chapter 4 exposes many instances of majoritarian suppression of minorities' doing things the majority does. She uses various European nations' restrictions of clothing associated with Muslim women to illustrate how this pattern of selfish thought threatens religious freedom.

Chapter 5, "Inner Eyes: Respect and the Sympathetic Imagination," is, in my opinion, the most important for readers of this blog. In political science terms, it's like the development of soft power for oppressed minorities:
From now on, then, I'll be focusing on works that help the imagination break out of its narcissistic moorings close to "home," by challenging it to inhabit the reality of a life that is in some respects distant or difficult. (p. 148)
The literary examples of such works include Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, Roger Williams's A Key into the Language of America, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan the Wise, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda and Marguerite de Angeli's Thee, Hannah! and Bright April. She went into depth in discussing how the last four authors' opened the possibility of sympathetic consideration of the majority for Native Americans, Jews, Jews and African-Americans, respectively.
In effect, our authors have a triple task: first, to present true facts; then, simultaneously, to lure people's imaginations into that world and entice them to care about the people they find there; finally, to convince readers that the people there are not actually disgusting or evil but deserving of friendship and respect. (p. 187)
My only concern with this chapter is that, by using as examples authors who are members of the majority, Dr. Nussbaum leaves unanswered the question of a minority group's agency in this process. When a minority is most repressed, conversations about it occur without any of its members' participation. For example, a major milestone in perceptions of African-Americans was Alex Haley's Roots and the subsequent mini-series. Does Dr. Nussbaum believe that these self-expressions have limited effect unless a member of the majority precedes them?

Professor Mohammad Fadel, in June 2012, wrote a resource paper for journalists and public intellectuals to use when talking about Muslims. In it, he wrote:
In such an atmosphere [of the "war on terror"], American Muslims were subjected to a virtual inquisition, their words and actions placed under continual scrutiny, to determine whether they held any questionable beliefs. If so, they were subject to exclusion from public life. In the worst cases, sting operations were launched against individuals in the hope that they might be induced to commit a manufactured crime. A community faced with what amounts to a systematic inquisition of its beliefs, doctrines, and practices is obviously in no position to defend itself. ... As a result, American Muslims have been effectively silenced and excluded from public discussion of their own faith, not to mention important public issues regarding the future of the “war on terror,” the country’s relationship with the Muslim world, and the future of peace in the Middle East. In such circumstances, the obligation to defend Muslims’ status as equal citizens in the American political community has necessarily fallen on the shoulders of non-Muslim individuals and civil society institutions.
I've tried as much as possible in this blog to highlight and support North American Muslims' own expressions. Maybe I've imbibed too much radical and black nationalist thinking, but I've become unconcerned about the level of non-Muslim support of Muslims.

Having said, that Dr. Nussbaum's book is quite supportive, and I appreciate it. And thinking more about it, I'm a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, both of which are liberal, not radical, organizations. (Gulp), I'm probably a liberal.

Chapter 6 is an examination of the Park 51/Cordoba Institute ("Ground Zero Mosque") controversy in the light of the three necessary characteristics to overcome some people's fear.

Chapter 7 is a conclusion reiterating the importance of the imagination in establishing pluralism.

When we read this book, in addition to seeking ways to improve their own situations as minorities in industrialized societies, we Muslims should also consider how to escape our own narcissism. The audio quality isn't great, but listen to this lecture by Junaid Jahangir entitled "The Cycle of Hate." He lists the human rights abuses Muslims perpetrate against minorities in Muslim-majority societies.

Finally, I hope the author changes the book cover, pictured above, in any future printings. I guess I'm just tired of Muslim women's clothing being such a focus of attention, from both Muslims and non-Muslims. It also reminded me of the regrettable promotional poster for Showtime's Homeland.

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America
by Moustafa Bayoumi
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Drive from your mind a single image of what Muslim or Arab youth and families "look" like, March 20, 2015
The author relates the stories of seven Arab-American youth from Brooklyn, New York.

It's hard for me to relate to the stories in this book because I'm much older than the subjects, I've never lived in a place with a lot of Arabs (or great ethnic diversity) and I've never had the family, financial and legal struggles many of them had.

Nevertheless, the stories were engaging, and I read the book quickly. Each subject's story made me think about things differently, and I suspect each reader would draw unique lessons for himself or herself.

If you are part of a masjid or church administration or other organization which claims to serve youth, reading this book would help you understand youth concerns and hopefully drive from your mind a single image of what Muslim or Arab youth and families "look" like.

The title is based on a passage from W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk. Again, until we Muslims, especially post Civil Rights-era immigrants and their descendants, come to understand and support the struggles of non-European peoples in the Americas, we won't be able to understand our own situation.

NPR broadcast Professor Moustafa's reading of the book and brief comments.

The Secret World of Oil
The Secret World of Oil
by Ken Silverstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you care about the poor or the environment, prepare to vomit in your mouth, February 9, 2015
If you care about the poor or the environment, be prepared to vomit in your mouth at nearly every other page of this account of the oil and other resource extraction industries.

Ken Silverstein devotes a chapter to each of the following categories of players in this woeful tragedy: the fixers, the dictators, the traders, the gatekeepers, the flacks, the lobbyists and the hustlers.

While varied dictatorial regimes from Africa and Asia figure throughout the novel, Silverstein profiled Teodorin Obiang, the heir apparent to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the dictator of Equitorial Guinea.

Have you ever heard of Glencore? It makes mountains of money trading rights to exploit natural resources around the world.

Do you know George W Bush's torture consiglieri John Yoo (and here), who also happens to heartily approve of Barack Obama's warmongering? Before him there was Ronald Reagan's legal yes-man Bretton Sciaroni, who wrote memos explaining why it was legal for the United States government to aid the Contra terrorists killing Nicaraguans. Do these guys end up in prison or at the end of a noose like Nazi war criminals? Yoo is teaching at University of California - Berkeley, and Sciaroni, who talks with Silverstein without the slightest recognition of himself as a sleaze, is a potentate in Cambodia.

If you ever have the opportunity to throw your shoe at Tony Blair, do so with righteous anger. Before you read the chapter about him, you may want to have some inanimate object close by that you can destroy. At least write and perform a song about him.

Lest you think that resource extraction only impacts politics in the Third World, read the chapter on Louisiana. And think twice before voting for Bobby Jindal.

Silverstein ends with a humorous narration of the career of Neil Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George W Bush. I guess you'll think it's funny if you find humor in the ability of USA blue-bloods to land in money no matter their incompetence.

The book does not offer solutions or best practices. The people interviewed in this book agree that there's simply too much money at stake to care about poor people or the environment.

A large question humanity must answer is whether capitalism can adapt to prevent destruction of our biosphere. This is the premise behind books like Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and E. O. Wilson's The Future of Life. These liberal environmentalists believe that market mechanisms can be adjusted to delay ecological collapse until technology or human consciousness solves the threats to our biosphere. Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything is more radical in its demand that our entire economic system needs revolutionary change.

Silverstein's book certainly takes the sparkle out of liberal environmentalists' proposals.

Silverstein makes excellent use of USA diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks. Consider supporting whistleblowers and the news outlets which publish material using the leaks.

I'm tweeting some of tidbits from the book under the hashtag #SecretWorldOfOil. Join the conversation.

Does God Belong in Public Schools?
Does God Belong in Public Schools?
by Kent Greenawalt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $32.95
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4.0 out of 5 stars Most Common Claims Against Public Schools of Violations of the Free Exercise Clause Are Without Basis, February 7, 2015
Professor Greenawalt's book examines different common claims made by parents, students and school employees that public schools have violated the Free Exercise clause by interfering with their practice of religion.

The book's only mention of such a claim by a Muslim is a school teacher who wore hijab in violation of the district's clothing policy.

For some reason, I always thought that public schools had to accommodate religious requests provided they did not disrupt operations. I don't remember reading the term "accommodation" at all, and it does not appear in the index.

If you are concerned that religious claims are reducing the quality of public schools, you should read this book because it will help you understand why teaching evolution and science-based sex education is warranted.

I would also recommend this book to people who operate private schools. When discussing possible options to resolve objections to actions of public schools, one of the most common reasons for public schools to continue doing what they are doing is the lack of a good alternative. If the purpose of your private school is to "shield" children from general society, you'll find that your school's students, parents and employees are very likely to disagree with specific policies and you're back to choosing between "watering down" religion and marginalization of part of your school community.

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stretches our conception of the ranges of choices available to us in a matter similar to the best science fiction, January 31, 2015
By comparing how modern and traditional societies handle war, raising of children, care of the elderly, health risks, religion, language and diet, The World Until Yesterday stretches our conception of the ranges of choices available to us in a matter similar to the best science fiction.

By learning how other human societies have chosen particular paths and pondering the reasons why they chose them, perhaps we can come to see our own "givens" as choices which made sense (i.e. were "functional.") Once we realize that a time-honored practice in our societies is not in fact universal or intrinsic to being human, we can begin asking whether it continues to fulfill necessary functions or if its continuation brings us harm.

The chapter on religion is of particular interest. Professor Diamond identifies seven functions of religion (p. 367). Perhaps an analysis of our practice of religion according to these functions could reveal whether we're placing the proper emphasis on what we as individuals and societies need in a given era. For example, if "supernatural explanation" is a function of religion, do we use such explanations in a self-serving, misogynistic or ethnocentric way? Does our practice in religion simply buttress an oligarchical order? Perhaps we could examine our religious practices and emphasize those which work against the more problematic of these functions of religion.

Another chapter of interest to many readers of this blog will be the chapter on the development of languages. In brief, the chapter promotes learning multiple languages, but read it to understand why.

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination
by Alondra Nelson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.82
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for All Activists, October 26, 2014
"Quando dou comida aos pobres chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres chamam-me de comunista."

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara (1909 – 1999), Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, 1964 to 1985

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson.
University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 289 pp.

Professor Alondra Nelson (Twitter) has written a book which all activists should read. It focuses on the advocacy, activism and ideology of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in healthcare.

The BPP saw healthcare in the United States as proof of white supremacy and regarded its provision as a necessity for movement building and outreach. Over time, it required each of its branches to establish a community health center. The health centers were required to staff or have access to biomedical professionals and empower the patients in decisions regarding their treatment. They promoted a view of health beyond the biomedical model. Poor health outcomes among black Americans were the inevitable result of policies which limited their political clout and economic opportunities, and only revolutionary socialism could address these issues. Healthcare was one example of a good which should be provided regardless of profit, and these community health centers were proof of this concept.

Most fascinating to me was the BPP's work in the field of sickle cell anemia and its resistance to the medicalization of violence.

Sickle cell anemia is familiar to me. My father co-authored a paper in this field, and I mentioned it in "Health, Public," an encyclopedia entry I wrote for Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, edited by Richard Juang and Noelle Morrisette. When I was a child, I was diagnosed with anemia, but I never had any symptoms. Later physicians told me that I likely had fewer, larger red blood cells than the "norm" (i.e. northern European) as part of the genetic legacy of peoples from malaria-endemic regions.

While black American health activists had been addressing sickle cell conditions to the extent their resources permitted, a 1970 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Robert Scott seemed to bring together all of the BPP's talking points:
Health care priority for sickle cell anemia (SCA) should be based on its prevalence, severity, and on a standard of support set for similar conditions. Sickle cell anemia occurs in about one in 500 Negro births and median survival is still only 20 years of age. In 1967 there were an estimated 1,155 new cases of SCA, 1,206 of cystic fibrosis, 813 of muscular dystrophy, and 350 of phenylketonuria. Yet volunteer organizations raised $1.9 million for cystic fibrosis, $7.9 million for muscular dystrophy, but less than $100,000 for SCA. National Institutes of Health grants for many less common hereditary illnesses exceed those for SCA. Prevalence data in cities with sizeable black populations show that SCA is a major public health consideration. More appropriate priority for SCA depends on improved public and professional understanding of its importance.
The BPP began learning how to conduct screenings, and, when a new screening procedure which didn't require a blood draw and whose cost was minimal emerged, the BPP launched widespread screening campaigns in public places. It also fundraised for these efforts and attempted to mobilize researchers who shared its social vision of health to research cures and treatments for sickle cell conditions. It published articles and its leaders gave interviews refuting white supremacists who used sickle cell conditions as evidence that black Africans and their descendants were genetically inferior to white Europeans.

In 1972, researchers at University of California at Los Angeles drafted plans to create the Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence and sought financial support from Governor Ronald Reagan and the California legislature. The BPP and allies saw these groups as defining violence in the United States as a medical problem requiring a medical solution, i.e. medicalization or biologization. The BPP rejected this view, as exemplified by H Rap Brown's (Jamil al-Amin) famous quote, "violence is as American as apple pie." A coalition of groups was successful in convincing the state of California to cease supporting research along these lines.

These BPP successes, however, did not result in ending morbidity and mortality discrepancies among races in the United States, much less socialist revolution. There are of course many reasons for this, including police repression. But in the cases of sickle cell anemia and the medicalization of violence, liberal solutions from the biomedical world, namely increasing resources developed for sickle cell diagnosis, treatment and research and extending the protection of medical ethics to prisoners in United States jails, who would have been the experimental subjects in the UCLA center's research, blunted the BPP's radical arguments.

And yet this legacy of activists providing healthcare to the people the state ignores lives on. I have given some money to University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic in Los Angeles over the last 10 years, and I learned from Dr. Nelson's book that a former BPP member and worker at one of its clinics, Norma Armour, helped found it.

The Islamic Medical Association of North America publishes a guide to operating a charity clinic. It has also published video recordings of sessions where people involved in these clinics discuss their operations.

To the extent that any of these clinics focus on patients' participation in decision-making and on a social vision of health, it is part of the BPP legacy.

Dr. Nelson has a 16-minute video from Book-TV about this book.

Her most recent book is Genetics and the Unsettled PastThe Collision Between DNA, Race, and History which she co-edited with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee. (Rutgers University Press, Paperback, 9780813552552, 370pp.) (Twitter)

Updated October 11, 2014: The concept of medicalizing away social phenomenon is at the heart of Edward Said's Orientalism and its Reader's Digest version, Covering Islam. Define a group. Develop a methodology to use in the study of that group which is not used on any other group. And, then, what do you know, you find that there are factors unique to that group which cause a phenomenon. I've blogged a lot on the War on Terror, but the reading I'd recommend which has several examples of medicalizing is Arun Kundnani's The Muslims are Coming!.

Culture Of Honor: The Psychology Of Violence In The South (New Directions in Social Psychology)
Culture Of Honor: The Psychology Of Violence In The South (New Directions in Social Psychology)
by Richard E. Nisbett
Edition: Paperback
Price: $34.12
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is USA militarism a more important factor than pastoralism?, June 26, 2014
I was very suspicious of the idea that "culture" could be the reason for higher levels of personal conflict homicides among Southern whites, but the evidence presented was surprisingly convincing.

I have a couple of observations. #1, and I have no scientific basis for this, but I have an attachment to Malcolm X's assertion that "chickens come home to roost"/ karma / uncontrollability of violence. That the US south and west have the worst histories of genocide & slavery & expansionist war seems to me to be a "cosmic" reason for higher rates of bad things happening. Of course, that doesn't explain why non-personal homicide rates are similar.

#2, When the US military talks about a culture of honor, is that the same thing?
#3, Since the south hosts a higher percentage of military facilities than other regions, I wondered if white homicide rates could be correlated with presence of military installations?

#4, when the US government responds to "insults" with war, is that a reflection of a culture of honor? I'm thinking about the personalization of the enemy - Hitler, Tojo, Noriega, Saddam - so we're attacking an individual who "dissed" us rather than entire peoples.

As you can see, I am ideologically more inclined to attribute US violence to national policies than a culture brought by Scotch-Irish pastoralists. Although, if I'm honest with myself, that doesn't explain regional differences in white personal conflict homicide rates.

Cleopatra: A Life
Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.61
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2.0 out of 5 stars You'll Feel Like You Are in One of Octavian's Triumphs, May 24, 2014
This review is from: Cleopatra: A Life (Paperback)
I did finish this book weeks after I started. It made me want to find an asp and kill myself. The author uses 2 paragraphs to supply one sentence's worth of information.

The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism
The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism
by Trevor Aaronson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.72
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FBI is a threat like child predators, February 21, 2014
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Trevor Aaronson's The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured war on Terrorism gathers disparate news stories into one narrative: the frequency of "terrorism" convictions in the United States in the years following 2001 is neither a measure of the threat terrorism poses to public safety nor the effectiveness of the federal government in protecting United States residents.

Aaronson compiled a database, accessible online [...], of the characteristics of "terrorism" cases as identified by the United States Department of Justice. A frequent characteristic is the appearance of one or more confidential informants, and often these shadowy figures do more to further the crime than the convicted felons ever did. Through scrutiny of court documents and interviews with persons involved in the cases, Aaronson makes the following claims:

1. The vast majority of the convicted terrorists were no danger to the public.
2. The informants who are chiefly responsible for the convictions are themselves often criminals who have harmed public safety, even while they are on the payroll.
3. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) uses coercive tactics to recruit large numbers of Muslims into spying on their co-religionists and punishes those who refuse to do so.
4. The FBI may be violating terrorism suspsects' rights by tolerating illegal behavior of informants during investigations and failing to record or destroying recordings of conversations which would exonerate the suspects.
5. The focus on "Islamic" terrorism leads to less effective law enforcement in other areas, such as financial crimes [link to Frontline program on insider trading] and other ideological terrorism.
6. The FBI has a financial incentive to continue to use confidential informants to produce terrorism convictions. A steady stream of such convictions helps it justify its increasing budget to Congress.

The Department of Justice has scheduled a Hate Crime Prevention Forum in Augusta, GA. It has been canceled twice, the first time because of the Federal government shutdown and the second because of inclement weather. I propose that a major cause of hate crime against Muslims and those thought to be Muslim is the regular announcements from the FBI of thwarting of terrible Muslim terrorists. Muslims around the USA have called for reevaluation of cooperation with their local FBI offices, and I believe it is important for all board members of Muslim organizations to read this book to better prepare them for government spying. Moreover, it behooves Muslim organizations to organize programs to warn their members of FBI tactics the same way we educate children to avoid sexual predators.

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