Apple vs. the FBI: How Money May Decide the Issue

thThings are really heating up these days in the ongoing dispute between Apple and the FBI.

In December, fourteen people were killed by ISIL sympathizers Farook Malik and his wife Taskeen, in San Bernardino, CA.   In the aftermath, the FBI has been investigating the possibility they may have had accomplices. Backed by a court order, the FBI has requested Apple remove the security blocks on Farook’s iPhone.

CEO Tim Cook, speaking for Apple, refuses to comply, contending it would compromise the privacy of its smartphone users.

I’m not taking sides on the controversy here.  The issue is as heated as it is complicated, with the country divided in its opinion and perhaps SCOTUS inevitably having to make the call.

What does concern me is Apple’s new strategy to move the matter to the Congress for adjudication. (Hearings begin next Tuesday.)

Fact is, the Congress is hardly the right party to decide the issue, given the systemic corruption fostered by business conglomerates soliciting favors through huge sums of money donated to its members.

We see this, for example, with regard to the National Rifle Association (NRA), successfully preempting responsible gun legislation, despite myriad mass shootings like those in San Bernardino,.

In 2014, NRA contributions to members of Congress amounted to $984,152 with an additional $3,360,000 for lobbying.

What really fries my brain is that it spent a whopping $28, 212,718 in outside spending!

Apple, as such, is being disingenuous in attempting to shift the scenario to the Congress, having demonstrated a lengthy penchant, like its fellow high tech icons, in substantially contributing to the Congressional feedbag, their mission to deter any regulatory legislation that would rein them in. In other words, a good many Congressional members owe them favors and now’s an opportune time to collect and circumvent the courts.

Since 1990, Apple has contributed $1,902,870 and spent $27,083,008 on lobbying.

Bernie Sanders was right when he denounced PAC money contributions as undermining our democratic franchise: “People aren’t dumb.” These donors don’t give willy-nilly, but expect something in return.

On the other hand, even Bernie has had his hand in the till, ranking second among senators in receiving money from Apple and its employees.


Now let’s see how the system filters out elsewhere. The most prominent Democrat opposing Apple on the issue is Diane Feinstein.   Guess what? You’ll find her absent from the list of top recipients of money from Apple and its allies that include Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter.  These conglomerates are not about to waste their money on those opposing their interests.

In third world countries, we’d call it bribery.

In the U. S.  Congress, many are willing to take the bribe.








Islam: The Hi-Jacking of a Faith

terroprismWe are stunned by what’s happened in France. Thursday, twelve people assassinated by two French jihadists at publisher Charlie Hebdo in Paris and a policewoman killed elsewhere. Yesterday, the three terrorists killed, along with four hostages.

In their assault on journalists, their violence poses a threat to not only press freedom, but free speech fundamental to any democracy.

Collectively, like-minded Muslim extremists have bombed newspaper offices, stabbed a Dutch filmmaker, killed writers, and imposed fatwahs, or death decrees, on others like noted author, Salmon Rushdie.  More recently, Pakistani Taliban murdered 132 school children, enraging a government where blasphemy laws are imbedded in the legal system.

Offended by cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, these “defenders of the prophet” were part of an underground cell that may number in the hundreds of thousands across the globe, and thus impossible for intelligence sources to keep up with.

It would seem incredulous that fervent devotees to Islam, which often dubs itself “the religion of peace,” commit such heinous acts, ultimately epitomized on a larger scale in the atrocities of Al Qaeda and Isis.

But they kill each other as well. In Iraq, Sunni and Shiite factions wantonly blow-up each other every day.

For too long, we’ve heard very little from the wider Muslim community on the subject. Some Muslims, in fact, have made it known that they’re offended that when such events like those in France occur, they must speak up, indicating a public view of them as a subversive presence.

And I can understand their sensitivity about having to continually prove themselves. Still, I think they’re wrong in taking this stance, as I’ll explain in my close.

I know from my own contacts with Muslims, particularly in France where I was once a student, just how wonderfully decent they are. My friends came from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Syria.

They were universally kind to me and I was invited to Jerusalem, though I never went. To this day, I rejoice for having fellowshipped with them daily.

Religion never separated us, for we shared a common humanity of sensitivity and compassion.

They were surprised to come across an American championing a free Palestine. As one of them said to me, “C’est historique!”

In all of this, we do well to remember that being zealous, whether religiously or politically, is inherently dangerous, often giving away to rancor and intimidation, and in heated moments, violence. In short, we can forfeit our humanity.

But zealots aren’t confined to any one faith. Religious totalitarians, they represent the voice of Passion, and not Reason.

I remember when one Israeli shot more than 50 worshipping Palestinians in Jerusalem many years ago.

Here, In the U. S., we have evangelical Christians who have not only maligned homosexuals, but continue to conspire against their fundamental rights.

A few have killed abortionists.

And then we have history’s testimony as to how bloody Christianity could be, whether in crusades against Muslims, or against one another during the Reformation.

As for Judaism, its sacred scriptures–or what Christians call the Old Testament– are hideously bloody, sanctioning genocide.

I had thought for many years that Buddhism was spared from all of this, but alas, it just isn’t so, as we see in places like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where they constitute a majority.

But I want to return to Islam and point out features that characterize its scripture, the Qur’an, unwittingly, providing kindling for jihadists to fuel their violence.

Make no mistake about it, the Qur’an is foundational to Islamic law, theology, and daily life as Allah’s completed revelation via the angel Gabriel to his prophet, Mohammed. Its opening verses are recited daily in mosques all over the world. Radio and TV quote it daily.

Many Muslim children begin early to memorize the entire Qur’an.

It has its own style, often employing contrasts, and doesn’t feature a chronological or thematic ordering.

Unfortunately, it’s a sacred text subject to the limitations of all written language isolated from the immediate feedback of spoken discourse.

Fraught with ambiguity, its classical Arabic is complicated by idiom and dictional features that can allow for multiple nuances, perhaps most notably in a critical word such as jihad often being translated as “fighting,” rather than as “struggle,” its more appropriate meaning.

Because the Qur’an is essentially intra-textual, or self-referencing, it demands astute readers consider context and align verses for accurate exegesis,

Passages can have a concision, which when isolated from context, obscure the wider intent. This, in turn, often leads to non-Muslims and Muslim extremists employing isolated texts to exploit their views and debasing a noble faith.

The Qur’an doesn’t sanction violence against unbelievers, for example, though one might be led to think so based on a verse such as 2:191: “Slay them wherever you find them.” The “them” here refers to the previous verse and its “those who attack you.” (The Qur’an does permit Muslims to defend themselves if they’re under physical attack.)

Nor does the Qur’an exclude “People of the Book, ” (i.e., Jews and Christians) from salvation. In fact, it encourages them to practice their faiths (5:45, 47).

Consider this passage, for example:

We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but he wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about (5:48).

Yes, there are Muslim exegetes who take isolated passages to buttress their fundamentalism, denying the full amplitude of other Suras (chapters) and of cultural contexts no longer extant. But such doings aren’t confined to Islam, but a trademark of Jewish and Christian fundamentalism as well.

Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbigloo, responding to the tragedy in France, has articulated the barbarism that accordingly takes place whenever fundamentalism runs rampant and seeks to impose its dictates through force:

Fanatics and fundamentalists have always rejected and struggled against each other. When fundamentalism seeks to enforce sectarianism through coercion and violence, it invariably leads to terrorism. When people believe that they have the absolute truth, they end up denying other people’s existence. Then they can no longer distinguish the good from the evil and are thus unable to establish a modus vivendi among different values

Finding a common ground can only work if we share enough to behave civilly. It goes without saying that though some Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus may be terrorists, no religion in the world, much less Islam, teaches terrorism or inspires anyone to kill innocent people.

And he’s right. I like to call such parochialism “tribalism.”

Accordingly, what’s happened in France and happens daily in the Middle East isn’t Islam, but its distortion.

This, of course, is why Muslims must come to the forefront and speak out against those bent on hijacking their faith.

And many are doing so, along with the French Muslim Council and, here at home, the Council of American-Islamic Relations. Even the Iranian government has condemned this violence.

Terrorist ideologues such as these and their wannabe counterparts who pollute Twitter with their hate constitute the true blasphemy and not the slaughtered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
















Two sides of a coin: conservative politics and militant Islam

I think all of us would like to take our yesterdays back, correct our missteps and, with the lucidity afforded by hindsight, retake the high ground.  In fact, our nostalgia for what’s past defines the tragedy of our present, manifesting itself in the emergence in the last 50-years of two primary forces, political and religious, warring on the present in the guise of conservatism.

Ironically, their genesis began at about the same time, with the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran (1979) and the political ascendancy of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and America’s Ronald Reagan.  Most revolutions soften, or give way to human inertia, or to inherent entropy that characterizes Natural Law as with the collapse of the Soviet hegemony and the transition of Mao’s China into a market economy.

In America, the vestiges of the past are prominent in the rise of Tea Party and neo-conservative Republicans advocating reduced government in a slashing of taxes, sealing our borders, deregulating the market place, and a bent toward imperialism in foreign policy.  It too has a religious scent in its hostility to gays, embrace of creationism in the classroom, and strident opposition to abortion and death with dignity legislation.  While it has no Sharia law it can impose, it finds its corollary in pursuing legislative edict.  It hasn’t any qualms about imposing its views on others.

Thankfully, in most places, it can’t muster a majority, although evangelicals and catholics turned out in record numbers to oppose Obama (78% and 67% respectively) in last November’s election.  Unfortunately, this faction has seized the reins of the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, driving its agenda, making it easy to forget that it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who founded the Occupational Safety  & Health Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration.  It’s conceivable that even Reagan couldn’t muster the Republican nomination were he running today.

As for conservative religion, militant Islam has replaced communism as the new global threat, with tension and violence often in play, not only in the Middle East, but universally:  Africa (Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia); Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, India).  Terrorism has been its weapon of choice, with bombings and assassinations even in Britain, France and the Netherlands.

As for my own America, I had placed my bet on our legacy of assimilation to keep us safe from the tribalism of places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq where it isn’t sufficient to make Jihad against the Infidel, but Sunni and Shiite must slaughter one another.  I have been wrong, as scarcely a day passes that I don’t hear of immigrant Muslim youth conspiring violence here at home.  While their numbers are few, their threat is palpable, as witness the Boston’s Patriot’s Day bombings and the Ft. Hood massacre by a member of our own armed forces.

But I’m also aware of media hype and its distorting perspective and its conflict with my own experience.  I studied in France in 1985.  My dearest friends, all of them, we’re Muslim.  They came from Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Palestine.  They rejoiced in finding a rare American supporting the right of Palestinians to a homeland.  “C’est historique,” one of them delightfully said.

Not once did the subject of religion intrude.  Humanity and justice were our priorities, melting away creed and origin.  I have memories here at home of Muslim immigrants in my classes.  Again, the same: an abounding rapport and absence of religion’s strictures.

In short, Muslims, the vast majority, abhor the violence of a fundamentalist segment that does injury to Islam, “the religion of peace.”  Let me offer the following:

As American Muslims and scholars of Islam, we wish to restate our conviction that peace and justice constitute the basic principles of the Muslim faith.  We wish again to state unequivocally that neither the al-Qaeda organization nor Usama bin Laden represents Islam or reflects Muslim beliefs and practice. Rather, groups like al-Qaeda have misused and abused Islam in order to fit their own radical and indeed anti-Islamic agenda.  Usama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s actions are criminal, misguided and counter to the true teachings of Islam (Statement Rejecting Terrorism, 57 leaders of North American Islamic organizations, September 9, 2002),

The truth is that conservative politics and religion are forces latent with danger when employing divisive appeals to self-interest rather than the collective good or utilizing scape-goating, straw-men methodologies designed to manipulate and secure power.  Such modalities, on the increase, mark a return to the volatile past with its animosities fostered by fear.

Politics should be about human community and addressing its needs; religion, about abandoning the barriers of distrust for the balm of love.

The earmarks of an unhealthy conservatism, whether political or religious, is one of parochial or ethnocentric interest, fueled by distrust and unthinking servility to the past, adumbrated by insecurity posed by change.

Sometimes I want to throw my arms up in despair.  I muse on how better a world devoid of the heat of political and religious passions; but as a devotee of the Enlightenment with its predication on Reason as the future’s arbitrator of a better world, I retain faith we can do better to reduce the disparity between entrenched custom and social amelioration.

I also know that the way of progress is sometimes in feet, not miles, and that injustices like slavery weren’t conquered quickly.  I believe there exists a resident Good in most people that will ultimately prevail.

In the interval, conserving those best values of the past while embracing the promise of the future’s kinder, more tolerant dispensation to humanity, is the proper synthesis for abounding peace and good will.


%d bloggers like this: