Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Reviews: 'Reformations' by Carlos M. N. Eire

The Birth of the Modern
Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450–1650, by Carlos M. N. Eire (Yale, 920 pp., $40)
By John Wilson — September 26, 2016, Issue
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The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has occasioned a slew of books, lectures, conferences, reenactments, and so on, starting several years ago and scheduled to reach a climax in the fall of 2017. Of the books I’ve seen in this cavalcade (there are far too many for any single reader to keep up with), Carlos M. N. Eire’s Reformations is one of the best.

It's a very long book, and at first you may be daunted by its sheer bulk. (I discovered that I couldn’t read it in bed, my favorite spot: I needed to have it lying flat on a desk or table.) But unlike all too many books these days, Reformations is not bloated with verbal filler, lazy repetitions, or self-indulgent digressions. The writing, while deeply informed by scholarship, is beguiling, as one might expect from the author of the memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003). And the book is long because it needs to be, to flesh out Eire’s thesis that we should speak of Reformations, plural, rather than “the” Reformation, singular, symbolized by Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. (Eire, like many historians, describes this famous scene as a legend; in any case, Luther sent his theses to clerical authorities, so the challenge was given.)

In the canonical account of the Reformation, Luther’s scathing critique of the selling of indulgences — in effect, selling God’s mercy — stands for a more thoroughgoing condemnation of ecclesiastical corruption and a revolutionary emphasis on Scripture alone as authoritative for the Christian life. Moreover, believers were to read the Bible in their own language — Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was as important as his theological works.

This is the essence of the Reformation as it has long been understood, both by those who trace their heritage to it and by those who continue to deplore its consequences — those for whom the bumptious individualism (so they see it) implicit in Luther’s defiance leads straight through the centuries to American Evangelicals’ love affair with Donald Trump. The story has long been complicated, as Eire acknowledges, by subplots: the increasing conflict among early Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli and the traditions that flowed from them over the centuries; the Anabaptists and the heirs of the so-called Radical Reformation (whose present-day descendants include the Mennonites and Amish); the Catholic response to Luther and his ilk, commonly referred to as “the Counter-Reformation”; and — a theme especially strong in recent scholarship — the many and wildly varied reform movements that preceded Luther, such as that of the Waldensians (beginning in France in the late 12th century), who embraced poverty, rejected the authority of the pope and the veneration of relics, and argued that the Bible was the supreme authority.

Still, both in everyday conversation and in academic settings, we continue to speak of “the Reformation.” This vexes Eire. He’s convinced that his objection is not merely a matter of scholarly hairsplitting. To speak of “the Reformations,” he insists, is much truer to the reality we are seeking to understand, one in which “all of the different reform movements and churches that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries” were interrelated. And here we should note the subtitle of Eire’s book: “The Early Modern World, 1450–1650.” As Eire tells us at the outset, “we cannot begin to comprehend who we are as Westerners without first understanding the changes wrought by the Reformations of the early modern era.”

Though Eire lays out his argument quite clearly, this is not a thesis-driven book. Rather, it is a detail-rich cross-cutting narrative that encompasses the “Scottish war on witchcraft” (Chapter 13), Catholic missionaries to India (Chapter 19), the “age of devils” (Chapter 23), and much more. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Eire that we should stop talking about “the Reformation,” and whether or not you agree with his summing up of the impact of this period (see the epilogue and Eire’s concise account of “three revolutionary shifts” that shaped the West as we know it today), you will learn a great deal and be entertained along the way.

Eire is quick to note the “contingency of all summations.” Still, in the spirit of his project, which complicates a familiar story, let me complicate the story he tells in its place. Some of what he says about Protestants in the early modern era fits very well with my own experience growing up in a Protestant household in the 1950s with my mother, my grandmother, and my younger brother. (We mostly went to Baptist churches, and historians of American religion would describe our milieu as Evangelical with some fundamentalist traits.) But in other respects his summation doesn’t fit my experience.

Eire makes a great deal of Protestantism’s desacralizing and disenchanting of the world, especially through its “rejection of miracles.” But most of the Protestants I grew up with (and certainly those in my own family) would have been loath to reject miracles. My grandmother, who had absorbed a good deal of dispensationalism (she read every day in her worn Scofield Bible), explained that “cessationists” believed that miracles were restricted to the period of the early Church and that God did not choose to work that way in the present age, but she — and, again, the vast majority of believers I grew up with — strongly believed that God still worked miracles, even as they were skeptical about the claims of faith healers and such. Moreover, my grandmother had been a missionary in China (where my mom lived until she was eleven years old), and we often had missionaries visiting our house in Southern California as well as speaking in church. Many of them related miracles that they claimed to have witnessed.

So the world in which I was raised was emphatically not desacralized and disenchanted. Both my mother and my grandmother spoke without any embarrassment about the presence of angels. They were equally matter-of-fact about the Devil and his minions. I was raised (and here I will no doubt appall some of my readers) to believe in the personal reality of the Devil, a belief I’ve never been persuaded to abandon. (Quite the contrary.)

Please be assured, if all this sounds a bit fantastic to you, that the setting in which I went to church and Sunday school was not highly idiosyncratic. Of course it was different from growing up in a Catholic setting, and different again from the Lutheran setting I came to know when (I was partway through fourth grade at the time) my mom took my brother and me out of the public school we’d been attending and enrolled us in a Missouri Synod Lutheran school, even though we weren’t Lutherans. (There weren’t so many Christian schools to choose from in those days.)

It was at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Pomona, Calif., that I first learned about the Reformation and Martin Luther. (In the largely ahistorical Baptist churches where we worshiped, the Reformation was never mentioned.) To this day I remain very thankful for my first immersion in another stream of the faith. How different many things formerly taken for granted
-- Mr. Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture. looked from that angle. And I am equally grateful to Carlos Eire for an immersion (no mere sprinkling) in the Reformations from which we have inherited so much, for better and for worse.

The End of Christendom

By Eamon Duffy
November 2016

Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877

Next year marks the fifth centenary of one of the few precisely datable historical events that can be said to have changed the world forever. In 1517, an unknown German professor from an undistinguished new university protested against the sordid trade in religious benefits known as “indulgences,” which were then being peddled around Germany to fund grandiose plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Martin Luther’s protest initially took the form of a public challenge to an academic debate on a swathe of theological niceties. But this was the first age of print, and Luther was a publicist of genius. His list of topics for debate, in the form of Ninety-Five Theses, was printed as a broadsheet (though the legend that he nailed them to a church door is, sadly, probably untrue). The theses nonetheless became the world’s most improbable bestseller. What might have been a technical academic exercise in a Wittenberg lecture hall rapidly escalated into a fundamental questioning of the theological underpinning of Western Christianity. In its wake, Europe divided, roughly north and south, and the peoples of Europe were pitched into a series of murderous ideological wars in which tens of thousands died, and during which the religious, cultural, and political map of Europe was redrawn. We are all still living with the consequences.

This religious and cultural earthquake has traditionally been known as the Reformation, a loaded term with which Catholics have never been comfortable. To dub these transformations as a Reformation implies that something that had gone radically wrong was put right, that a good form of Christianity replaced a bad one. The fact that the term has traditionally been capitalized and used in the singular also poses a problem. The new religious identities and communities which emerged from these conflicts—Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, and the more radical groupings often lumped together under the name “Anabaptist”—did indeed share some beliefs and attitudes in common. They all prioritized the written Word of God in the Bible over traditional Church teaching and discipline, and they all vehemently rejected the papacy and the allegedly materialistic religious system which the papacy headed. But they were divided among themselves—often lethally—on almost everything else. Within a single generation of Luther’s protest, “Protestants” were excommunicating, fighting, and persecuting each other, as well as the common Catholic enemy, and many were calling for a reform of the Reformation.

Even the timescale traditionally assumed has now been challenged. In the older and mainly Protestant historiography, the overthrow of Catholicism almost everywhere in Northeastern Europe, and its replacement by “reformed” versions of Christianity, was seen as a swift process. Since medieval Catholicism was believed to have been corrupt, decadent, priest-ridden, and therefore unpopular with the laity, it was taken for granted that it could have offered little resistance to the reformers’ message. And so histories of the Reformation were conventionally histories of events in the early and middle sixteenth century. Only recently has the notion of a “long reformation” gained currency. Studies of the problems that Protestant officialdom encountered in uprooting deeply entrenched popular beliefs, practices, and loyalties, and in inculcating new beliefs and disciplines, have brought home the realization that after the first energies of “reformation” had passed, consolidating new religious identities at the grassroots level was almost everywhere a difficult and painful process, stretching over decades and even centuries. This realization requires a drastic rethinking, still very much in process, of much that was taken for granted in the older accounts. Some of that rethinking has been done under the rubric of the history of “confessionalization,” a term used to denote the deployment of religion to create or reinforce social and political identities. But this approach has brought its own problems, tending as it does to reduce religion to an instrument of social control and political manipulation.

Against the background of these shifts in historical understanding, an avalanche of biographies of Luther and histories of the religious revolution he launched has begun ahead of next year’s quincentenary. Few of them will rival the sheer scale and ambition of Carlos Eire’s new survey. Eire is one of America’s most distinguished historians of early modern religion, and his absorption of the newer historiography is proclaimed in the fact that his book is entitled Reformations, in the plural. His book “accepts the concept of multiple Reformations wholeheartedly,” and seeks to deepen the concept by paying equal attention “to all the different movements and churches that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, stressing their interrelatedness.” The ambition to present a synoptic account of the multiple sixteenth-century movements for religious “reform,” Catholic and Protestant, has led some historians to search for a single interpretative framework for the reform impulse, to suggest that fundamental similarities underlay sixteenth-century religious reform wherever it occurred. So, the French Catholic historian Jean Delumeau proposed that we should understand both the emergence of Protestantism and the transformation of Catholicism after Trent as twin aspects of a process of “Christianization.” On this account, both Catholic and Protestant reformers labored to replace the inherited half-pagan folk religion of late medieval Europe with something more authentically Christian, focused on the person of Christ rather than often legendary saints, prioritizing orthodox catechesis and preaching over quasi-magical ritual, and imposing religious and moral discipline on a reluctant populace.

Rejecting the negative judgments implicit in Delumeau’s notion of “Christianization,” the English historian John Bossy, himself by upbringing and education a Catholic, offered a rather less benign overarching analysis of the Catholic and Protestant reformations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The central contention of Bossy’s short but scintillating Christianity in the West was that medieval Christianity had been fundamentally concerned with the creation and maintenance of peace in a violent world. “Christianity” in medieval Europe denoted neither an ideology nor an institution, but a community of believers whose religious ideal—constantly aspired to if seldom attained—was peace and mutual love. The sacraments and sacramentals of the medieval Church were not half-pagan magic, but instruments of the “social miracle,” rituals designed to defuse hostility and create extended networks of fraternity, spiritual “kith and kin,” by reconciling enemies and consolidating the community in charity.

But in the Renaissance era, and even more so in the Reformation period which followed, reliance on symbol and image gave way to the privileging of the printed or spoken word. Peace remained a fundamental Christian aspiration, but ritual and sacrament gave way to persuasion and instruction as the means to achieve it. A newly professional breed of intellectuals and activists—the “new clerks”—arose, who understood Christianity not as a community sustained by ritual acts, but as a teaching enforced by institutional structures. The framework of moral teaching shifted away from the medieval preoccupation with the seven deadly sins, which had been understood as wrong because they were antisocial. Sin was malignancy toward other people. It was replaced, Bossy thought, by a preoccupation with obedience to the Ten Commandments, whose transgression was understood in the first place as an affront to God. Creedal orthodoxy replaced Communitas as a supreme virtue, Christianity became a system of beliefs and moral behaviors. By 1700, “the Christian world was full of religions, objectives and moral entities characterized by system, principles and hard edges.” And above that multiplicity loomed “a shadowy abstraction, theChristian religion.”

Both Delumeau and Bossy feature in Eire’s bibliography, but he has little sympathy with these attempts at an overarching morphology of “Reformation.” For him, what characterizes the religious transformations of the sixteenth century, and their out-workings in the seventeenth, is not a single unifying energy, good or bad, but their variety and multiple incompatibilities. The occasion of his book is the upcoming Luther anniversary, and he does justice to Luther’s unique role in triggering the collapse of the medieval religious synthesis. But he is keen to emphasize that Luther was just one, if the first, of the agents of the dramatic upheavals of the period, and in the long term, by no means the most important. Zwingli, a former humanist whose abandonment of medieval Catholic orthodoxy predated Luther’s, gets extended treatment, as does Calvin, who built on Zwingli’s initiatives to create the disciplined structures and alliances with civic society which would become the normative form of Protestantism. So, too, do the leaders of the more radical, apocalyptic, or rationalizing alternatives to Catholicism and to what became “mainstream” Protestantism. Eire does not give much away in his personal assessment of Luther, though alongside a meticulous analysis of the theology we get ample quotation illustrating Luther’s disconcerting penchant for scatological insult and a preoccupation with excreta aimed indiscriminately at Catholics and the devil.
Eire’s final chapter on the great Reformer is headed “Luther the reactionary” and deals with Luther’s violent repudiation of the apocalyptic radicalism of former disciples like Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer, and especially with the Wittenbergers’ savage reaction to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525. The libertarian rhetoric of Luther’s reformation pamphlets, with their insistence on the freedom and dignity of every Christian and their onslaught on ecclesiastical corruption and established religious authority, certainly fueled and probably helped trigger the peasant uprising. But Luther’s fear of anarchy and horrified determination to distance himself from the rebels elicited some of his least appealing writing: “Let everyone who can smite, slay, and stab . . . remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog. . . . Stab, smite, slay, whoever can.” He never retreated from this position. Years later, he would tell admiring disciples, “It was I, Martin Luther, who slew all the peasants . . . for I commanded them to be slaughtered. All their blood is on my head. But I throw the responsibility on our Lord God, who instructed me to give this order.” Eire rejects a long and shrill tradition of hostile Catholic historiography that blamed Luther for unleashing not only religious but also moral and political chaos on the German nation, but Doctor Martin does not emerge well from this unblinking account of Luther the polemicist.
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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hobbit at 80: much more than a childish prequel to The Lord of the Rings

By David Barnett
21 September 2017
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The Hobbit, that retelling by Mr JRR Tolkien of the adventures of Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, is celebrating its 80th birthday, albeit with no party of special magnificence nor, perhaps, much talk and excitement in Hobbiton or beyond.
But while the the book is not as venerable as its hero – Bilbo died aged 131, we are told in Lord of the Rings; hobbits live, on average, to the age of 96.8 years according to the wonderful number-crunching site – it is still an anniversary worth noting.
These days, The Hobbit is considered nothing more than a childish taster or over-long prologue to Tolkien’s more revered Lord of the Rings trilogy: a sanitised scene-setter filled with folk songs and poems that came before the grownup book that explored war, death and the corruption of men. But while The Hobbit was undeniably written as a children’s book, it is far more than a mere prequel and its significance in modern literature, and fantasy in particular, cannot be overstated.
But perhaps there is a more satisfying anniversary to be celebrated here, as 2017 marks 100 years since Tolkien, effectively invalided out of the army after coming down with trench fever fighting in the Somme, began writing his first story, The Fall of Gondolin. Eventually published in The Book of Lost Tales, a decade after Tolkien’s death in 1973, this story laid out a rich and detailed history of his Middle-earth. Twenty years after first putting pen to paper – that paper apparently being sheets of military marching music Tolkien found in his barracks – The Hobbit was published on 21 September 1937.
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While we can point to other authors who played a part in creating the genre of heroic fantasy – from the epics such as Homer’s Odyssey and the Scandinavian myths, through to Lewis Carroll and Lord Dunsany, to Conan creator Robert E Howard and Fritz Leiber, whose fantasy duo Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser debuted in 1939, two years after The Hobbit – the themes and tropes laid down by Tolkien continue to shape fantasy to this day. A quest. An artefact of power. An unlikely or unwilling hero. Fantastical races of elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins. Dragons. Monstrous spiders. The shadow of profound evil falling across a pastoral, peaceful, medieval world. Fantasy may have evolved a lot since Tolkien’s day, but these building blocks can still be seen in most contemporary novels in the genre.
Like all good myths and legends, The Hobbit began in the oral tradition, as a story that Tolkien imparted to his sons John, Michael and Christopher. The genesis of the story was the opening line, idly scrawled by Tolkien on a piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” It went no further, until he breathed life into Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin and his band of dwarves, and wretched Gollum through stories told, as Christopher remembers, “with his back to the fire in his small study of the house in north Oxford”.
Christopher recalls these storytelling sessions happening around 1929. Eight years later George Allen & Unwin printed the first 1,500 copies of The Hobbit. By the end of December it had sold out, in no small part due to Christopher Tolkien writing to Father Christmas “to give The Hobbit a vigorous puff … and proposing it to him as an idea for Christmas presents”.
I think I was 10 or 11 when I first read The Hobbit, and swiftly moved on to The Lord of the Rings. It was quite a jump, akin to the chasm between studying physics at O-level and A-level. As with physics, the first I found relatively straightforward, the second challenging. Unlike physics, which I quickly dumped, The Hobbit threw open the literary Doors of Durin to a whole universe of fantasy writing. I imagine this was a common trajectory for many.
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When it first came out, one reviewer called The Hobbit “juvenile trash” that suffered “impotence of imagination”. By the 1970s, no fantasy novel was worth the name lacked a blurb along the lines of: “Comparable to Tolkien at his best!” These days, to call a modern fantasy novel Tolkienesque feels a little like faint praise. Over the last eight decades, we’ve been there, done that and bought the Mithril T-shirt. And Tolkien’s writing does have its problems: his books, even The Hobbit, are too long and wordy, and there are racist overtones, with the good guys generally being white European in appearance, while the nasty orcs are dark-skinned and the gold-hungry dwarves uncomfortably reminiscent of toxic Jewish stereotypes. Epic fantasy, though by definition steeped in the past (albeit one that never was), has moved on, to become more diverse, more inclusive, more questioning – precisely as it should be.
But The Hobbit endures and it remains a remarkable book that continues to capture imaginations. So let’s raise a glass of ale to The Hobbit, 80 years young. And while we’re at it, according to the books 22 September is Bilbo and his nephew Frodo’s birthday. Any excuse for a party. Who knows, there might be fireworks.

The Pope of Islam

Pope Francis welcomes to the Vatican the head of a Muslim group tied to the financing of jihad terror.

September 22, 2017

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(Photo: Al Arabiya)
As if he weren’t already committed enough to foolish false charity and willful ignorance regarding the jihad threat, Pope Francis on Wednesday met in the Vatican with Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League (MWL), a group that has been linked to the financing of jihad terror.
During the meeting, al-Issa thanked the Pope for his “fair positions” on what he called the “false claims that link extremism and violence to Islam.” In other words, he thanked the Pope for dissembling about the motivating ideology of jihad terror, which his group has been accused of financing, and for defaming other religions in an effort to whitewash Islam.
I don’t object to the Pope’s meeting this man. After all, Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But the meeting appears to have been a pointless feelgood session, probably featuring some sly dawah from al-Issa. According to Breitbart News, “the two men reportedly exchanged views on a number of ‘issues of common interest’ including peace and global harmony, and discussed cooperation on issues of peaceful coexistence and the spread of love.”
The spread of love. Yes, that’s what the Muslim World League is all about.
Nor is this the first time a Muslim leader has thanked the Pope for being so very useful. Last July, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar, thanked him for his “defense of Islam against the accusation of violence and terrorism.”
Has any other Pope of Rome in the history of Christianity ever been heralded as a “defender of Islam”?
Of course not. But the Catholic Church has come a long way since the days of Pope Callixtus III, who vowed in 1455 to “exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mahomet in the East.”
If time travel could be arranged and Pope Francis could run into Callixtus III, Callixtus could “expect a punch,” for Francis is not just a defender of Islam, but a defender of the Sharia death penalty for blasphemy: after Islamic jihadists murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who had drawn Muhammad, Francis obliquely justified the murders by saying that “it is true that you must not react violently, but although we are good friends if [an aide] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch, it’s normal. You can’t make a toy out of the religions of others. These people provoke and then (something can happen). In freedom of expression there are limits.”
So for the Pope, murdering people for violating Sharia blasphemy laws is “normal,” and it isn’t terrorism for “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist,” he said in a speech last February. “There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions—and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.”
So there is no Islamic terrorism, but if you engage in “intolerant generalizations,” you can “expect a punch.” The Pope, like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, apparently thinks that the problem is not jihad terror, but non-Muslims talking about jihad terror; Muslims would be peaceful if non-Muslims would simply censor themselves and self-impose Sharia blasphemy restrictions regarding criticism of Islam.
For Pope Francis has no patience with those who discuss such matters: “I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence, because every day, when I read the newspaper, I see violence.” He said, according to Crux, that “when he reads the newspaper, he reads about an Italian who kills his fiancé or his mother in law.” The pontiff added: “They are baptized Catholics. They are violent Catholics.” He said that if he spoke about “Islamic violence,” then he would have to speak about “Catholic violence” as well.
That comparison made no sense, for Italian Catholics who killed their fiancés or mothers in law were not acting in accord with the teachings of their religion, while the Qur’an and Islamic teaching contain numerous exhortations to violence.
But Pope Francis, defender of Islam, cannot concern himself with such minutiae. Nor does he appear to be particularly concerned about the fact that all his false statements about the motivating ideology behind the massive Muslim persecution of Christians over the last few years only enables and abets that persecution, for if that ideology is not identified and confronted, it will continue to flourish.
The Pope of Rome, whom Catholics consider to be the earthly head of the Church, should be a defender of Christianity, not a defender of Islam, the religion that has been at war with Christianity and Judeo-Christian civilization since its earliest days. That any Christian leader would be called a “defender of Islam” by anyone only casts into vivid relief the absurdity of our age and the weakness of the free world. The creeping idolatry of the papacy that is rampant in today’s Catholic Church, with all too many Catholics treating every word of the Pontiff as if it were a divine oracle, only makes matters worse.
Can you imagine any Muslim leader ever being called a “defender of Christianity”? Of course not: Muslim leaders are more aware than their fond defender in the Vatican that Islam mandates warfare against unbelievers, not defense of their theological views.
Pope Francis is not only disastrously wrongheaded about an obvious fact that is reinforced by every day’s headlines; he is also deceiving and misleading his people about a matter of utmost importance, and keeping them ignorant and complacent about a growing and advancing threat.
“Leave them; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It looks like Obama did spy on Trump, just as he apparently did to me

By Sharyl Attkisson
September 20, 2017
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Many in the media are diving deeply into minutiae in order to discredit any notion that President Trump might have been onto something in March when he fired off a series of tweets claiming President Obama had “tapped” “wires” in Trump Tower just before the election.
According to media reports this week, the FBI did indeed “wiretap” the former head of Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort, both before and after Trump was elected. If Trump officials — or Trump himself — communicated with Manafort during the wiretaps, they would have been recorded, too.
But we’re missing the bigger story.
If these reports are accurate, it means U.S. intelligence agencies secretly surveilled at least a half dozen Trump associates. And those are just the ones we know about.
Besides Manafort, the officials include former Trump advisers Carter Page and Michael Flynn. Last week, we discovered multiple Trump “transition officials” were “incidentally” captured during government surveillance of a foreign official. We know this because former Obama adviser Susan Rice reportedly admitted “unmasking,” or asking to know the identities of, the officials. Spying on U.S. citizens is considered so sensitive, their names are supposed to be hidden or “masked,” even inside the government, to protect their privacy.
In May, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates acknowledged they, too, reviewed communications of political figures, secretly collected under President Obama.
Weaponization of intel agencies? 
Nobody wants our intel agencies to be used like the Stasi in East Germany; the secret police spying on its own citizens for political purposes. The prospect of our own NSA, CIA and FBI becoming politically weaponized has been shrouded by untruths, accusations and justifications.
You’ll recall DNI Clapper falsely assured Congress in 2013 that the NSA was not collecting “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Intel agencies secretly monitored conversations of members of Congress while the Obama administration negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.
In 2014, the CIA got caught spying on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, though CIA Director John Brennan had explicitly denied that.
There were also wiretaps on then-Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in 2011 under Obama. The same happened under President George W. Bush to former Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.).
Journalists have been targeted, too. This internal email, exposed by WikiLeaks, should give everyone chills. It did me.
Dated Sept. 21, 2010, the “global intelligence” firm Stratfor wrote:
[John] Brennan [then an Obama Homeland Security adviser] is behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources.
Note -- There is specific tasker from the WH to go after anyone printing materials negative to the Obama agenda (oh my.) Even the FBI is shocked. The Wonder Boys must be in meltdown mode...
The government subsequently got caught monitoring journalists at Fox News, The Associated Press, and, as I allege in a federal lawsuit, my computers while I worked as an investigative correspondent at CBS News. On Aug. 7, 2013, CBS News publicly announced:
… correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s computer was hacked by ‘an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions,’ confirming Attkisson’s previous revelation of the hacking.
Then, as now, instead of getting the bigger story, some in the news media and quasi-news media published false and misleading narratives pushed by government interests. They implied the computer intrusions were the stuff of vivid imagination, conveniently dismissed forensic evidence from three independent examinations that they didn’t review. All seemed happy enough to let news of the government’s alleged unlawful behavior fade away, rather than get to the bottom of it.
I have spent more than two years litigating against the Department of Justice for the computer intrusions. Forensics have revealed dates, times and methods of some of the illegal activities. The software used was proprietary to a federal intel agency. The intruders deployed a keystroke monitoring program, accessed the CBS News corporate computer system, listened in on my conversations by activating the computer’s microphone and used Skype to exfiltrate files.
We survived the government’s latest attempt to dismiss my lawsuit. There’s another hearing Friday. To date, the Trump Department of Justice — like the Obama Department of Justice — is fighting me in court and working to keep hidden the identities of those who accessed a government internet protocol address found in my computers.
Evidence continues to build. I recently filed new information unearthed through forensic exams. As one expert told the court, it was “not a mistake; it is not a random event; and it is not technically possible for these IP addresses to simply appear on her computer systems without activity by someone using them as part of the cyber-attack.”
It’s difficult not to see patterns in the government’s behavior, unless you’re wearing blinders.
  • The intelligence community secretly expanded its authority in 2011 so it can monitor innocent U.S. citizens like you and me for doing nothing more than mentioning a target’s name a single time.
  • In January 2016, a top secret inspector general report found the NSA violated the very laws designed to prevent abuse.
  • In 2016, Obama officials searched through intelligence on U.S. citizens a record 30,000 times, up from 9,500 in 2013.
  • Two weeks before the election, at a secret hearing before the FISA court overseeing government surveillance, NSA officials confessed they’d violated privacy safeguards “with much greater frequency” than they’d admitted. The judge accused them of “institutional lack of candor” and said, “this is a very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”
Officials involved in the surveillance and unmasking of U.S. citizens have said their actions were legal and not politically motivated. And there are certainly legitimate areas of inquiry to be made by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But look at the patterns. It seems that government monitoring of journalists, members of Congress and political enemies — under multiple administrations — has become more common than anyone would have imagined two decades ago. So has the unmasking of sensitive and highly protected names by political officials.
Those deflecting with minutiae are missing the point. To me, they sound like the ones who aren’t thinking.
Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.”

Alarmed by Islam, Europe's Gays Are Moving to the Right

September 20, 2017

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Geert Wilders of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party, chairwoman of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) Frauke Petry and French National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen give a press conference during their European Parliament's Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) congress in Koblenz, western Germany, on January 21, 2017. / AFP / Roberto Pfeil

For decades, in both America and Europe, the gay establishment – gay magazines, gay rights organizations, and self-designated gay leaders – have been dictating politics to the gay multitudes. Those politics have been consistently left-wing and Democratic. Not all gays have played follow-the-leader, but most have, so that in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections Hillary Clinton won a far larger percentage of the gay vote than Donald Trump.

Even though Hillary had opposed same-sex marriage until 2013, had taken millions of dollars from governments that execute homosexuals, and was married to the man who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, the gay mafia had managed to depict her as gay-friendly while depicting Donald Trump, a longtime gay marriage supporter, as an enemy of gay rights.

Even more perverse than the official gay take on Trump vs. Clinton is the official gay party line on Islam. To get a good picture of this party line, all you need to do is glance through the archives of The Advocate, a gay news magazine.

“Islam is not intrinsically homophobic,” wrote Trudy Ring in a 2013 Advocate report about Muslim “activists and scholars” who, she claimed, were making progress in their effort to make Islam “more welcoming to LGBT people.” In a 2014 piece, Stevie St. John promoted a Muslim lesbian's claim that the Koran “prescribes no punishment for being gay or transgender.”

True, but wildly deceptive: in fact, the Koran contains explicit condemnations of homosexual conduct, while the punishments for such conduct are spelled out in Islamic law. Then there's the 2017 Advocate article in which one Samra Habib happily noted that after the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre, many news media eschewed anti-Islamic “finger-pointing” and instead “offered many queer Muslims a platform to share how they too were in mourning and how they often felt doubly ostracized” – victimized, in other words, by both “Islamophobia and homophobia.”

Any whitewash of Islam is reprehensible. But when gays whitewash Islam in a publication read by other gays, it's downright dangerous. No ideology on Earth is more anti-gay. In ten Muslim countries, gay sex is punishable by death. To pretend that there's any way of reconciling homosexuality and Islam, or any chance of transforming Islam into a gay-friendly faith, is to encourage a menacing fantasy.

So it's promising to observe that as Islam plants its roots ever more deeply in the soil of Western Europe, more and more European gays are wising up, breaking ranks with the fools and liars in their midst who preach that the “gay community” and the ummah are natural allies, and casting their ballots for politicians whom they'd previously scorned.

In April, for example, Thomas Adamson of the Associated Press reported that although gay rights groups in France had not wavered in their fierce opposition to Marine Le Pen's Front National (FN), the party now enjoyed a higher level of support among gay voters than among straights.

Adamson quoted gay artist and Paris resident Kelvin Hopper: “Faced with the current threats, particularly from radical Islam, gays have realized they’ll be the first victims of these barbarians, and only Marine is proposing radical solutions.” The historically anti-gay FN, noted Adamson, now had “more top aides who are publicly known to be gay than any other French political party.”

On September 14, CNN's website ran a story about gays in Germany who are supporting the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD). A middle-aged Bremen couple interviewed for the piece had been violently gay-bashed by “two locally known Muslim extremists” who “were never arrested and later fled to Syria.” After failing to receive justice from local prosecutors and the mayor's office, the couple had cast their lot in with AfD.

“I don't like everything they say,” admitted one of the two gay men, a longtime leftist and former Green Party voter, “but this is too dangerous for gay people to live openly here, if we get attacked like that. We need a party that's talking openly about this.” Like FN, AfD opposes same-sex marriage – but also has gay people in its leadership, and is supported by a higher percentage of gays than of straights.

That many gays are embracing parties like FN and AfD is a source of bafflement and outrage for politicians, journalists, academics, and gay activists who are used to the idea of gays as docile field hands on the leftist plantation. Their response to this new development is to smear the right-wing parties as cynical exploiters of the gay electorate, and to find some condescending way of interpreting gay support for these parties.

For example, German social psychologist Beate Kupper told CNN that gays are joining AfD because it makes them feel better, as members of an “out” group, to demonize members of another “out” group.

In March, J. Lester Feder of BuzzFeed interviewed a “group of queer and immigrant activists” in Amsterdam who angrily dismissed politician Geert Wilders's expressions of concern about Muslim gay-hatred as “racism dressed up in liberal drag.” Wilders, Feder warned, wasn't alone: Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was also now saying that immigrants who “harass gays” should leave the country.

Gay former MP Tofik Dibi, whose parents came from Morocco, admitted to Feder that “anti-LGBT attitudes are a real problem in some immigrant communities” (euphemism, anyone?), but insisted that politicians who raise this issue don’t care about gays: they're using it “as a weapon” against Muslims.

Note that rhetorical sleight of hand. In reality, gays aren't bashing Muslims in Europe; Muslims are bashing gays. But Dibi turns that reality on its head, transforming perpetrators into victims.

Then there are the out-and-out lies served up by the likes of Tanja Ineke – head of the Netherlands' leading gay-rights organization, no less – who told Feder that “immigrants don’t pose a special threat to LGBT people.” Tell that to the countless Dutch gays who, fearful of being beaten by Muslim gangs in a city that was once the safest place on Earth for them, have fled Amsterdam for provincial towns or moved abroad. Because of the city's demographic revolution, Amsterdam's gay scene is a shadow of what it was twenty or even ten years ago.

To his credit, Feder at least included in his article a memorable quotation from the late, great Pim Fortuyn, the gay sociologist-turned-politician whose stern warnings of the dangers of Islamization led to his assassination fifteen years ago. “I have no desire,” said Fortuyn, “to have to go through the emancipation of women and homosexuals all over again.”

Alas, unless Wilders and other politicians who dare to criticize Islam gain power very soon, the closing down in Western Europe not just of gay rights but of all kinds of rights will proceed apace, and emancipation of any kind will increasingly look like a pipe dream.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: ‘Alone’ is perfect complement to filmdom’s ‘Dunkirk’

By Jerry Harkavy, The Associated Press
September 18, 2017
Interest in the 1940 cross-channel evacuation of British soldiers amid the French collapse in World War II has sprung to life this summer, thanks to Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie “Dunkirk.” On its heels comes “Alone,” Michael Korda’s masterful account of that epic drama and its impact on his family.
Few of the soldiers, airmen and mariners whose heroism allowed Britain to carry on a singlehanded battle against Nazi Germany are alive today. Korda was only 6 years old at the time, living in London with his filmmaking family whose roots were in central Europe. But he was remarkably aware of events that propelled Europe into war.
Korda recounts how he and his family had to cut short their August vacation in France as war clouds thickened in the weeks prior to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland. They were glued to the radio for Neville Chamberlain’s grim announcement that Britain was at war. The author recalls air raid sirens, the family’s temporary move to the countryside and his evacuation to a farm in Yorkshire followed by his stay at a boarding school on the Isle of Wight before his return to London.
Korda’s family was moviemaking royalty. His uncle, Alexander, was a renowned producer and director, married to actress Merle Oberon, and his father, Vincent, was a film art director. When war broke out, the family production company, London Films, was in the midst of one of its most ambitious projects, the Arabian fantasy movie “The Thief of Bagdad.”

“Alone” describes in detail the tense political drama that surrounded the emergence of Winston Churchill as prime minister just hours before Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. Alex was a longtime friend and supporter of Churchill, who gave his blessing to the producer’s decision to move his operation to Hollywood after wartime manpower demands made it impossible to finish his films in England.
The trans-Atlantic move had the British government’s clandestine blessing and financial support in hopes that Alex’s subsequent film “That Hamilton Woman,” about Admiral Horatio Nelson and his mistress, would build pro-British sentiment in the United States.
Family issues highlight some of the more fascinating dynamics in “Alone,” but the book is first and foremost a riveting account of the fate of the 300,000-man British Expeditionary Force during its retreat toward the English Channel as German tanks overran Belgium and set their sights on Paris in a blitzkrieg that left France demoralized and prey to a wave of defeatism and recriminations.
Illuminating profiles of key players include those of Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay, architect of the evacuation plan dubbed Operation Dynamo; German tank warfare strategist Heinz Guderian; and a string of hapless French generals. On the political side, we meet the British appeasers whose lapses in judgment paved the way for Churchill — described by Korda as “that rarest of men, a well-functioning, even hyper-functioning alcoholic” — to rally his people to ultimate victory.
Perhaps the biggest question that Korda and other historians have struggled to address is why the Germans temporarily halted their race to the channel, a decision that allowed Britain to assemble a fleet that ranged from Royal Navy destroyers and commercial ferries to fishing boats and yachts, enabling its troops to survive and fight another day.
Some suggest that Hitler chose to spare the British army as a sign of his good intentions and encourage a peace settlement. For his part, Korda believes the three-day rest break was designed to prepare the panzer divisions for the decisive encounter with the French army while delaying an advance in the marshy terrain of Flanders.
“Alone” reaches its climax in the days depicted in Nolan’s film. The author’s descriptions of fire and smoke along with smells of burning rubber and unburied bodies evoke images as vivid as any to hit the screen. One writer quoted by Korda likens it to “a scene from Dante’s Inferno.”
Korda likens the evacuation to a big lottery. “Some people went to the beach, fell into the right line, were taken aboard a ship with a minimum of drama, and disembarked a few hours later at Dover.” Others were shelled while on the beach, machine-gunned by German aircraft or drowned when their ship was mined, bombed or torpedoed.
A total of 338,226 troops, including 139,921 French, made it to England, but it was only months later — after the Battle of Britain — that fears of invasion dissipated and the “spirit of Dunkirk” became cause for celebration. It was, according to Korda, “that rarest of historical events, a military defeat with a happy ending.”
It is rare and fortuitous that this spellbinding account came out within weeks of the release of Nolan’s film that struck box-office gold. One can only hope that many of those drawn to the movie will go on to read “Alone” to delve further into the details and context of that historic episode.
You saw the movie; now get the whole story of Dunkirk in Michael Korda;s 'Alone'

By David Walton
September 18, 2017

Image result for michael korda alone

Alone, Michael Korda's page-turning history of the British army's evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, has the good fortune — or possibly misfortune — of appearing soon after Christopher Nolan's blockbuster film on the same subject.
Film may be a better medium for visual reproduction, for instance, in depicting the layout of Dunkirk harbor — a crucial feature that prevented a large-scale evacuation and created the imperative of a civilian rescue, thus rallying the resources and fighting spirit of the British people, and redirecting the course of the war. 
That's the story both film and history tell. But as readers of history know, every great event has its short version and its long, its concise legend and its more untidy set of truths. Why didn't the Germans take Dunkirk when they could have — surround the British, and massacre or imprison them as they did 2 million of the French? 
Nolan's two hours of screen time are a powerful re-enactment, but they cover only the final 100 of Korda's 400 pages.  Alone begins in September 1939, with the author's first memory, from the age of 7, of Britons fleeing the continent after war has been declared.
"It is curious with what clarity one remembers great events of the past," Korda recalls, as he pieces through the unfolding events of the next nine months. Uncle Alexander Korda, the family head, is Britain's leading filmmaker, commissioned by Churchill to advance Britain's cause by making high-quality pictures. His wife, "Auntie Merle," actress Merle Oberon, is fresh from her success in Wuthering Heights, and eager to return to Hollywood. Father Vincent is working on Thief of Baghdad, the film that will earn him an Academy Award for set design in 1940. 
From this privileged vantage point, the Kordas know more than most about the worsening situation on the Continent — news kept from the British public until the very last. 
This is a book you won't want to put down. Korda is a graceful and personable writer, well-informed, perceptive, always to the point. Step by step, he traces the long chain of blunders, misunderstandings, and entrenched prejudices that led to defeat on the battlefield. France and Britain had prepared for a defensive war, expecting to fight on fixed lines as in World War I. The Germans prepared for an aggressive mobile war, spearheaded by high-speed tanks that would cut defensive lines and keep advancing. 
Neither France nor Britain fully liked or trusted each other. It was rare, Korda remarks, for a British officer to speak French, and many British disdained the French soldiers' slovenliness and lack of discipline. 
France, in turn, felt dragged into the war by Britain, first into the Czech crisis, then in Poland. Repeatedly, Britain and especially Churchill overestimated France's ability and willingness to fight, while the French bitterly resented Britain's unwillingness to supply more troops and, in particular, to provide air cover — "a sensible decision," says Korda, that "would prove decisive during the Battle of Britain, which began two months later." 
Why did the Germans hold back? Again, the reasons are complicated. They feared their line was overextended, and they were in danger of being cut off, as happened at the Marne in World War I. And, following an old tradition of cavalry advances, they felt they needed to "rest" their mounts. 
Germany's early victories and rapid advance led, paradoxically, to doubt and caution. For Hitler and the German high command, France was the primary target, and neither Germany nor Britain fully gauged how disorganized and beaten the French were. 
At the same time, the German army "was not prepared for the stout resistance of a foe they thought had already been defeated." Hard-pressed British units mounted a fierce counterattack against Hitler's best troops at Arres, sending alarm up the German chain of command. For five crucial days, British fighters held a thin line of defense around Dunkirk that the Germans somehow never penetrated — "a remarkable feat of arms," Korda writes. 
The "Miracle of Dunkirk" he credits to "a natural element of naval professionalism" embodied in Vice Adm. Bertram Ramsay, commander of Dover operations. As a matter of routine, Ramsay began registering available craft and planning evacuation routes, even as British troops were setting out for the Continent. 
When the moment came, Ramsay assembled within three days a fleet of more than 800 vessels, and of the 400,000 stranded at Dunkirk, evacuated 338,226, of whom 139,921 were French. 
Alone is the compelling story, told in illuminating detail and without the Imax din, of how they got there, and how they got away. 
David Walton writes and teaches in Pittsburgh.