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Bras are deceptive and violate Islam

Once again Islamist hardliners prove that their religion is less focused on personal asceticism and rather more concerned with opportunities to live out improbable scenarios from Penthouse Forum:

A hardline Islamist group in Somalia has begun publicly whipping women for wearing bras that they claim violate Islam as they are ‘deceptive’.

The insurgent group Al Shabaab has sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to have a firm bust, residents claimed yesterday.

The women are then inspected to see if the firmness is natural, or if it is the result of wearing a bra.

If they are found wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts, residents said.

…’Al Shabaab forced us to wear their type of full veil and now they order us to shake our breasts,’ a resident, Halima, told Reuters, adding that her daughters had been whipped on Thursday.

‘They  are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.’

Abdullahi Hussein, a student in north Mogadishu, said his elder brother was thrown behind bars when he fought back a man who humiliated their sister by asking her to remove her bra.

‘My brother was jailed after he wrestled with a man that had beaten my sister and forced her to remove her bra. He could not stand it,’ Hussein said.

— Mail Foreign Service.  “Whipped for wearing a ‘deceptive’ bra: Hardline Islamists in Somalia publicly flog women in Sharia crackdown.”  Daily Mail, 16 October 2009.

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Lives of quiet desperation

Photo by Paula Lerner/Aurora Photos, via the Globe & Mail.

Photo by Paula Lerner/Aurora Photos, via the Globe & Mail.

Eight years ago when NATO forces first staged into Afghanistan, it was heartening to see our forces acting in concert with the Northern Alliance to destroy and expel the Taliban.  Perhaps I was alone in expecting this, but I thought NATO would try to thoroughly inoculate any post-Taliban Afghan social order against the strains of misogyny and casual violence inherent in Islamic radicalism.  Instead we have focused our efforts on everything but that; destroying Taliban fighters in their cross-border sanctuaries and providing a baseline of civil infrastructure to the Afghan people, all while the malignant spectre of Taliban-like philosophy moves about unhindered and unchecked.  That fatal oversight is now bearing fruit as a generation of once-hopeful Afghan women scurry back behind the veil, where their hopes and dreams of a more equitable future die stillborn.

The Globe & Mail—whom I have often chided on this blog for less than stellar reporting—is now doing yeoman work by chronicling the lives of ten ordinary Afghan women in Kandahar through its multimedia series Behind the Veil.  Reporter Jessica Leeder and photographer Paula Lerner are to be commended.  Their work is not a mere fig leaf for antiwar sentiment, nor is it unquestioningly boosterish of our sometimes flawed effort.  But what it is is heartbreaking; it should be painfully obvious to Canadians everywhere—whether ISAF supporters or not—that we are failing the women of Kandahar.  They deserve much better from us.

The day she got engaged, Sakina started out playing with her dolls in the street.
There was no indication that the 13-year-old was scheduled to meet her future husband. But then her father summoned her out of the street and planted her before a male stranger.
“I saw him and they told me I was getting married to him,” Sakina remembered in an on-camera interview with The Globe and Mail.
Next, she learned that she had been sold by her father for 600,000 afghanis, about $13,000. Although she was surprised at the abruptness of the transaction, Sakina doesn’t remember being upset.
“Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do,” she said. “It is not about whether we like our husbands or not. We just get married.”
It was after the wedding that the horror began.
“My father-in-law and my mother-in-law are violent to me. My husband can’t protect me,” she said. “What can I do?”
There aren’t many options for women such as Sakina. She found herself fused to her brutish new relatives by way of an old tradition in Afghanistan, one that international aid and human-rights groups hoped would have faded by now.
In 2005, the Afghan government signed the Protocol for the Elimination of Forced and Child Marriage, a plan sponsored by the United Nations Development Program that aimed to phase out forced and child marriage by 2008. Although it was trumpeted at the time, the protocol clearly wasn’t put into effective practice. Seventy to 80 per cent of Afghan women are still subject to forced marriage, UN statistics show. And more than half of all girls who get married are like Sakina, given away before the legal age of 16, often because their families need the money.
“People are generally aware of the negative impacts of … paying bride price, despite its widespread use,” said a recent report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent organization based in Kabul. The report noted that economic concerns override worries about the impact of forced marriages on the brides, in many cases, because “… collecting bride price can be a key livelihood survival strategy for girls’ families.”

The day she got engaged, Sakina started out playing with her dolls in the street.

There was no indication that the 13-year-old was scheduled to meet her future husband. But then her father summoned her out of the street and planted her before a male stranger.

“I saw him and they told me I was getting married to him,” Sakina remembered in an on-camera interview with The Globe and Mail.

Next, she learned that she had been sold by her father for 600,000 afghanis, about $13,000. Although she was surprised at the abruptness of the transaction, Sakina doesn’t remember being upset.

“Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do,” she said. “It is not about whether we like our husbands or not. We just get married.”

It was after the wedding that the horror began.

“My father-in-law and my mother-in-law are violent to me. My husband can’t protect me,” she said. “What can I do?”

There aren’t many options for women such as Sakina. She found herself fused to her brutish new relatives by way of an old tradition in Afghanistan, one that international aid and human-rights groups hoped would have faded by now.

In 2005, the Afghan government signed the Protocol for the Elimination of Forced and Child Marriage, a plan sponsored by the United Nations Development Program that aimed to phase out forced and child marriage by 2008. Although it was trumpeted at the time, the protocol clearly wasn’t put into effective practice. Seventy to 80 per cent of Afghan women are still subject to forced marriage, UN statistics show. And more than half of all girls who get married are like Sakina, given away before the legal age of 16, often because their families need the money.

“People are generally aware of the negative impacts of … paying bride price, despite its widespread use,” said a recent report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent organization based in Kabul. The report noted that economic concerns override worries about the impact of forced marriages on the brides, in many cases, because “… collecting bride price can be a key livelihood survival strategy for girls’ families.”

— Leeder, Jessica.  “‘Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do’.” Globe & Mail, 22 September 2009.

Very often our news media fails us in obvious, ridiculous ways—skimping on or omitting entirely the background data that would help us contextualise the stories we see, hear and read.  I have believed for a while now that print media’s fruitless competition in immediacy with broadcast and web journalism is a fight it is ill-equipped to win; it should instead refocus itself to provide deeper stories; more background, more data, more thoughtful criticism and insight.  So I am happy to see the Globe & Mail present such a compelling and finely textured look inside the lives of these Afghan women.

Defeating the Taliban militarily is surely a key requirement for any social progress; but equally important is that which has so far been a lesser priority: a vigorous, tenacious offensive against the medieval theology, philosophy and cultural customs that sustain it.  We must make the argument to the Afghan people that equality and liberty are the birthright of every human being.  And we must put fangs in that assertion by refusing to tolerate the casual abrogation of Afghan women’s rights (that are constitutionally guaranteed, no less) by their very own government.  There can be no victory otherwise.

UPDATE: For some the last paragraph may be a bridge too far, a neo-imperialism, arguing that the Afghan people should be the arbiters of their own law and rights.  I do not disagree; in the main they should be, but when Afghan laws deliberately abrogate their own constitution, not to mention the human rights treaties this nation is a signatory to, I would argue that Canada—as a significant reconstruction and security guarantor—has a right to pressure (if not compel) the Afghan government to rectify these failings.  We are not there to turn Afghanistan into Vancouver; we are there to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for Islamic radicalism—whether its vector is the gun or the ballot box.

And there is in fact a precedent of an Allied government performing radical surgery on a nation’s culture and religion.  In the aftermath of the Second World War, the occupation government not only restructured the political landscape of Japan, but the social and religious landscape as well.  Women were granted universal suffrage and equal rights, which was clearly not a feature of the previous Shinto militarist government.  The occupation government dissolved the zaibatsu (large family combines), revised and encouraged education, and did its damndest to inculculate pacifism.  Shintoism was disestablished as the official state religion, and the Emperor was forced to defrock himself of political and religious claims to divinity on public radio.

Following that, General MacArthur also issued an appeal for “1000 missionaries” to come to Japan to prevent communism from gaining a deep toe-hold.  In actuality about 2,000 came to Japan, infused with misionary zeal.  History tells us that their effectiveness was close to zero, as the ratio of Christians in Japan is about the same today as it was before Pearl Harbor.  But it did have at least one salutary effect: the exposure of the Japanese public to many kind and decent ordinary Americans, average folk who were not soldiers or occupation authorities.  Their selfless concern for the Japanese public helped foster understanding and heal wartime wounds on both sides.  Optimistically, NGOs may be achieving the same thing today.  Whether they have a missionary’s selflessness and willingness to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of those in need remains to be seen.

The key lesson here is that the United States did not permit Japanese religion and culture to go on as it had been before; significant correctives were compelled by the occupation authorities.  In the main I am sure we would all prefer that any restructuring of Afghan culture and religion be Afghan-initiated; but if it slips backward rather than forward, we are not doing ourselves nor the Afghan people any favours by permitting such retrenchment.  To ask that the Afghan government live by its own founding legislation seems a less bad option than packing up and giving the Taliban the keys.

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Eight Years On

your_courage
I am not going to say much about the day, surely we all know what it is.  Suffice to say that I remember the thousands—and in particular 24 countrymen—on many more days than this one.

I am not criticising anyone who posts remembrances, for it was a shocking day, but I feel the best course of action is not to pause, not to grieve; but to move forward toward victory.  To expose the philosophical underpinnings of a dangerous and murderous ideology; to defeat those that promote it with the sword and the pen; to not (as the Flea puts it) let the mote in our eye obscure the plank in the Taliban’s eye.

By all means, remember the fallen.  First and foremost, remember to win.

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For we are called with our Allies to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilised order in the world.

King George VI addresses the British people via wireless.  September 1939.

King George VI addresses the Empire via wireless. September 3rd, 1939.

      1. George VI address (excerpt) - BBC broadcast, Sept. 3, 1939

For the second time in the lives of most of us we are at war. Over and over again we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies. But it has been in vain. We have been forced into a conflict. For we are called, with our allies, to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilised order in the world.

…Such a principle, stripped of all its disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right; and if this principle were established throughout the world, the freedom of our own country and of the whole of the British Commonwealth of Nations would be in danger. But far more than this – the peoples of the world would be kept in the bondage of fear, and all hopes of settled peace and of security of justice and liberty among nations would be ended.

— King George VI, Broadcast on the Outbreak of War, 03 September 1939.

In his personal diary, the Sovereign revealed that he was “relieved” that Britain was finally at war with Germany, after ten days of intensive negotiations over Poland had come to naught.  To those of us looking on from a distance, relief may seem like an odd feeling to have, especially when contemplating war.  But then we have not endured three years of the Rt. Hon. Arthur Neville Chamberlain as our first minister, who was busy preparing morsels of other countries in the vain hope that, after gobbling up enough Rhineland, Austrian and Czech hors d’oeuvres, the fascist madman on the Continent could be sated.  I’ve no doubt that over time, as Hitler blustered and Chamberlain folded—once, twice, and three times—the King had privately come to the conclusion that some brave nation in Europe would have to face facts, take up its sword, and run the German through.  Certainly his wartime deeds and stoic bravery helped restore both the prestige of the monarchy and British morale.  It has been reported that both the King and Churchill had wanted to be aboard HMS Belfast for D-Day; probably just as well that they couldn’t.  Both the King and the Prime Minister going ashore on the first day of the invasion would have torn the fabric of space-time with too much epic awesomeness.

Some of the most poignant and prophetic words about German belligerence in the tense autumn of 1939 belong, improbably, to a Czech diplomat—Mr. Jan Masaryk.  He was Czechoslovakia’s ambassador to Britain; at least until he resigned in protest in September of 1938.  The catalyst, naturally, was Chamberlain signing away the Sudetenland to the Third Reich.  Speaking in London on August 27th, 1939, Masaryk offered up this candid and accurate assessment:

jan_masaryk

Mr. Jan Masaryk, Czech Ambassador to the United Kingdom, 1939

      2. Czech Ambassador on Poland situation

…One thing is very definitely sure.  If the war starts, it will be Hitler who is the guilty party.  I do not wish to deny that the unbelievable policy of the Western democracies has helped Hitler to this fortunate or tragic position.  History will prove that most efficiently and conclusively.

…If there is even a vestige of the Munich spirit left to initiate these negotiations, they are doomed to be a dismal failure.

The only possible chance of success without bloodshed is for Hitler to climb down from the Trojan Horse on which he has galloped from Munich to Berlin, and then to Vienna, Memel, Prague and so forth, and now toward Warsaw.  From now on he must walk, even walk backwards a bit.

Let me be perfectly frank; I believe I have the right to be so.  If Hitler attempts another bloodless victory for vulgar gangsterism, and the world—including the United States of America—let him get away with it, I have no illusions about the future of the European civilisation.

— Jan Masaryk to the BBC, 27 August 1939

Oh that we would have such discernment today.

RELATED: Publius at Gods of the Copybook Headings recounts the early days of the “Phony War”, leading off with Chamberlain’s declaration of war.

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Islam and Women

lil-kim-burqa

Lil' Kim, wearing the traditional garb of the hip-hop provocateur

As I have mentioned before in this space, a great many of Islam’s problems with modernity are self-inflicted, and most are structural—if not foundational.  A prime example would be its attitude toward women, which begets aesthetic nightmares like the burqa, and jurisprudential nightmares like punishing a rape victim for having the temerity to get raped.  It can be difficult for those of us who were born and raised in Western secular democracies to really grasp that large chunks of the world live under these beliefs.  They are so very alien from the rhetoric and pop culture we are saturated with from an early age.  But understanding how Islam views its women is to understand how it will always and forever be at war with human nature itself.

A woman’s subordinate status is well-defined in Islamic texts.  Men are superior to women because they have are appointed so by Allah, and have greater economic clout; and if a Muslim husband suspects rebellion from his wives, he should admonish them, refuse sex, and finally administer corporal punishment [Quran 4:34].  Islamic men enjoy greater rights than women [Quran 2:228], women are worth only half of men [Quran 2:282] and they will inherit only half of that given to men (i.e. brother, husband) [Quran 4:11 and 4:176].  Even the timing and frequency of sex is left at a husband’s discretion [Quran 2:223].

Perhaps most illuminating is Mohammed’s warnings about women in extra-Koranic writings (the Hadith, still considered to be divinely inspired).  Take this passage [Sahih Muslim 8.3240]:

Jabir reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zainab, as she was tanning a leather and had sexual intercourse with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: The woman advances and retires in the shape of a devil, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart.

It is the woman’s fault, in other words, that the desires of man are inflamed.  The idea that Mohammed ought to have turned his mind to other, less sensual thoughts, or have tried to proceed with the day’s business, are not considered.  He must rush home and have sex once the thought has been planted in his mind.  His wife Zainab, meanwhile, was tanning leather—the ancient practice involved urine and animal feces, among other delightful ingredients—and had to drop her odoriferous business to get it on.  Sounds like a nice, romantic setting for a quickie.

This is without considering the slaves/concubines that Mohammed took; such as Rayhana, pretty survivor of the exterminated Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza.  And 17-year-old Safiyah, whose father and brothers were among the dead Banu Qurayza, and whose husband Mohammed tortured and executed after taking Khaybar.  Lest the monstrosity of these situations escape you, ask your wife or girlfriend if she would be ready to bed your murderer two or three hours after you died howling in agony.  Let us not be deceived that there was anything even remotely consensual about these pairings.

Taken in the aggregate, we can see that Mohammed was a man of enormous sexual appetites, and these appetites are factored into the very fibre of Islamic law.  Wife Zaynab bint Jahsh, mentioned above, was previously Mohammed’s daughter-in-law.  Pre-Islamic Arab customs deemed it improper for a father-in-law to marry his daughter-in-law upon the death of his son; it would have been considered akin to incest.  Mohammed explicitly went out of his way to change this in Islamic law, claiming divine blessing for that change.  Similarly while Mohammed promulgated an edict for his followers, limiting them to just four wives, he himself had nine (and many concubines beside).  Later Islamic theologians justified such polygyny this way:

It is preferable for a person with temperament so overcome by desire that one woman cannot curb it to have more than one woman, up to four. For God will grant him love and mercy, and will appease his heart by them [women]; if not, replacing them is recommended. Seven nights after the death of Fatimah, ‘Ali got married. It is said that al-Hasan, the son of ‘Ali, was a great lover having married more than two hundred women. Perhaps he would marry four at a time, and perhaps he would divorce four at a time replacing them with others. The Prophet said to al-Hasan, “You resemble me in appearance and in char­acter.”  He also said, “Hasan takes after me and Husayn takes after Ali.”  It was said that his indulgence in marriage is one of the characteristics in which he resembled the Messenger of God as well as al-Mughirah Ibn Shu’bah who married eighty women.”  Among the companions were those who had three and four [wives] while those who had two cannot be counted.

No matter how well known the inducement, the cure should be in proportion to the ailment; for the aim is tranquilizing one’s self, and therefore this must be taken into consideration in de­ciding how many wives one should have.

— al-Ghazali, Imam Abu Hamid.  “Advantages and Disadvantages of Marriage.”  Book XII: On the Etiquette of Marriage. Ihya Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences).  c. 1050-1100 A.D.  Translated by Madelain Farah. [Emphasis mine]

As we see, one of the justifications of Islamic marriage and polygyny is to satiate or tranquilise the male sex drive.  Satiating the female sex drive is somewhat of a lower priority.  Furthermore, while formless, baggy female garb (abaya and burqa) are portrayed here in the West as a safeguard against inflaming male passion, it is more properly understood to be a safeguard against unleashing the base sexual desires of the female:

As a royal princess in an Islamic country (Malaysia), and originally hailing from Australia, I was required, after my marriage, to undertake four years of Islamic study under the tutelage of the Royal Household’s Iman and religious teacher.  We used text books primarily sourced from Pakistan and Egypt which had been specially printed in English for converts to Islam, as well as long tracts of the Koran and my tutor’s own knowledge and interpretations as he was a respected scholar nationally.

These twice weekly classes over four years, were never undertaken between myself and my teacher without the presence of my servants, or another royal lady who acted as chaperones – not for my chastity or purity, but, as the Iman explained to me, for his!  He truly believed that I, or any woman, could not be trusted in the lone company of a male without the baser instincts of the female gender coming to the fore.

…I was taught scores of things by the Royal Iman, the beauty of many tracts of the Koran, the cadence of the Arabic language; but much of the teachings, as opposed to the Koran itself, were strictly cultural and archaic, rather than the pure religious teachings of the Koran.  I learnt that the primary reason women are required by Islamic societies (the majority of which are patriarchal) to swathe themselves in fabrics and cover their collar bones, necks, arms, legs, ankles, calves, chests, elbows, shoulders, throats, thighs, ears, napes of necks, hair and in some cases, faces, is that women are culturally condemned to the roll (sic) of seductress and are considered untrustworthy, immoral humans, driven to tempt men and bring down the bastions of male self-control. The fine shape of an ankle, or a tendril of hair – a glimpse of which can send a mere male into a sexual frenzy, are the tools of seduction.  In essence and to outline it crudely – the veil, much lauded by so called Islamic teachings, is a protection for men against we voracious vixens of the mortal world. Not, as so many pundits state, a protection for women against men.

— Pascarl, Jacqueline.  “The truth behind the burqa.The Punch, 25 June 2009. [Emphasis mine]

I would offer that Ms. Pascarl’s observations seem to be borne out by Islamic tracts, especially al-Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences.  The upshot is that Islamic thought deems human beings of both sexes incapable of sexual self-control.  The unshrouded woman will inevitably fall into come-hither movements of her neck, arms, legs, ankles, et cetera.  Women, in Islamic cosmology, are always “asking for it”.  Men, in contrast, are minding their own business and going about Allah’s work until they see the telltales of female desire—exposed face and extremities—and are cast into the throes of sexual passion.

Qatadah said, in interpreting the words of the Almighty, “Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear”: that is, lust. It is said that ‘Akramah and Mujahid interpreted the Almighty’s words “for man was created weak” [Qur’an  4:28] by saying, “He cannot refrain from women.” Fay­yad b. Najih said that “When the male experiences an erection, he loses two-thirds of his mind”; others say “He loses a third of his religion.”  One of the rare interpretations rendered by Ibn ‘Abbas of the verse “From the evil of the darkness when it is intense” [Qur’an 113:3] is to the male erection, which is an over­powering catastrophe should it rage, as no mind or religion can resist it; for, although it can become an impetus for the two lives as was mentioned earlier, it is the devil’s strongest instrument against the sons of Adam.  To this he referred in these words: “Among those who are deficient in intelligence and religion, I have never seen any who are more successful than you [women] in prevailing over those [men] of intelligence.”  And that is because of the rage of desire.  The Prophet said in his invocation, “O God! I seek refuge in Thee from the evils of my hearing, my seeing, my heart, and the evils of my semen.” He also said, “I ask you to purify my heart and safeguard my genitals”; so how can there be laxity for others wherefrom the Messenger of God seeks refuge.

— al-Ghazali, Imam Abu Hamid.  “Advantages and Disadvantages of Marriage.”  Book XII: On the Etiquette of Marriage. Ihya Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences).  c. 1050-1100 A.D.  Translated by Madelain Farah.

Now a sane person can recognise that all women are not constantly, unconsciously beckoning for sex.  And likewise all men will not be seized with sexual desire when sighting the nape of a woman’s neck.  But this is the heart of Islam’s off-kilter gender relations; a construct which is not only at odds with modernity, but at odds with human nature itself.  Logic says that the devout Muslim women ought to be considered the ones capable of wandering around without a body-shroud, as they are presumably less likely to fall into sexual sin.  But in many Islamic nations women are required to don formless sacks when venturing out in public.  Not to prevent men from molesting them, but to prevent them from seducing a male to molestation.  A small but crucial difference.  One may justifiably ask what is the point of Islamic devotion if even the devout are perceived to be a hair-trigger away from having unbridled, unauthorised sex with each other?

This warped view of gender roles is foundational—it is built into the example of Mohammed himself.  To excise it will cast doubt on the entire enterprise of Islam, because Mohammed is its penultimate prophet and literal “perfect man”.  To chip away at his deeds begs the question of why, and if Mohammed was in error, then he cannot very well have been a perfect man after all.  This defining feature of its founder is why Islam is uniquely resistant to the importation of gentler humanist thought.  Having already defined perfection in a hideously imperfect exemplar, it will never be able to evolve beyond it.

SEMI-RELATED: Attorney Rafia Zakaria, writing in the Daily Times (Pakistan), laments the laughable state of public morality in many Muslim nations, leading authorities to punish women for the heinous crimes of wearing pants in public, and drinking beer.  Somewhat less comprehensible is the apprehension that, given the proclivities of Mohammed himself, Islam can ever fully divest itself of its misogyny.  One gets the impression that, like many other faith communities, an awful lot of Muslims don’t actually know the life of their founder terribly well.

Afghan Shiite men permitted to starve wives who do not consent to sex

Like the Flea says, Canadian soldiers should not be fighting and dying for this.

Bowing to international pressure and unprecedented protests by hundreds of women on the streets of Kabul, the Afghan government promised in April to review a new law imposing severe restrictions on women in Shiite Muslim families.

Last week, though, Human Rights Watch discovered that a revised version of the Shiite Personal Status Law had been quietly put into effect at the end of July — meaning that Shiite men in Afghanistan now have the legal right to starve their wives if their sexual demands are not met and that Shiite women must obtain permission from their husbands to even leave their houses, “except in extreme circumstances.”

The new law was signed by President Hamid Karzai, who is depending on support from Sheik Muhammad Asif Mohseni, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric, in this week’s presidential election.

— Mackey, Robert.  “Afghan Husbands Win Right to Starve Wives“, The Lede—New York Times Blog, 17 August 2009.

Bringing democracy to a country is quite different from bringing it into compliance with 21st century Western cultural norms.  Our ability to turn Afghanistan around depends entirely on our ability to transmit Enlightenment values; a secular public sphere, free enquiry, individual autonomy, private property, equality under law, and, above all, liberty.

Subtract any one of these and moribund 7th century autocracy will slowly but surely reassert itself.

It is fine and good to have boots on the ground and protecting hamlets from domination by their former Taliban masters, but who is drawing the “This is why Afghanistan was such a stagnant armpit before, so this is what we need to do differently today” flowcharts for current and future Afghan legislators?

The idea that we should let the Afghans sort it out for themselves over the course of decades or centuries seems profoundly misguided.  Think of all the women who will be born, starved and raped under that long, slow march toward a gentler future.  We wouldn’t have permitted Germans to go on slaughtering Jews, or Japanese to go on raping Korean and Chinese women, under the notion that undoing nazification and bushido cult militarism would take generations.  We sped up the process a little.

The West is stalemated in this war not because it lacks manpower or matériel, but because it has ignored the critical mission of propagating its core philosophy.  But then I suppose it can’t very well propagate something it no longer believes in.

Fighting back against pirates might actually work

Exhibit A:
BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) – The crews of two Egyptian fishing vessels have escaped from Somali pirates after overpowering their captors and killing two of them, an associate of the pirates said on Friday.
The kidnappers had held the 34 fishermen hostage since hijacking the Momtaz 1 and Samara Ahmed in April. Gunmen from the failed Horn of Africa state have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from attacks in the strategic Gulf of Aden.
An associate of the pirates told Reuters the Egyptians escaped on Thursday after seizing his colleagues’ weapons. Two pirates were killed in a shoot-out, several were captured and one was rescued after being stabbed and thrown into the sea.
— Hassan, Abdiqani.  “Egyptian fishermen escape from Somali pirates.”  Reuters, 14 August 2009.
And that was just a handful of civilian prisoners.
Imagine what might be possible if, say, Combined Task Force

Exhibit A:

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) – The crews of two Egyptian fishing vessels have escaped from Somali pirates after overpowering their captors and killing two of them, an associate of the pirates said on Friday.

The kidnappers had held the 34 fishermen hostage since hijacking the Momtaz 1 and Samara Ahmed in April. Gunmen from the failed Horn of Africa state have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from attacks in the strategic Gulf of Aden.

An associate of the pirates told Reuters the Egyptians escaped on Thursday after seizing his colleagues’ weapons. Two pirates were killed in a shoot-out, several were captured and one was rescued after being stabbed and thrown into the sea.

— Hassan, Abdiqani.  “Egyptian fishermen escape from Somali pirates.Reuters, 14 August 2009.

And that was just a handful of civilian prisoners.

Imagine what might be possible if, say, the international fleet of the clueless (a.k.a. Combined Task Force 150) actually got permission to hunt down pirates.

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A desirable condition and one that didn’t happen by accident

Through a smoky haze, the sun beams down on an F-22 Raptor July 10 on the flightline at Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Laura Turner)

Through a smoky haze, the sun beams down on an F-22 Raptor July 10 on the flightline at Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Laura Turner)

General Merrill A. McPeak (USAF, Ret), former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and co-chair of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, speaks out on why the administration is wrong to cancel the F-22 program, and thereby intentionally degrade America’s conventional air capabilities.

High-end conventional war is characterized by the clash of industrial forces. It’s armored, mechanized and increasingly air-power centric. Few are equipped by training or temperament to understand the phenomenon, especially as it concerns air warfare, a relatively recent aspect of the human experience…  But the bottom line is that in high-end conventional war, neither our Army nor Navy can be defeated unless someone first defeats our Air Force.

For high-end conventional war we’ve built an Air Force that, for now, is virtually unbeatable… So today, no one in his right mind wants to fight us in a conventional war. Many are saying this another way: that we have no “peer competitor,” that there is no threat of high-end conventional war. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that, but, if it is so, it is a desirable condition and one that didn’t happen by accident.

We have forced anyone with a bone to pick with us to find an alternative to high-end, conventional war… in this sort of war our existence is not threatened, that we can regulate the resource input. It can be expensive in men and material, but we cannot be defeated militarily.

When the enemy succeeds, it is because we do not defeat him and then weary of the fight. This is not a good outcome, but it is better—and much cheaper for us in lives and treasure—than losing a high-end, conventional conflict.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why we should wish to change this.

— McPeak, Merill A.  “Why We Need the F-22.Wall Street Journal, 09 August 2009.

I am tempted to reprint the whole thing, short seven paragraphs that it is, but have settled for heavily abridging the general’s remarks.  It is worth reading the whole thing.

The one mystery being, for a man that thinks so clearly about the benefits of air power, why would he want to elect an administration whose thinking about military matters is anything but clear?

PERHAPS IT’S NOT SO MYSTERIOUS AFTER ALL: Robert M. Goldberg, writing in the American Spectator, calls out General McPeak on many of his odd statements about Israel (and its American supporters) in the past.  Which were not all that dissimilar to those offered up by others associated with Obama (Rev. Wright comes to mind).

It is a shame that an essential message about air power will undoubtedly get lost in the fact that he’s a bit of a kook.

A lot of F-22 critics take the position that 187 birds is enough right now, given that we are fighting primarily asymmetric foes.  The broader (and unanswered) counterpoint is that the F-22 is going to serve for another 30 to 50 years, just as the F-15s they built in the 70s will be flying through their 30s to late 40s.  Will 187 Raptors be enough to see the United States through all of the training, attrition losses, and wars of the next 50 years?  I would not be prepared to bet the farm on that, either.  That’s why the national military strategy called 381 Raptors a “low risk” number.  Which would make a mere 187 of them something much more risky indeed.

RELATED: Just A Grunt at JammieWearingFool pens an ode to the ultimate close air support (CAS) aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt II (a.k.a. Warthog).  Along the way he also says something of such tremendous significance that it’s hard to believe I have not yet heard an Air Force general make the very same argument:

They were originally built and manufactured during the 80’s to counter the expected massive Soviet armor onslaught, should the Cold War ever become a shooting war. Once the Cold War was declared over the Air Force toyed with the idea of doing away with them, at which time the Army said not so fast and begin to lobby to have the planes added to their inventory. Well the thought of having Army personnel flying fixed wing aircraft was so abhorrent to the Air Force that they decided to keep them. A decision that many a grunt has applauded and continues to praise to this day.

Somehow that sort of argument was lost in the debate when the decision was made to scrap the F22. It is better to have something in the arsenal and not use it then to have to 10 years down the road point fingers and play the woulda, coulda, shoulda game.

It’s ironic that the very argument the Air Force used unsuccessfully against the A-10 (i.e. it’s an aircraft built to counter a Cold War threat that no longer exists) has now been successfully deployed against the F-22.  Only this time there is no other service branch lobbying to keep it around.

Somebody get Congress on the phone, quick.

The hidden cost of an aging fleet

General John J. Hoffman, chief of Air Force Materiel Command, has a realistic view of how a geriatric fleet with varying degrees of combat utility is going to fly and fight.  In an interview related by Air Force magazine’s executive editor John Tirpak, General Hoffman paints a bleak but pragmatic picture of the materiel challenges facing the United States Air Force.

In an interview, Hoffman said the Air Force has been lurching from one potentially fleet-grounding mechanical issue to another with its legacy combat forces. He noted the need to unexpectedly rewing the A-10 fleet, fix numerous F-16s with cracked bulkheads, and cope with last year’s grounding of F-15s due to longeron problems.

Hoffman said the Air Force will “get through” the current spate of structural problems, but he can’t provide any assurances that such events won’t become the rule.

“Is there another event behind any of those? Sure, could be,” Hoffman said. “We could have the whole fleet back on the ground with another event.”

— John A. Tirpak.  “Washington Watch“, Air Force magazine, May 2009.

One of the prime challenges facing USAF is a lack of funds for fleet modernisation and recapitalisation.  In today’s funding environment, there is a very real possibility that today’s upgrade programs will take so long to approve and execute, that they will be obsolete by the time the capability is fielded.

He noted that a new radar in the F-15E offers a profound reduction in mean time between failure rates. Over time, the new radar “pays for itself” in cost avoidance. However, it’s “going to take us 20 years to actually install it,” given the funds available. After only a few years, he said, he’s certain that USAF will face a “vanishing vendor” issue wherein some of the parts will be out of production. The upgrade would more sensibly have been done over three or four years, but the lack of up-front investment dollars blunts the savings.

And worst of all, some of today’s close air support systems will still be considered front-line aircraft when the F-22 starts retiring.

Although he feels confident USAF can keep old aircraft flying safely for a long while, the real issue is “whether they’re still relevant” militarily.

The F-22 may be the newest aircraft on the ramp, but within a decade, the first operational models will near their planned service lives of 8,000 hours, Hoffman said. To reduce wear and tear on the Raptors and get them to last longer, the Air Force reduced the amount of close-in dogfight training that F-22 pilots do.

Further, “I’ve tasked the system to think forward into the later ’teens about what a life extension program would look like on that aircraft,” Hoffman said. He thinks the wings could be replaced, but the complex composite materials and sophisticated electronics would be trickier.

Still, “we’ll be retiring [F-22s] while we’re still flying A-10s. Something doesn’t seem quite right about that.”

The F-22 faces an additional challenge as it ages, because it incorporates a lot of composite materials.  In aluminum aircraft, when a major structural part ages out, the aircraft can be dissasembled, the part replaced, and the aircraft riveted back together.  But composite aircraft can’t be taken apart and rebuilt so easily.  They have no rivets or plates that can be pulled apart easily.  The composite material forms a seamless woven shell.  Carving up the aerodynamic shell to refit major structural parts, refurbishing or replacing them, and then rebuilding the composite weave, is something that has never been done on a composite airframe to date.  The Raptor will be among the first.  (This is also, incidentally, a challenge that will be faced by Boeing’s brand new 787 Dreamliner, another composite-heavy airframe.)

In the long run, though, the Air Force faces some hard choices about the kind of aircraft it can expect to field on Day One of a war, and which airframes will be too weak or vulnerable to put in harm’s way right away.

Fighting with a mixed fleet will require the Air Force to sort its capabilities into “Day 1, Day 2” systems that can penetrate enemy airspace, and “Week 2” capabilities that can only operate when defenses have been beaten down, Hoffman observed.

“In extremis,” he said, the Air Force may have to “put more risk on the operators.”

To defeat enemy defenses, Hoffman said USAF will have to think in terms of persistent systems that will have to be survivable—through stealth, speed, or standoff range—or expendable items such as drones or missiles whose loss can be tolerated. He prefers to frame the choices in that context rather than in terms of “stand in [and] stand off.”

The short version, one suspects, is that the F-22 and F-35 are the Day 1 and Day 2 systems.  Week 2 is all the vintage hardware and slow UCAVs that require the safety of a permissive environment.

The brass, bless them, are self-aware enough to realise how they got into this sad state of affairs.

The Air Force’s combat fleet is in crisis in large part because the Pentagon hasn’t applied a consistent formula for deciding how many aircraft are needed, what capabilities they should have, or how often they should be bought. Now, there aren’t enough, and most of the inventory is aging out.

So said retired Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former head of Air Force Materiel Command, who noted that most of the choices made in the last decade about USAF’s future combat inventory were arbitrary, based on cost rather than strategy. He urged that the Air Force adopt a firm formula, with measurable elements, that will clearly justify the pacing of new aircraft buys.

“Where we may have gone astray as a nation [is] in following basic principles of force structure development and force sizing and force structure replacement,” Martin said.

“We are in a crisis … brought about by not having a rule set that is basic, easy to articulate, and [able to] … sustain a modernization or recapitalization program.” The Navy, he said, has been successful in laying out and defending such a plan, based on the number of carrier traps each aircraft endures. The commercial airline industry uses a standard based on number of flights, after which aircraft are retired because new technology offers operating savings.

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar to Canadian readers, it is because that is exactly how our own NDHQ handles Canadian military procurement.  Like USAF, the CF doesn’t have a basic rule set, that is easy to explain—to politicians or the Canadian public—as to why we need X number of assets for mission Y, for an expected lifetime of Z years.  But don’t expect our own brass or their media boosters to wise up any time soon.  The problem, we are continually told, lies with our politicians and their inability to properly understand and fund the defence establishment.  As opposed to the chronic inability (not to mention sheer unwillingness) of the Canadian defence establishment to effectively communicate its roles, missions and requirements to the people that pay its salaries and buy its gear.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t expect politicians—who are overwhelmingly lawyers—to develop a sudden and burning interest in the minutiae of operational procedures and the assets that make them possible.  I do, however, expect that as a bare minimum, some members of the uniformed services might see the wisdom of boiling their roles and requirements down to simple-to-understand metrics, such that a lawyer, unschooled in the martial way of life, might be inclined to fund them.  Failure to do this is, in my mind, not entirely the fault of the lawyer.  It is the fault of the senior uniformed brass who, quite frankly, are negligent or incompetent in the execution of their duties if they cannot manage this task.  It is what they are paid to do. If they can’t do it very well, I’m not inclined to throw up my hands and sigh that we need better politicians.  The military has, historically, crafted its combat leaders from among the ranks of the enlistee pool.  It didn’t sigh and wait for steely men of courage to appear magically.  It taught Ordinary Joes what they needed to know, why they needed to know it, and when to employ it.  Likewise, the armed forces have to take a more active hand in trying to craft the political leadership that they need.  The CF (and USAF) need to build bridges across the mindspace divide, and help politicians understand what they do and how the newest billion-dollar gizmo will help.  Help demonstrably.  Help in neatly defined measurable ways.  If the US Navy can do it, other services can too.

There’s one other realm where a Canadian negative example may be instructive to the United States Air Force.  We have a lot of experience operating old, decrepit gear.  This is something I hear touted all the time, particularly in relation to our CC-130Es, and can’t quite understand why it is supposed to be a source of pride.  So we have some of the highest-time C-130s on the planet.  The ability to keep them in the air is due to some incredible work by the aircraft maintainers, and they have every reason to feel satisfaction at that effort.  Everyone else does not; in fact, they should feel an overwhelming sense of shame.

Airframes age every time they fly, every time stress is placed upon the wing box and spars, every time they climb into the thinner air above 10,000 feet, every time their cabin is pressurised and depressurised.  These are not vintage cars that get trotted out at shows and paraded to envious admirers a couple of times each summer.  These are working aircraft that have to be mission-ready every day, and certainly ready more often than they are not.  When they become breakdown-prone ramp queens, that inversion of work vs. reward has serious consequences.  Ancient aircraft get flight restrictions placed on them, like our oldest CC-130s.  That means that they are no longer capable of doing the job they are supposed to do, that they were bought to do.  They can no longer carry the maximum payload they were originally rated for.  They cannot execute the most demanding combat manoeuvres lest their wing boxes fail and they fall out of the sky.  They have to be treated more gingerly than their younger brethren, and in combat that might translate into the difference between life and death.  For every hour they spend in the air, they increasingly spend several times that on the ramp, undergoing maintenance.  So the maintainers work like dogs to keep them airworthy.  And this is where a modern air force frays at the seams, and eventually fails.

Faced with an ever-increasing maintenance workload, and no chance of getting newer assets, you have three choices.  Hire more maintainers to keep the work hours reasonable.  Fly the assets less often, reducing the maintenance workload.  Finally, since this is the military, you have the option of compelling the maintainers to work more often and for longer duration than they would like.  All three of these will work in the short term, but ultimately results in highly skilled technical trades voting with their feet.  They leave the service, tired of years of extraordinary, unrelenting, unrewarded effort.  This sad state of affairs is not cause for pride; it is a national disgrace.

Yet that is precisely what has been happening with the Canadian Forces since the mid-90s, and continues to happen into the present day.  The low-density, high-demand fields of vehicle, aircraft, marine and electronics technicians are being highly utilised, their workload is increasing exponentially, and the CF cannot recruit and train replacements fast enough to keep the finely-tuned apparatus of a modern force operating smoothly.  This is why we have ridiculous operational pauses every couple of years; to try and catch up.  But we never quite do catch up, because the workload—owing to the age of the assets—is always going up.  The trend never reverses, unless and until the old failure-prone assets get replaced by newer, more reliable gear.

This, then, is the forseeable (but entirely avoidable) future of the United States Air Force.  Let us hope the senior uniformed and political leadership have the courage to fix it.