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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt, The Shia - Sunni Split in Islam and Sid's Clan Gathers

The G.O.P. Needs Another "Rough Rider"

Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th President when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.  He won his own term in 1904 but chose not to run in 1908 and his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, was elected.  (Both Roosevelt and Taft were Republicans, which all of our Presidents except Grover Cleveland had been from the Civil War until that time.)  Once Taft took office, Roosevelt became disillusioned with him because he failed to fight for the progressive agenda Roosevelt had championed.  As a result, in 1912 Roosevelt again threw his hat in the ring and ran as a third party candidate. (The Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won the election, but Roosevelt amassed more electoral votes for his “Bull Moose” party than President Taft did as a Republican.)

During the campaign, Roosevelt pushed for minimum wage laws, conservation, women’s suffrage, safer workplaces, an eight-hour workday and regulating, but not destroying, monopolies.  This was an agenda which the “regular” Republicans who supported President Taft were reluctant to pursue and was the motivating force in causing Roosevelt to run.  This agenda is the reason Theodore Roosevelt’s likeness is sculpted atop Mount Rushmore, along with those of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

Americans should remember that Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, and that his progressive agenda was a Republican agenda! Sadly, today’s Republican Party always votes against the present day version of that agenda.  In those days, the Democrats were still catering to those backward-looking folks in the South who were reluctant to buy into the results of the Civil War, a role Republicans fill today.  Today’s Republicans even repudiate the 2012 Affordable Care Act which actually was part of a progressive Republican agenda developed as an alternative to a government-run “single payor” health plan.
It is time for intelligent Republicans to refuse to go along with policies dictated by that party’s right wing, a direction the G.O.P. follows in order to hold Congressional seats in carefully gerrymandered districts.  These are policies which Theodore Roosevelt would abhor.

It is time for thinking Republicans to show the kind of guts which Teddy Roosevelt manifested in 1912 when he decided to run against his own party’s backsliding candidate, in effect conceding the election to the Democrats.   The pending immigration legislation would be a good place to start, opening the way for the G.O.P. to endorse more progressive legislation in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt.  Otherwise, its candidates will go the way of William Howard Taft, with or without a “Bull Moose” challenge. 
Jack Lippman  

The Origins of the Shia – Sunni Split in Islam

Many believe that the continuing instability in Iraq and the civil war in Syria are really manifestations of the ongoing conflict between the two main branches of Islam, the Shia and the Sunni.  We frequently refer to that conflict, but how much do with really know about its origins?  With that in mind, I reproduce the following article by Mike Shuster which appeared about six years ago on the NPR web site.  Knowing the difference between Shia and Sunni is crucial for anyone who attempts to understand anything that is going on in the Middle East.  

It's not known precisely how many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are Shia. The Shia are a minority, comprising between 10 percent and 15 percent of the Muslim population — certainly fewer than 200 million, all told.The Shia are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and southern Lebanon. But there are significant Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia and Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well. Although the origins of the Sunni-Shia split were violent, over the centuries Shia and Sunnis lived peacefully together for long periods of time.  But that appears to be giving way to a new period of spreading conflict in the Middle East between Shia and Sunni.

"There is definitely an emerging struggle between Sunni and Shia to define not only the pattern of local politics, but also the relationship between the Islamic world and the West," says Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown University, author of Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran.  That struggle is most violent and dangerous now in Iraq, but it is a struggle that could spread to many Arab nations in the Middle East and to Iran, which is Persian.  One other factor about the Shia bears mentioning. "Shiites constitute 80 percent of the native population of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region," notes Yitzhak Nakash, author of The Shi'is of Iraq.  Shia predominate where there is oil in Iran, in Iraq and in the oil-rich areas of eastern Saudi Arabia as well.

The Partisans of Ali

The original split between Sunnis and Shia occurred soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, in the year 632.  "There was a dispute in the community of Muslims in present-day Saudi Arabia over the question of succession," says Augustus Norton, author of Hezbollah: A Short History. "That is to say, who is the rightful successor to the Prophet?"  Most of the Prophet Muhammad's followers wanted the community of Muslims to determine who would succeed him. A smaller group thought that someone from his family should take up his mantle. They favored Ali, who was married to Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah. 

"Shia believed that leadership should stay within the family of the Prophet," notes Gregory Gause, professor of Middle East politics at the University of Vermont. "And thus they were the partisans of Ali, his cousin and son-in-law. Sunnis believed that leadership should fall to the person who was deemed by the elite of the community to be best able to lead the community. And it was fundamentally that political division that began the Sunni-Shia split."  The Sunnis prevailed and chose a successor to be the first caliph.

Eventually, Ali was chosen as the fourth caliph, but not before violent conflict broke out. Two of the earliest caliphs were murdered. War erupted when Ali became caliph, and he too was killed in fighting in the year 661 near the town of Kufa, now in present-day Iraq.  The violence and war split the small community of Muslims into two branches that would never reunite.

The war continued with Ali's son, Hussein, leading the Shia. "Hussein rejected the rule of the caliph at the time," says Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival. "He stood up to the caliph's very large army on the battlefield. He and 72 members of his family and companions fought against a very large Arab army of the caliph. They were all massacred."  Hussein was decapitated and his head was carried in tribute to the Sunni caliph in Damascus. His body was left on the battlefield at Karbala. Later it was buried there.  It is the symbolism of Hussein's death that holds so much spiritual power for Shia.

"An innocent spiritual figure is in many ways martyred by a far more powerful, unjust force," Nasr says. "He becomes the crystallizing force around which a faith takes form and takes inspiration."

The Twelfth Imam

The Shia called their leaders imam, Ali being the first, Hussein the third. They commemorate Hussein's death every year in a public ritual of self-flagellation and mourning known as Ashura.  The significance of the imams is one of the fundamental differences that separate the two branches of Islam. The imams have taken on a spiritual significance that no clerics in Sunni Islam enjoy.  "Some of the Sunnis believe that some of the Shia are actually attributing almost divine qualities to the imams, and this is a great sin," Gause says, "because it is associating human beings with the divinity. And if there is one thing that's central to Islamic teaching, it is the oneness of God."

This difference is especially powerful when it comes to the story of the Twelfth Imam, known as the Hidden Imam.  "In the 10th century," says Vali Nasr, "the 12th Shiite Imam went into occultation. Shiites believe God took him into hiding, and he will come back at the end of time. He is known as the Mahdi or the messiah. So in many ways the Shiites, much like Jews or Christians, are looking for the coming of the Messiah."  Those who believe in the Hidden Imam are known as Twelver Shia. They comprise the majority of Shia in the world today

"Twelver Shiism is itself a kind of messianic faith," Brumberg says. It is based "on a creed that the full word and meaning of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad's message will only be made manifest, or real and just, upon the return of the Twelfth Imam, this messianic figure."
Women walk in the courtyard of the Jamkaran mosque outside the holy city of Qom, Iran. Women walk in the courtyard of the Jamkaran mosque outside the holy city of Qom, Iran, Sept. 8, 2006.

Political Power Fuels Religious Split

Over the next centuries, Islam clashed with the European Crusaders, with the Mongol conquerors from Central Asia, and was spread further by the Ottoman Turks.  By the year 1500, Persia was a seat of Sunni Islamic learning, but all that was about to change with the arrival of Azeri conquerors. They established the Safavid dynasty in Persia — modern-day Iran — and made it Shiite.  "That dynasty actually came out of what's now eastern Turkey," says Gregory Gause. "They were a Turkic dynasty, one of the leftovers of the Mongol invasions that had disrupted the Middle East for a couple of centuries. The Safavid dynasty made it its political project to convert Iran into a Shia country."  Shiism gradually became the glue that held Persia together and distinguished it from the Ottoman Empire to its west, which was Sunni, and the Mughal Muslims to the east in India, also Sunni.  This was the geography of Shiite Islam, and it would prevail into the 20th century.

There were periods of conflict and periods of peace. But the split remained and would, in the second half of the 20th century, turn out to be one of the most important factors in the upheavals that have ravaged the Middle East.  "Why has there been such a long and protracted disagreement and tension between these two sects?" asks Ray Takeyh, author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic. "It has to do with political power."  In the 20th century, that meant a complex political dynamic involving Sunni and Shia, Arabs and Persians, colonizers and colonized, oil, and the involvement of the superpowers.


Sid's Corner



On the weekend of June 1, 2013 my wife and I flew up to western Massachusetts to be with our progeny to celebrate our youngest son’s surprise fiftieth birthday party. Our coming was to be part of the surprise because it would be only about seven weeks after my hip replacement surgery in early April. An added incentive was our children’s desire to use the clan’s gathering to also celebrate my imminent eightieth birthday on the fifth of June.

Although I was being diligent, determined, and devoted to my physical therapy, when I first learned of the intended gathering three weeks earlier, I had my doubts that I would be able to accomplish the trek from Florida…especially having to deal with the many stairs at Mitch’s house where we’d be housed on the second floor. With my therapist’s positive encouragement I applied my self even more vigorously to my exercises and bought flight tickets…along with insurance, just in case. As I grew stronger, my therapist added stair climbing to my routine and even had me practice stepping over a tub rim to prep me for showering at my son’s house…without the benefit of grab bars.

Jet Blue volunteered to comp us front row extra-room seats with me in an aisle seat on the right side of the plane to allow me to stretch out my left leg. They also assured us that a wheel chair would be available to take me from curbside, through security, and to the gate…and reverse the journey upon arrival.

Because one of my grandsons and his new girlfriend picked us up in Hartford, we had a joyous time at lunch and got to know her during the drive to Mitch’s home in Northampton…just north of Springfield. As was the case for our clan’s gathering on Cape Cod in 2012, I was thrilled once more to be treated like luggage and not have to deal with a car rental.

When Mitch returned in late Saturday afternoon from the arranged subterfuge golfing excursion with his two sons, nephew, and his oldest brother, he was duly surprised by the gathering of his friends and family secretly arranged by his beloved wife. Although he denied suspicions regarding the party (he had spotted the tent from the road), he did avow real astonishment that my wife and I had made the journey…especially me with my brand new bionic hip.

The weather cooperated with temperatures into the nineties…warmer than Florida to my wife’s delight…enabling us to sit at tables under the tent. Everyone was astonished to discover that the buffet featuring four entrees, four sides, and two salad selections were prepared by Mitch’s wife, not catered. My oldest son’s wife supplemented the goodies with her own home-made appetizers. The feasting and toasting went on until close to midnight.

The grandchildren were especially solicitous of my needs by hovering over me to assure that they fetched my food and drink, as well as being an assist when I needed to navigate the few stairs leading off the porch to access the tent. In addition the plan to climb over the upstairs bathtub’s rim was negated by Mitch’s insistent demand that I not risk a fall and use the walk-in stall shower off the mudroom on the first floor.

The clan camped out throughout the house, enjoyed a late breakfast on Sunday, went for a hike through the woods, and lazed around until mid afternoon when my wife and I were surprised by the arrival of our oldest grandson and his new wife who had driven three-and-one-half hours from New York to surprise us.

With the clan’s full complement of seventeen plus a wife and a girl friend seated along both sides of long tables placed end-to-end I gazed down the length of the array from my position as patriarch at the head and was filled with gratitude that I had been able to come to the gathering. Mitch seated beside me made an appropriate speech as did my oldest son. Me? I kinda blubbered through my tears of gratitude as my mind carried me back to similar, long ago family gatherings with my own grandfather at the head of the table…big, scraggily, white beard, black suit, and black derby. I was suddenly my own grandfather.

After more feasting and drinking my daughters-in-law brought out a cake with candles, happy birthday was sung, and I made the traditional wish before blowing out the candles. 

As evening approached, the clan began to disperse to drive home leaving my wife and me to wind down on Monday before leaving for Florida on Tuesday. On this return leg it was Mitch’s wife who kindly drove us forty minutes back to Hartford’s Bradley Airport…more blessings for having compassionate daughters-in-law.

Becoming an octogenarian again reminded me of Anthony Hopkins’ speech in the 1998 movie “Meet Joe Black” where, at his character’s sixty-fifth birthday celebration, he speaks of the years passing in the blink of an eye. Well, I feel that way with great, intense wonderment each time I am at a gathering of our clan…especially when my oldest son reminds me about being the patriarch…setting the example for the nine grandchildren who are just now setting out on their own “blink-of-an-eye” journey…the youngest, sixteen; the oldest, twenty-eight; one married; and two others most likely to commit shortly.

So life unfolds in ways never dreamed of when we are young. The one-year-old babe in the photo below had only his immediate, in-the-moment joy in his mind as he hugged his stuffed terrier and gloried at his loving father who took the picture. Never did he dream that he’d morph into a patriarch with a bionic hip in his own “blink of an eye”. 
  One Year Old Sid
Sid Bolotin


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