Marx territory

The Dow Jones Industrials Average is higher now than it was on September 10. Another sign of a return to the way things were is George W. Bush talking about human embryo research.

On Saturday, I participated in an annual all-day test of the Metropolitan Opera radio network. Last week we finally got back the ABC circuit that had been destroyed in the September 11 attacks.

There’s not much for me to do during the bulk of the testing unless I have to put out fires, so I decided to catch up on some old reading. The first thing I pulled out was the October issue of the Funny Times. It had clearly been put together before September 11.

The hot news items were stem cell research, Gary Condit’s television interview, and the possibility that the administration would have to dip into Social Security funds. One cartoon actually complained about there not being enough news. Now there’s too much, even if one ignores THE story.

Consider these three news items, all from today’s New York Times. An Associated Press story about the conflict in the Himalayas is headlined “Nepal Warns of Imprisoning Terrorists.” The terrorists are neither Arab nor Muslim. The story notes that 150 people have been killed in Nepal since Friday.

Then there’s a story by Warren Hoge about how “Catholic children walked to their North Belfast school peaceably yesterday for the first time in three months after Protestants ended a protest that had forced them to seek protection of riot squad police officers and British troops.” Of course, the very next sentence notes that “A pipe bomb was found in the garden of a house 600 yards from the school and dismantled but it went unnoticed by the students and their parents.” That’s another religious conflict involving terrorism but neither Arabs nor Muslims.

Finally, there’s a story by Linda Greenhouse. “The Supreme Court [on Monday] upheld the Census Bureau’s refusal last year to count Mormon missionaries or other nongovernment American workers living overseas. The policy cost Utah, a state with a large number of missionaries, a chance to pick up a fourth House seat in the reallocation that followed the 2000 census.”

The third story doesn’t seem to be related to the first two at all, but to me they formed a set after I read a piece by Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman. It’s called “The Real War.”

Near the beginning, Friedman says, “We’re not fighting to eradicate ‘terrorism.’ Terrorism is just a tool. We’re fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism.” He goes on to note that there are Christian and Jewish fundamentalists who reject modernity, pluralism, secularism, and alternative faiths, not just Islamic fundamentalists who do so.

Then, having established his credentials of reasonability, he shifts gears. “What is different about Islam is that, while there have been a few attempts at such a reformation, none have flowered or found the support of a Muslim state. We patronize Islam, and mislead ourselves, by repeating the mantra that Islam is a faith with no serious problems accepting the secular West, modernity, and pluralism, and the only problem is a few bin Ladens.” Really?

Many of our Manhattan buildings once held the title of “world’s tallest.” The World Trade Center briefly took the title from the Empire State Building. It lost it to Chicago’s Sears Tower.

Did it really lose? The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat defines four categories of superlatives for skyscrapers. There’s the height to the structural or architectural top, the height to the highest occupied floor, the height to the top of the roof, and the height to the top of the antenna mast, if any.

In the fourth category, until the collapse of the north tower on September 11, New York’s World Trade Center still reigned supreme. In the second and third categories, the Sears Tower wins. And, in the first category, the current record holders are the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. Malaysia is an Islamic state.

That is, Islam is the established state religion in Malaysia, much as the Church of England is an established religion in Britain. Islam is by no means the only religion in Malaysia. There are many Buddhists, Daoists, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Confucians, and even Shamanists.

The 22.5 million people in Malaysia are comprised of several ethnic groups and speak 15 major languages, including English. That hasn’t prevented 84% of the population from becoming literate. According to the CIA web site (which has been known to get some facts wrong), unemployment is just 2.8%. Inflation is just 1.7%. There’s a budget surplus. In 2000, the gross domestic product grew at an 8.6% rate. And, although per capita income is not (yet) as high as in the United States, it’s in the same class.

The top story in the Entertainment section of the Kuala Lumpur Star newspaper today relates to the new Harry Potter movie. The top Technology-section story relates to a local wireless-Internet access firm. The Spotlight section features the German jazz pianist Uli Lenz.

So, Malaysia, an Islamic state, has “no serious problems accepting the secular West, modernity and pluralism.” It’s not alone. Turkey, another Islamic country, has been a NATO member since 1952. If anything, it seems to have more of a problem accepting Islamic fundamentalists than accepting the secular West.

One of my friends went to Jordan some years back to help the New York-based Children’s Television Workshop set up a version of Sesame Street. Another friend is getting ready to go to Jordan to work on a major international telecommunications project involving Europe. The beloved king’s mother came from the U.S. Jordan, too, is an Islamic country.

The world’s most-populous Islamic country is Indonesia. But the second largest population of Muslims in the world lives in India.

My mother-in-law (a great role model) was born in India. She doesn’t look or sound it. She was born to American Christian missionaries.

One of my correspondents recently differentiated Islam from other religions by saying that Islamists wanted to take over the world. IF they do, does that really make Islam so different from other religions?

Utah’s census complaint is based on the large number of missionaries the Church of Latter Day Saints sends around the world to try to convert those in other countries. And they’re by no means the world’s only Christian missionaries.

It seems odd to me that the foreign-affairs columnist of the New York Times apparently didn’t consider Malaysia when making statements about Islam and the modern world, but, then, many things seem odd to me.

I noted on Sunday that Cuba is one of the countries we say supports terrorism (again, neither Islamic nor Arab). We use that, at least in part, to justify our trade embargo.

We say Cuba gives sanctuary to terrorists who operated in Spain, but Spain doesn’t support our embargo. We seem to say Cuba has supported terrorism in Colombia, but Colombia doesn’t support our embargo.

I said “seem to” in the last sentence because, in the very same paragraph in which our State Department mentions Cuba’s connection to Colombian terrorists, they seem to imply a peacemaking role. “In late 1999, Cuba hosted a series of meetings between Colombian Government officials and ELN [National Liberation Army] leaders.” Was that a bad thing to do?

According to “60 Minutes” on Sunday, only the Marshall Islands supports our embargo. I wonder how much trade they used to have with Cuba.

George W. Bush said on November 10, “The Taliban’s days of… dealing in heroin… are drawing to a close.” Here’s what Tim Weiner wrote in yesterday’s New York Times on the subject.

“The Taliban are gone from here. So is their ban on growing opium poppies. Afghanistan’s production of raw opium fell from a world-record peak of more than a million pounds in 1999 to a mere 40,600 pounds this year, a 96 percent decline, according to the United Nations Drug Control Program.”

“Say what one will about the Taliban, they just said no to poppies, imprisoning farmers who defied them. But now, barring an unexpected turn of events, Afghanistan can be expected to regain its status as the world’s leading source of heroin in a year or two.”

If Mr. Bush was wrong about the Taliban and heroin, might he be wrong about other things? I wish him wisdom.

The Times opium story was accompanied by a photo of a bearded and broadly smiling Afghan — the happiest Afghan I’ve seen in any picture. He was identified as an opium farmer.

TTFN, Mark

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