Monday, August 29, 2011

My Father Was a Freedom Fighter by Ramzy Baroud

I've always considered myself a non-traditional Christian Zionist. The difference between me and traditional Christian Zionists, as I imagined it, was that they had eschatological reasons for supporting Israel at all costs (eschatology, for non-native speakers of English from Malaysia, means a theological perspective for events scheduled to happen at the end of the world). Eschatological Christian Zionists believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews for all time, and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 set in motion events that will culminate in the end of history as we know it. Well-known Christians preachers such as John Hagee  have built an entire career on this conviction.

A non-traditional Christian Zionist - of which I might be the only one on the entire planet - takes a slightly different perspective. I believe that Israel needs to remain planted where it is because it is impossible to undo the last 60 years of history. I also believe that a one state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians live together on the same territory, is impossible because, frankly, I don't trust Islam. Muhammad laid out as clear as a bell that according to his plan Muslims were to rule. Non-Muslims would not be forced to accept Islam, but would be required to live in subjugation to their Muslim rulers. For 1400 years Jews in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, and many other cities lived under those constraints. For the last 60 years they have been free, and they aren't about to go back. As long as one Muslim standing believes that the teachings and actions of Muhammad are still binding today, Israel is in danger.

Perhaps another difference between me and a traditional Christian Zionist is that the traditionals tend to support Israel no matter what. Israel is always right, and the Palestinians are always wrong. Israel is never to be blamed, and the Palestinians are never to be taken seriously. Israel is never to be criticized, judged or condemned, and the Palestinians are always to be ignored.

If I am really honest, however, I have to acknowledge there hasn't been that much difference between me and a traditional Christian Zionist. More than I would want to admit, I have accepted the Israeli narrative of what happened in the first half of the last century. Jewish settlers began to arrive in Palestine from various parts of Europe, the narrative goes, and lived in peace with the Palestinians from whom they purchased land. Arabs arrived from Yemen, Iraq, and other countries to work for the Jews in the economy that was growing there. There were minor skirmishes, but for the most part life between the two communities was peaceful and prosperous. It was only after the United Nations declared Israel to be a nation and the Palestinians refused the proposed settlement that the trouble began. Egypt's Gamal Nasser promised to drive Israel into the sea, Arab armies attacked the fledgling country, and Palestinians by the tens of thousands voluntarily left their homes thinking they would return in triumph just a few weeks later. When they realized they could never return home, they turned into relentless enemies determined to destroy both Israel and its Jewish population.

It was only when I read Ramzy Baroud's book, My Father Was a Freedom Fighterthat I experienced the eye-witness account of the Palestinian diaspora as told by a Palestinian whose parents made the trek from what is now southern Israel to Gaza. As I read I realized I had two choices. I could either choose to believe that Ramzy was exaggerating or lying, or accept that the expulsion of the Palestinians was a well-thought out and executed operation that totally ignored the rights of hundreds of thousands of people.

As a typical man, I'm always looking for solutions. Is there any possible solution to the "Palestinian problem" that will soon, no matter how much Israeli and Western politicians try to ignore it, become a serious "Israeli problem"? Allow me to make a few suggestions.

1. The first step towards true reconciliation always comes from the party in power. That party is Israel, and Israel must take the first step. Although I would not expect Israel to say it is sorry for forcibly expelling the Palestinians in 1948, they can at least admit that is what they did. And although Israel might be unable to give Palestinians the right to return to their farms and villages, they can at least pay them a fair remunerations for the land that was stolen from them.

2. Palestinians must make a clean break from Muhammad. All that the Koran and the Hadith teach about the Jews and about the need for Islam to rule must be seen as merely the teaching of a 7th century Arab tribal commander that has no relevance for today.

3. Both Jews and Muslims must take a little more seriously the teaching of a Jewish Rabbi who lived in Palestine seven centuries before Muhammad. "Love you enemies," said Jesus, "And do good to those who hate you."

An impossible, unrealistic command? Yusuf al-Qaradawi believes so. I heard him explain on al-Jazeera TV that the teaching of Jesus to love your enemy was an impossible one that no-one was able to keep. Muhammad was much more practical, continued the Shaykh, because Muhammad did not tell you to love your enemy but only to be just to him. The problem, of course, is that the justice of Muhammad leaves much to be desired.

So there you are, a three-step solution to begin solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think it would be a great start, but whether anyone will be willing to put it into practice is another story altogether.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Non-Muslims in the Arab Spring and Religious Rights

The Arab Spring, of which Muammar Qaddafi is the latest victim and Bashar Assad likely soon to follow, is the result of millions of people who had no voice, few rights, and little power suddenly discovering all three. The voice they found was not that of Arabic satellite TV, the rights they demanded were not willingly given them by their governments, and their weapons were not drone aircraft and Abrams tanks. Instead they discovered that by communicating under the radar of government intelligence services using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and cell phones, they could unite to organize demonstrations and eventually bring down governments. Their demands were for the fall of dictators, the end of emergency rule under which people could be arrested and held without charge, the opportunity to elect their own political leaders, and religious freedom.

Wait a minute; did I just say "religious freedom"? I was kidding, of course. That is the definitive difference between the Arab Spring and other famous revolutions such as the American Revolution of 1776. The settlers who came to America from Europe were looking for the opportunity to practice religion according to the dictates of their consciences. When they established the American Constitution, they took care to ensure that no religion would ever be imposed upon the American people and that individuals would have the right to believe whatever they wanted about deities, religious  systems and holy books. Freedom of religion is an essential part of our constitution and legal system.

You might argue that we haven't always done it very well, and that reminds me of a conversation I had with an Indian woman from Bombay many years ago. We were both in Capetown for a few weeks during the time of apertheid, and she commented how uncomfortable she felt by the way white South Africans looked at her as she visited a local mall. When I reminded her that even in America blacks did not always feel welcome in public places she replied, "Yes, but the difference is that in America racial discrimination is against the law. Here, it is part of the law."

And that's the reason religious freedom, the right to believe or disbelieve whatever you want about Muhammad or Allah or the Koran, is not even part of the equation when it comes to the Arab Spring and the new Middle East. Most Muslims never even consider how discriminatory their faith is to non-Muslims in general and ex-Muslims in particular. They love to quote La Ikrah fil-Deen, "There is no compulsion in religion" from Surah al-Baqarah in the Koran, but do not realize that their own most famous Koranic expositors such as Ibn Kathir interpret that verse to describe how Muhammad broke up Muslim families in Medina who had given their children to be raised by Jewish women. When Muhammad expelled the Jews from Medina and the Muslim women wanted their children back, Muhammad refused to allow it saying, "La Ikrah fil-Deen" (I have described this in detail here).

The new constitutions being written in countries that have experienced recent upheaval, such as Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, all include sentences containing something like "Islam is our religion and Sharia is our law." People who leave Islam in these "Arab Spring" or "America liberated" countries have no more rights than they ever did. It is still against the law, subject to persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment to say nothing of social rejection, to openly and boldly simply leave Muhammad behind.

This Arabic Television program, hosted by Rashid, recently dealt with the question of why Muslims who have exchanged Muhammad for Jesus in Arab countries - and there are thousands if not more - are not vocally demanding their religious rights just as they are joining with others in demanding political rights. Even apart from Muslim converts to Christianity - they call themselves the Abireen, or the people who have "crossed over" - why are not the millions of Copts in Egypt demanding full religious equality with their Muslim fellow citizens? Why are they not demanding the right to build churches as easily as Muslims build mosques, to call Muslims to Christianity as boldly as Muslims call Christians to Islam, and the right to run for high political office as easily as Muslims do?

The guests who appeared on Rashid's television show believe without exception that the Arab Spring is a good thing that will eventually result in increased rights for all people, non-Muslims as well as ex-Muslims. I hope they are right.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore - Kelvin Sewell

I've just read the sobering book Why Do We Kill? The book is unique because it was written not by an academic, sociologist, or psychologist, but a policeman who walked the streets of Baltimore for 22 years and asked himself how people could do the things he's seen people do.

The book was special to me because I lived in Baltimore the early years of my marriage. My children were born there. We lived in a rowhouse in Butchers Hill, one of the previously-deprived neighborhoods being upscaled for a new population of white professionals like me. Every day I took my dog for a run around Patterson Park. I still remember the shout I got one day from a snarky local. "Hey, is that your dog?" "It sure is." "It sure looks like you!"

As I look back 30 years later, I realize I was never a part of Baltimore - I just lived there a few years. Besides, what could it mean to be a part of Baltimore? Neighborhoods changed completely from one block to the next, even from one side of the street to the other. Walk one block from my rowhouse on Baltimore Street, and I was in a neighborhood of Polish immigrants who had lived there for generations. Walk a block on the other side, and I was in the black ghetto.

In a very real sense, that has been a part of my entire adult life - I've never lived in a community of which I felt a part. I was always a foreigner during my 15 years in the Middle East, living and working with other expatriates isolated from the local culture and community. Even though I made more of an effort than most to learn the language, culture, and history of the countries I lived in, I was still a stranger. This was followed by several years living in Georgia, which was no different. I wasn't really a part of the south; I was just a Yankee temporarily living there. I lived in a modern subdivision inhabited mostly by geographical transplants like myself. The company for which I worked had very few genuine Southerners in it. Even my church was not local - it was part of a denomination started by a southern Californian and pastored by a New Englander.

So what does my experience have to do with a book about murder in Baltimore? Although the author could not come up with a single definitive answer for why hundreds of young Baltimoreans point their guns at other  people every year and pull the trigger, I came away with the impression that these young people experience a deep, deep sense of isolation. Unlike me, however, they do not have positive influences in their lives that enable them to move beyond their isolation. Their inability to emotionally enter into the life of another person makes it much easier to end that life.

As I began to read the book, I carried many of the judgments against the young murderers that other White Christian Baby Boomers might carry. "I bet almost all of them are black....I wonder how many of them came from broken families?....Do they even know what it means to have a father?"
Actually, these are relevant questions, but they don't cut to the heart of the issue. The author points out that our cities are still neglecting their poor. In the case of Baltimore, billions of dollars have been invested in developing the Inner Harbor skyline that attracts millions of tourists and catches the eye of everyone taking I-95 South from New York City all the way to Miami. City officials have dealt with Baltimore's legendary murder rates by building larger and newer prisons and exploiting every statistic that points to a lower ratio of any type of crime. But the teenagers whose case files are examined by Kelvin Sewell still continue to kill, and too few people are asking the question, "Why do they do it, and what can we do about it?"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Pangs of Ramadan

"Wallahi this is hard," complained Abderrahman as he stopped by my desk the other day. "Ramadan in August is not easy! We have finished eight days, and still have 22 more to go."

He was perhaps expecting a word of encouragement or commiseration from me, but when none was forthcoming his tone picked up. "I've been reading articles about the benefits of fasting," he assured me. "It cleans out your digestive system and purifies your kidneys. It removes toxins from your body and gives it an entirely fresh start."

As Abderrahman left to wait anxiously for six more hours until he could swallow a taste of water or a morsel of food, I realized there was no way I could tell him what I was really thinking. Do Muslims realize how often people do not respond to them simply because of the realization the conversation will go nowhere? If I could have said what I wanted to, it would have been, "Abderrahman, God could care less whether you wait until sundown to swallow your saliva, have something to eat or drink, smoke a cigarette or have sex. He's not going to forgive any more or less of your sins based on how well you keep Ramadan. Fasting during the sacred month was only one of many Jewish pre-Islamic religious practices Muhammad adopted in his attempts to make the Jews believe he was the Prophet he claimed to me. You fast because you have been socially conditioned your entire life to do so, and the shame, fear, and guilt you would feel by not fasting far outweighs the physical discomfort of doing so. Most of all, just keep in mind the spiritual pride you will feel when it is all over!"

To be fair, Muslims are not the only people who live within the framework of the religious insanity that results from keeping man-made traditions intended to impose spirituality and morality. Yesterday I visited the land of my roots, the Pennsylvania Dutch country. As I followed Amish slow-moving horse-drawn buggies and saw Mennonite women with their plain dresses and white hair-coverings, I had the same question. "Do you really think God cares whether you drive a buggy or a Buick, whether you wear jeans or a long skirt?"

What I find interesting is how young Mennonites and Muslims, particularly teen-age girls, try to break away from the constraints of their religious communities. Anyone who has been to Cairo has noticed young Muslim girls wearing the hijab and long skirts - but with those skirts hugging their hips as tightly as they can wear them. Yesterday I saw young Mennonite girls wearing not the unattractive white hair coverings of their mothers, but thin slivers of black cloth that only covered a fraction of their hair. They almost looked as if they were cut out of black lace panties! (OK, I'll admit that is a very bad pun). The point is that Mennonite teenagers in Lancaster Pennsylvania and Muslims girls in Cairo Egypt are both suffering under the constraints of the religious systems imposed upon them, and both want escape. The more young people question why they do what they are told they must do, and have the courage to break with traditions that really make no sense, the better off they - and all the rest of us - will be.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blessed Holy Ramadan

Islam is the only religion in the world that forces its adherents, under penalty of law, to keep its religious traditions.

On this Arabic TV show host Rashid recently listed the penalties for eating publicly in Muslim countries during Ramadan. Morocco's criminal code stipulates that any Muslim found eating in a public place during Ramadan will be fined and imprisoned from one to six months. In Qatar the penalty is not limited to Muslims; anyone including non-Muslim expatriates and foreign workers caught eating, drinking, or smoking in public will be fined and put in prison up to three months. The penalty in the UAE and Kuwait also applies to all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, although the imprisonment is only one month.

Egypt's constitution does not ban eating publicly in Ramadan, but 155 Christians were arrested in one province alone, Aswan, in 2009 for eating publicly. With the collapse of the government and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist movements, there is no telling how many will be arrested, persecuted, or harassed this year.

In Iran in 2004, a 14-year old youth died as a result of the 85 lashes he received for eating during Ramadan. In Algeria in 2010, Algerian Christians who were tried for eating publicly during Ramadan were sentenced to three years in prison, although the sentence was commuted as a result of media attention. At the beginning of Ramadan each year in Saudi Arabia, guest workers are warned that if they eat publicly during the month they will be arrested and subject to imprisonment and deportation.

Muslims in the West love to talk about the spiritual benefits they achieve from Ramadan. It brings them closer to God, they say, increases their Patience and gives them opportunity to focus their attention on matters of the spirit.

That could be true. Spirituality is incredibly subjective, and if someone says that going without food from dawn to dusk makes him or her a more spiritual person who am I to question?

What I find interesting, however, is that young Muslims living in Muslim societies overseas are questioning more and more the regulations that force them to follow particular religious practices whether they want to or not. A young Moroccan blogger named Kacem El Ghazzali, whose English blog can be seen here, posted an Arabic video on youtube in which he forcefully and eloquently argued that penalizing people for eating publicly during Ramadan is a violation of personal freedom and human rights.  Not only does it violate the human rights of Muslims, he argues, but it represents an Islam that imposes itself upon Muslims and non-Muslims whether they want it or not. More than 200,000 Arab-speaking people have viewed his video.

I find this amazing. Had he posted the same video just a few years ago, he might have received only a few hits. But young Muslims are questioning as never before tenets of their religion that their ancestors accepted without argument for centuries. Why does anyone, they are asking, have the right to tell me that I cannot have a sandwich in public for an entire month? What right does anyone have to inform non-Muslim visitors they cannot eat in a restaurant because that might offend Muslims? Why do we belong to a religion that imposes itself upon others whether they want it or not?

Much of this questioning is beyond the radar of the Western media. You probably won't read an article in the Huffington Post about Kacem El Ghazzali's 200,000 hits for his "Let's All Eat in Ramadan" campaign. I would suggest, however, it is much more important than opeds you will read there by Western Muslims telling us how much closer they feel to God during the Holy and Blessed month of Ramadan.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dr. Laura and Gay Marriage

Today a man called radio talk-show host Dr. Laura with an interesting dilemma. He was gay, he said, 51 years old and had been celibate his entire life. He had a female friend whose company he enjoyed. They were both growing older, and the prospect of being old alone was not attractive to either of them. Would it be wrong for them to get married, he asked, with the understanding they would sleep in separate bedrooms and never have a physical relationship?

Dr. Laura reminded the caller that women enter marriage with expectations and fantasies of what the relationship will develop into. Did his friend secretly hope she might un-gay him? Was she really prepared to spend the rest of her life without physical intimacy? What would happen if she came to his bedroom one night needing something more and he refused her?

I'm really looking out for you, Dr. Laura informed her caller. You are the one who stands to get hurt if this marriage doesn't work out.

But as she often does, Dr. Laura was not content to let the matter rest but went a little deeper. If you are gay, she asked, Why have you spent your entire life celibate?

In his response the caller revealed he had come from a conservative, non-gay-accepting background, and had always been fearful and ashamed of his homosexuality.

But aren't you even now, probed Dr. Laura, Avoiding the reality of your gayness? Instead of marrying a straight woman and setting yourself up for heartbreak, why don't you find a mature gay man with whom you can have a real relationship?

And here is my question for Dr. Laura. She is against gay marriage. But she is also against "shacking up", as she calls it when two unmarried people live together. She is against sex outside marriage, often describing women who engage in it as "unpaid whores". But didn't she just go against her own principles by advising her caller to find a gay man with whom he could have a relationship? She was encouraging a relationship that would naturally include physical intimacy, as far as I could tell, and at the same time asserting he and his partner could not get married. I don't get it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Spiritual DNA and Tithing

A psychiatrist once told me that it takes three generations to move out of a cult. I'm not sure if that is correct or not, but it was true in my case. My grandfather was a member of the Amish church, a cult that does not allow its members to use electricity or drive automobiles. He left that to join the Mennonite church which was a little less strict - you could drive a car, but women were expected to have long hair and wear little white caps known as "coverings". My father left the Mennonite church to join a fundamentalist church, and I have moved away from that. So there you are, three generations.

But I haven't completely escaped - there are still aspects of the fundamentalist Christian world view that permeate my spiritual DNA and are hard to break. Take the principle of tithing, which means you give a full ten percent of your gross income (for overseas readers, that means before taxes are taken out) to your local church. If you do this, God will "bless" you and your family. If you don't, God will get that ten percent one way or the other because it belongs to him and according to one well-known verse from the Old Testament you are "robbing God".  God's ways of getting his due money are numerous including job loss, ill health, wayward children, and car wrecks.

One might wonder where such a grotesque idea came from. It began in the book of Genesis, when Abraham went out with a small army to attack a king who had robbed and kidnapped his relatives. Abraham defeated the enemy king and on the way home was met by a mysterious priest called Melchizedek who blessed Abraham for his victory. Abraham responded by giving the priest ten percent of the spoils of war.

Fast forward to the end of  Leviticus, where an elaborate religious system had been established for the nation of Israel. Leviticus 27:30 says, "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord." Since the word "tithe" by definition means ten percent, farmers were expected to donate ten percent of their grain and fruit crops to support the priests and their families. Deuteronomy 12:17 adds that the people were not simply to eat their donations at home, but were to take them to the tabernacle where they were to be shared with family, friends, and the priests. It was actually a beautiful idea. As people made their pilgrimages to the tabernacle, they took food with them to share in great communal feasts that included the entire community.

The only other reference to tithing in the entire Bible, as far as I know, is the reference in Malachi where the author warned the people that if they refused to bring this food to the temple they were in fact robbing God.

The New Testament does not mention the tithe a single time. Jesus, Paul, the other apostles and authors - not a single word. The emphasis shifted from giving an obligatory ten percent to donating what you could to help people in need.

So why did I, when I got my first real job that paid seventeen thousand dollars a year, make sure that seventeen hundred of that went to my church? Was it fear that if I didn't God would zap me one way or the other? Was it really based upon a desire to give? I'm still not sure. All I know is that it was a part of my spiritual DNA, something I felt obligated to do.

American Christianity is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and God seems to have an insatiable thrist for new buildings. Each of these buildings costs millions of dollars, to say nothing of the staff and programs required to run them. What better way to finance the entire operation than to at least once a year have a few sermons on tithing? These sermons typically dangle before the congregation both the carrot and the stick. God's blessing is waiting to be received by those who tithe, but beware if you don't.

Part of this makes sense. If you belong to a country club you are required to pay annual dues - often thousands of dollars - to keep the club in the red. If you attend a church that has buildings to maintain, staff to pay and programs to run, you should do your part in meeting expenses. I'm just not convinced that the high-pressure tithe is the way to do it.

In a very real way, the tithing principle corrupts faith. The idea behind it is that you give ten percent to God, and the rest is yours to do with as you like. A person with disposable income can pay the tithe and have money to waste with no sense of responsibility to the person sitting next to her who doesn't have money to feed her children.

Imagine, for example, that you make two hundred thousand dollars a year and want a luxury car. The principle of tithing says that you give twenty thousand to the church and God will bless you as you enjoy your car. But if you skip the tithe and purchase the car, watch out! You might not make it home from the dealership.

Aren't there other principles that make a lot more sense? If you want a nice car, why not just save your money until you have the cash to go buy it? Or if you decide you can do with a lesser car, or drive the one you have a few more years because you would like to have more money available to help others, go for it. The money you give does not need to be an obligation. I don't think that is what God intended.

So why do I still feel the need to tithe? Remember what I said about your spiritual DNA, those principles you inherited from your childhood that are extemely difficult to erase or overcome? I'm still not sure that God is not out to get me if I don't put ten percent of this month's income in the offering plate next week.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick

I've recently read - and highly recommend - The Triple Agent. It is the story of how al-Qaeda agent Himam Balawi was trusted by the CIA well enough to be allowed onto their base in Khost, Afghanistan, where he blew himself up as well as several CIA case officers. It was one of the most tragic days in the history of the organization. Rather than review the book, I'd rather just comment on a few quotes. At one point, the author wrote:

"But somewhere Balawi had fallen off a cliff...against all logic and his own self-interest, he had embraced a virulent philosophy that threatened to destroy everything that Jordan had achieved in a half century of faltering progress toward modernity. He had risked his reputation and his own family in the service of fanatics living in caves two thousand miles away. How such a thing could happen to such a clever, world-wise young man as Balawi was unfathomable."

I've gone way past amazement - although I am still disappointed - when I hear otherwise intelligent, educated, articulate individuals such as Joby Warrick (and almost everybody else in the intelligence and academic communities as well as the media and the government) describe the radicalization of young Muslims as "unfathomable". It's like hearing someone describe Warren Jeff's belief in polygamy as "unfathomable". Excuse me, that's what your prophet did! Just as Mormon polygamists justify their behavior with chapter and verse from their holy books and the life of their prophet, so do Muslims Jihadists justify their terror, chapter and verse, from the Koran, the Sunna and the Sira (the life and sayings of Muhammad). And just as progressive Mormons try to argue - often with great difficulty and little success - that trying to model Joseph Smith in the 21st century is not a viable option, so moderate Muslims face an impossible task when they protest that the Jihadists are taking verses from the Koran and examples from the life of Muhammad out of context when they carry out their acts of terror.

At one point in the book the author described the efforts of Jordanian intelligence officer Bin Zeid to deradicalize Balawi. "Osama bin Laden's vision of Islam is distorted," Bin Zeid would say. "The Koran forbids the taking of innocent life."

There is nothing more amusing - although tragic - than reading the attempts of Muslims who are not Islamic scholars as they try to convince the Jihadists that they have Islam and Muhammad all wrong. At this post, I described the futile efforts of Tawfik Hamid to do just that. Bin Zeid might argue that the Koran forbids the taking of innocent life, but he completely skirts the questions of who is innocent in Islam. According to the Koran, no-one who denies the message of Muhammad can be described as innocent. Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi argues that no Israeli can ever be considered innocent. It is only a step further for al-Qaeda to argue that no American is innocent. Again, the Jihadist Sharia scholars trump non-scholars like Bin Zeid and Tawfik Hamid every time.

Towards the end of the book, just before the explosion in Khost on that fateful day, Warrick discussed some of the questions being raised about allowing Balawi on the compound.
"The Mukhabarat had been dealing with jihadists of all stripes for many years, and it knew a few things about them, including which ones could be flipped. The low-level types - the thugs and opportunists who glommed on to terrorist movements for personal advantage - could be transformed and might even become useful informants. But radicals and ideologues never truly switched sides. A true believer might lie and deceive, but deep down he could never betray his cause. And Humam al-Balawi had all the markings of a true believer."

This is probably the most important paragraph in the entire book. How naively we seem to believe Saudi claims that hundreds of former jihadists have been "reformed" by taking them through a comfortable rehabilitation program and then giving them a car, an apartment, a job and a wife. As Warrick accurately noted, these are not the true believers. Those who are truly convinced will never change.

They will never change, that is, unless they have a complete paradigm shift - to use a hackneyed phrase - and dare to ask the questions no Muslims yet dare to raise publicly, "Is it possible that Muhammad was not a Prophet of God? Could it be that he was nothing more than a seventh century military and political commander who had nothing to do with God? Is it conceivable that the Koran could be just a collection of sayings that was presented to the Muslim community as the word of God?"

"I'm a Muslim," a  lawyer told me recently in Tunisia, "But I'm an atheist." Well I'm not an atheist, but I admire his courage. I'm just looking for the day when he will be able to make that admission, not to a visiting American infidel, but to his own Muslim community without fear of reprisal or condemnation. I'm hopeful enough to believe that day will come.