Focal Points Blog

What Did the Flesh-and-Blood Christ Really Believe?

The Sea of Galilee: stomping ground of Christ and his disciples. (Photo: Daniel Weber / Flickr)

The Sea of Galilee: stomping ground of Christ and his disciples. (Photo: Daniel Weber / Flickr)

(Though this post may seem tangential, at best, to foreign affairs, at least its set in Palestine and Israel, areas crucial to U.S. foreign policy.)

Few are aware of the impact of Jesus’s brother James, often overshadowed by Peter and Paul, on Christianity. After the death of Jesus, he led the early Christian community for nearly three decades. In Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), about which I posted recently, Reza Aslan wrote that “one sure way of uncovering what Jesus may have believed is to determine what his brother James believed.” How “may” not just qualifies, but contradicts, “sure way” must have gotten by an editor. We can be sure of little about times and regions that were sparsely documented. That said, the “first thing to note about James’s epistle,” continues Azlan
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Rescuing Polish Liberalism

Karolina Wigura, head of the political section of Kultura Liberalna, believes the meaning of liberalism is “rather fuzzy” in Poland. (Photo: John Feffer)

Karolina Wigura, head of the political section of Kultura Liberalna, believes the meaning of liberalism is “rather fuzzy” in Poland. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Liberalism took a beating in Poland in the 20th century. It was overwhelmed by nationalism in the 1930s, by Nazi occupation in the 1940s, and by a succession of Communist governments during the Cold War period. Finally, when the full political spectrum was restored to the country after 1989, liberalism became almost exclusively associated with its neo-liberal variant. For most Poles, “liberal” meant economic austerity and its accompanying hardships. Not surprisingly, liberalism acquired a negative connotation in the era of democracy as well.

But today in Poland, a new generation of political actors has taken up the challenge of rescuing liberalism from the misconceptions of the past. Kultura Liberalna is a weekly magazine established in 2009. It has spawned a website as well as an intellectual circle that has attracted a younger set of academics and intellectuals who are committed to restoring liberalism to its fullest meaning.
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Sarkozy Plying a Judge for Info May Be Least of His Crimes

Sarkozy may have been even more morally bankrupt than the other two Transatlantic neocons: Bush and Blair. (Photo: Moritz Hager, World Economic Forum / Flickr)

Sarkozy may have been even more morally bankrupt than the other two Transatlantic neocons: Bush and Blair. (Photo: Moritz Hager, World Economic Forum / Flickr)

“Anticorruption authorities,” reports the New York Times, are investigating via phone tapping, among other things, whether former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer“sought information from a judge about the progress of an investigation of the financing for his 2007 election campaign.” To wit:

Mr. Sarkozy has been dogged by the accusation that the campaign received up to 50 million euros, or about $68 million, in illegal funds from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya.

Also, BBC reported recently that his interpreter Moftah Missouri said Qaddafi“himself told me personally, verbally, that Libya had transferred about $20m” to Sarkozy’s campaign.
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In Kyrgyzstan Ethnic Hostility Shows Few Signs of Abating

Scars from the 2010 violence are still fresh in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Johannes Zielcke / Flickr)

Scars from the 2010 violence are still fresh in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Johannes Zielcke / Flickr)

Recently, Kyrgyzstan commemorated the fourth anniversary of the violence that shook its southern part back in 2010. Back then, over 100,000 Uzbeks had to leave Kyrgyzstan and seek refuge in Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the riots.

It all started as a simple brawl between groups of Kyrgyz and Uzbek youngsters in a casino in the city of Osh. Shortly thereafter, it took the form of a full-fledged ethnic violence. Many issues were highlighted by the incidents of 2010: Kyrgyzstan’s ever-subtle struggle for power and resources between the elites of Bishkek and their southern counterparts from Osh and Jalalabad, and the acute economic inequality between different communities, especially in the southern region of the country.
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East Germany’s Stasi a Quarter Century After It Was Dissolved

The one-time headquarters of the Stasi. (Photo: John Out and About / Flickr)

The one-time headquarters of the Stasi. (Photo: John Out and About / Flickr)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The great riddle of German reunification involves the two dogs that didn’t bark. The first dog was the Stasi, the East German secret service, which did so little to prevent the demonstrations of 1989 from bringing down Party chief Erich Honecker, the Berlin Wall, and then the entire Communist regime. The second dog was the East German people, who exacted so little revenge against the Stasi after the once-powerful institution was unmasked. Of course, there may well be a relationship between these two dogs. After all, dogs often bark in response to one another.

The first dog didn’t bark, it seems, because the Stasi expected some kind of deal that would have prolonged the life of the East German state with West German cash. It was not an entirely unrealistic expectation. The West German government had paid for all sorts of things in the past, including the exit of East Germans and the dismantling of the automated tripwire at the Wall.
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Maliki Big Loser in the Blame Game

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

Everyone wants to blame Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the military success of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) in Iraq. For instance, appearing on Fox News,

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized the U.S. for arming “Islamic rebels who kill Christians” in Syria and who are now militant in Iraq and said “the person most culpable” for the crisis in Iraq is President Maliki. Paul hit back at Sean Hannity’s oversimplification of the Iraq crisis and attempts to blame President Obama and Democrats on Hannity’s radio show this week.

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ISIS’ New Caliphate and Christ’s Kingdom of God

 

In the end, martyrdom on the cross was a lot more effective than martyrdom by suicide bombing. (Photo: Random House)

In the end, martyrdom on the cross was a lot more effective than martyrdom by suicide bombing. (Photo: Random House)

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham recently announced the formation of a new caliphate — or empire, if you will — comprising the existing states in the Muslim world. Its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, will act as the caliph — or emperor, if you will.I’m currently reading Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (Random House, 2013) and it occurs to me that ISIS’ announcement is not unlike Jesus Christ proclaiming the Kingdom of God with, like al Baghdadi, himself as the king.

Where exactly do Christ and his disciples fit on the scale of religious extremism? Islam has its Sunni jihadists and, in China, militant Uighurs. Buddhism has its 969 Movement in Burma that attacks Rohingya Muslims and, in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist Power Force also targets Muslims. The United States has its Christian fundamentalists who kill abortion-killing doctors. The quantities in which each kills varies, from one at a time to hundreds and even thousands (9/11) at a time. But killing is killing.
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The Impact of Chinese Maritime Policies on India

 

China has claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. (Image: World Atlas)

China has claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. (Image: World Atlas)

Two important bodies of water have been in the news for some months now. Numerous media reports have focused on Chinese claims made on the two seas off its eastern and southeastern shores. The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, though uninhabited (and visible to the naked eye on a special map), had been claimed by the Japanese since the late 19th century and administered by Tokyo since the early 1970s, when the U.S. gave Japan control over these islands under the Okinawa Reversion Agreement.The Chinese had made no consistent claims over these islands until 1971.This was shortly after a U.N. geological survey found oil and natural gas reserves in the East China Sea, “lying around the Senkakus and beyond.”It was at that time that Beijing protested the U.S. transfer of authority over the islands to Tokyo, claiming they belonged to China (who calls them the Diaou Islands). But the years after 1972, following President Nixon’s visit to China, saw a gradual normalization of Sino-American relations.
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Rare Progressive Victory Will Help Build a Peace Economy

 

Rep Keith Ellison presents amendment to Congress on peace economy transitions, June 18 2014. (Photo: C-SPAN)

Rep Keith Ellison presents amendment to Congress on peace economy transitions, June 18 2014. (Photo: C-SPAN)

Progressives certainly haven’t had a whole lot to celebrate lately — most urgently, a possible military intervention in Iraq is on the horizon — but on the defense front there’s at least something worth a sip of champagne:

Cong. Keith Ellison (D-MN),  co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, recently introduced an amendment to the House defense appropriations bill to take $10 million from the Pentagon’s general operating account. The $10 million would be redirected to the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment,  an agency whose sole purpose is to help communities facing military base closures and Pentagon contract cancellations plan for themselves a future that is not dependent on a militarized economy.
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Tunisia’s New Constitution: Balancing Democracy With Islam

 

The oppression under which women lived during colonial rule has, in the interim, only marginally improved because of authoritarian regimes and religious traditions. (Photo: Aslan Media / Flickr)

The oppression under which women lived during colonial rule has, in the interim, improved only marginally because of authoritarian regimes and religious traditions. (Photo: Aslan Media / Flickr)

On August 13, 2011 , a scorching summer’s day in Tunis, mobs of the disheartened, infuriated, and passionate flooded the streets. Over a thousand women marched to convey a simple message: the time for equality had come.

The rally set into stark relief that for decades, under grueling regimes and imposing tyrannies, Tunisia has lacked a clear agenda for equality. As in other countries with tyrannical leaders, Tunisians were stripped of their rights, their voice, and any way of keeping the government accountable to citizens. Isolation within Africa  further spurred Tunisians’ anger. What began as an act of protest with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi soon turned into an intensive campaign of civil resistance, crying out for the ouster of the Tunisian dictator. Months of bitter violence and protest led to the downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on January 14, 2011, in a bloodless coup now known as the “Jasmine Revolution.” Yet even after that momentous change, much remained to be done to advance women’s and civil rights.
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