Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Iraq the Vote

How do Iraqi Shi'a feel about the pending election? The Washington Post has this report on how Shi'a leaders are trying to educate and mobilize the vote. Here are a few excerpts:

As Iraq's first nationwide elections in more than a generation near, Hamra and other Shiite clergy, perhaps the country's most powerful institution, have led an unprecedented mobilization of the Shiite majority population through a vast array of mosques, community centers, foundations and networks of hundreds of prayer leaders, students and allied laypeople. The campaign has become so pitched that many Iraqis may have a better idea of Sistani's view of the election than what the election itself will decide.

The clergy are advocating elections 100 percent," said Sami Shamousi, the prayer leader of a Shiite community center in downtown Baghdad. "It has become a religious responsibility for us to encourage participation in the elections." At his worship hall, he has distributed about 200 leaflets printed by the Ghadir Foundation, a community organization that is based in the sprawling slum of Sadr City and is loosely supervised by Sistani and other senior ayatollahs. Stacks of posters with Sistani's portrait were piled in dimly lit rooms, darkened by an electrical outage. On shelves were bundles of leaflets and pamphlets that present questions and answers about the vote: "What are we electing?" and "What does proportional representation mean?"

In a second-floor office sat Sayyid Hashem Awadi, 38, a gaunt cleric in black turban and gray gown who directs the foundation's staff of 30. For 65 days, he said he had been too busy to return to his home in Najaf. "This stage is too critical," he said. "We're afraid of failure."

On his desk was an Arabic-language pamphlet on civil society, a phrase that usually describes a vibrant give-and-take between citizens and their government. The pamphlet, printed by his foundation and emblazoned with a map of Iraq, notes the term was imported from the West. But it adds, "In reality, the crises sweeping our societies force us to seek help though other people's experiences."

Awadi, whose speech shifts effortlessly from Western thought to Islamic principle, nodded his head in agreement. Iraq, he said, was long a militarized society, where in Hussein's days "you either obeyed orders or you are killed." Awadi's vision was a society in which opinions were respected and disputes were "not a reason for killing each other." The way to create that society was through the elections in January, he said, a process in which people's opinions would be respected.

"It's a matter of the people's choice," he said. "What do the people want?"

"Our job and our task is to explain these things," the young cleric went on, raising his voice over the cascading sound of the traffic jam that poured through his window. "There are many questions in the minds of the people."

The Shi'a, of course, are a majority in Iraq and will probably dominate the new parliament, so their enthusiasm is understandable. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the power they will acquire after having been oppressed for so long by the Sunni minority.

Constitutional Hand-Me-Down

A wit suggests that we can save the Iraqis a lot of trouble as they embark upon the task of drafting a constitution. He asks, "Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and we're not using it anymore."

A friend e-mails to tell us that the real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse is that you cannot post "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Thou shalt not bear false witness" in a building full of lawyers, judges, and politicians. It creates a hostile work environment.

Lose, Lose For Vlad

According to a recent article in The Weekly Standard Putin loses no matter who wins in the Ukraine. Interesting analysis.


Our apologies to those readers who tried without success to access Viewpoint this afternoon. We regret the world-wide panic which doubtless ensued when millions found themselves unable to receive their daily dose of wit and wisdom. An electrical storm in North Carolina knocked out our server until Bill was able to administer first aid.

The Power of the Dollar

Those who might be looking for charitable organizations to which they might contribute this Christmas season, or places to do their Christmas shopping, might find this article at Religious News Service helpful. Bob Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, has eliminated the United Way from his gift list and Target stores from his shopping spots. He explains that his decision to stop giving to United Way is due to the charity's refusal to fund the Boy Scouts of America while openly supporting numerous pro-homosexual groups with its money. Here are some excerpts from the article:

"I don't know why people still give to United Way," Knight says. He contends that people are already giving to government bureaucrats by paying taxes, so he asks, "why would you give to a group of private bureaucrats who have decided as a group that the Boy Scouts are worthy of being kicked out of various chapters across the country."

The Scouts had been a long-time beneficiary of United Way funding, until pressure from the homosexual community led to the BSA groups nationwide being cut out because their national organization promotes faith and moral values and prohibits homosexuals from serving as scoutmasters. Since then, at least 50 United Way chapters across the U.S. have excluded the Boy Scouts from a share of their fund-raising drives, claiming the BSA's Christian values are discriminatory.

But it is the apparent discrimination against the Scouts by the United Way that has angered Knight. Although not all the nation's United Way chapters have severed ties with the BSA, he points out that "the national headquarters has done nothing to stop the trend." Meanwhile, a major portion of the money the charity collects is being given to pro-homosexual groups.

[T]he United Way is not the only major U.S. organization that is drawing the pro-family leader's ire. In a recent interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network, he mentioned the recent announcement by Target that the retailer would not be allowing non-profit groups to solicit outside its stores this year. This means the familiar Salvation Army bell ringers will not be able to set up their kettles and collect donations at Target locations this shopping season.

Knight feels people of faith should be outraged over the retailer's actions. "Millions of Christians give Target millions of dollars," he says, "and what have they gotten from Target in return? A lump of coal. I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and I think consumers ought to take this into account when they do their Christmas shopping."

"One Salvation Army officer said to me that the Target money that's raised in his community represents 75 percent of the income that he has in that community," said Major George Hood, a spokesman for Salvation Army. "When you begin to strip budgets of 75 percent of a revenue stream, it means that some very difficult decisions will have to be made in those local communities about what they will be able to do during the holidays with families, and what they will be able to do all year long once the Christmas season is over."

Knight is certainly correct in assuming that if people are going to effect change in our society we have to do more than bemoan the cultural deterioration we are witnessing and actually use what tools we have to bring pressure to bear on those who would hasten the slide. One of those tools, perhaps the most effective, is how we spend our money.

Maybe it would be instructive, not only for United Way and Target, but also for those other charities and businesses which are looking on, to see how much of an impact popular dissatisfaction makes at Target's cash registers and United Way's mailbox. If Target takes a hit this year, you can bet that the Salvation Army will be welcome at their competitor's stores and will probably be back at Target next year. As for the United Way, who needs them? It's as easy, and more efficient, to write a check directly to the recipient as it is to go through the middle man.