City of Brass

I am pleased to announce the launch of Planet Islam, an aggregator of posts from blogs from around the Islamsphere, including muslim blogs as well as non-muslim ones that post on issues related to Islam and muslims. Planet Islam is a sub-project of Talk Islam, where those same bloggers meet and share links and discuss the issues (such as, is Ayman Al Zawahiri a racist?). These two sites really let you take the pulse of the muslim blogsphere in real-time and are well-worth bookmarking – go check them out!

Obama has announced another top-level appointment, Eric Holder, who served as deputy Attorney-General under Clinton and now will be (pending Senate confirmation) the nation’s lead lawman. The relevant and important information about Holder is his record and reputation:

A New York City native who graduated from
Columbia University and Columbia Law School, Holder spent years as a
federal prosecutor–a job in which he earned a reputation as tough and
aggressive foe of public corruption
. After serving in the public
integrity section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and
later a District of Columbia Superior Court judge, Holder was named by
President Clinton as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He
became deputy attorney general in 1997 under Janet Reno and was viewed
as a centrist on most law enforcement issues
, though he has sharply
criticized the secrecy and the expansive views of executive power

advanced by the Bush Justice Department.


Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State in the Obama Administration. This is significant for many reasons, not least of which because Hillary is perfect for the job and is supremely qualified for it. Arguably, the more important reason will be because of what her selection tells us about the character of Obama’s Presidency.

Joe Klein wrote a great piece a few days ago about how Obama intends to model his Administration and his Cabinet after Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals”:

Obama has said he admires Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals.
“He talks about it all the time,” says a top aide. He is particularly
intrigued by the notion that Lincoln assembled all the Republicans who
had run against him for President in his war Cabinet, some of whom
disagreed with him vehemently and persistently. “The lesson is to not
let your ego or grudges get in the way of hiring absolutely the best
people,” Obama told me. “I don’t think the American people are
fundamentally ideological. They’re pragmatic
… and so I have an
interest in casting a wide net, seeking out people with a wide range of
expertise, including Republicans,” for the highest positions in his
government. … “I don’t want to have people who just
agree with me,” he said. “I want people who are continually pushing me
out of my comfort zone.”
Obama said he’d be particularly interested in
having high-ranking Republicans advising him on defense and national
security. “I really admire the way the elder Bush negotiated the end of
the Cold War — with discipline, tough diplomacy and restraint … and
I’d be very interested in having those sorts of Republicans in my
Administration, especially people who can expedite a responsible and
orderly conclusion to the Iraq war — and who know how to keep the
hammer down on al-Qaeda.”

What a contrast from the Bush Administration! It should be noted that it’s virtually certain Obama will make good on this philosophy by retaining Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. However, the philosophy also applies to his rivals within the Democratic tent. The best example is his selection of Joe Biden for Vice-president, who differed with Obama about the Iraq war. During the selection process, Obama noted that he was looking for a Veep who would disagree with him and force him to think “outside the box” and in Biden he has found exactly that.

Just like Biden (only far more successfully so), Hillary is literally a rival to Obama, and it was the strength of her challenge that readied Obama to face McCain in the general election. Likewise, the challenge of having her as Secretary of State will be an asset in and of itself for Obama – this is something that the progressive left doesn’t seem to understand.

It is true that Clinton had been critical during the primary of Obama’s willingness to engage in diplomacy with “rogue nations”, but then she herself acknowledged she’s engage in much the same thing. Neither Obama not Clinton were talking about personal sit-downs with Ahmadinejad, but rather engaging Iran using high-level diplmats and envoys (including, perhaps, the Secreary of State). It is also true that Clinton talked of “obliterating” Iran, but the context of that was in the hypothetical scenario of Iran launching a nuclear attack on Israel (something that Iran lacks the capability to do, and which Iran would be deterred from doing even if it had that capability, partly because of strong and obvious-to-everyone statements of truth like Clinton’s was). Clinton and Obama sparred on these controversies during the primary, but neither was as significant as those with an instinctual aversion to Clinton (or Obama, for that matter) claim.

All in all, Hillary is an inspired choice for Secretary of State, and there’s a lot of arenas sorely neglected by the current Administration – most notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – where she stands to be able to bring a fresh approach and face to the diplomatic challenge ahead. It’s good for the country and the world for her to be SecState, and it shows that Obama is serious about putting his Country First.

Takfir is what excommunication is called in Islam – the process of declaring someone to be outside the faith. This is a pernicious concept because it is usually used by self-appointed guardians of the faith to try and impose their own strict interpretations on others. In many ways, it’s as much a political act as a religious one. This is why I find it interesting to see that President-elect Obama is now being declared insufficiently Christian, because he does not subscribe to the belief that those who do not accept the Christian faith are automatically damned to hellfire for eternity (including his own mother):

Obama: …There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people
haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re
going to hell.
FALSANI: You don’t believe that?

OBAMA: I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in
India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for
all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.

It’s an interesting twist that a man might be called un-Christian for being too compassionate and loving, and for believing that God is not merciful, but there you go. Islam has its own fair share of such rigidity – people who believe that even the slightest deviation from doctrine results in immediate damnation. That, despite the prayer that every muslim utters ten times a day: Bismillah a-Rahman al-Rahim, “In the name of God, most Benevolent, Most Merciful.” Perhaps Christians and muslims alike who are so ready to engage in takfir should consider how their own message and actions contradict the word of God, and ponder what that means for their own salvation.

Related – Steven Waldman makes the inconvenient observation that the  majority of the world’s Christians would also be excommunicated by the standard being applied to Obama. Also, Rod Dreher follows up by pointing out that Obama did not strongly affirm the divinity of Christ, which is firmer ground for arguing his embrace of Christianity is lacking, but Obama did not deny that divinity either, and so it’s premature to infer such things from his words.